I lived in Toronto for seven years, and there are things about Canada’s largest city I still miss. Simple things, like the sound of the streetcar wires on a cold morning, or the way the thunderstorms lash the old brick buildings with cooling rain on baking summer days. I miss the Herculattes at Moonbeans coffee in Kensington Market, and I miss the hangover specials at Mars Diner in Little Italy. But the thing I miss most of all is the roti, and recently I was chatting with a Toronto expat and she too was craving the hot spicy wraps that Toronto dishes up out of storefronts such as Gandhi Roti, which I have written about here before.
Faced with a renewed craving, I hunted around and found, to my delight, that Indian Roti Kitchen at Cambie and 13th is serving up a really good Toronto style roti, which is a roti bread stuffed with Indian food, in my case a nice spicy malai kofta curry. And the Indian Roti kitchen is delivering a great and reasonably priced roti. I’ve been back, and both times I was very impressed with the flavours, though they could go a little spicier on their spicy rotis. Rotis are a great take-out food, and as I sat on the beach contentedly munching away, I began to get curious about this odd food. In Toronto roti is very common, and is either East Indian, such as the ones they are serving up at Indian Roti Kitchen, or West Indian, usually a really spicy curry. But where did this food come from? Why does it come in two very different forms?
A little research suggests that using a roti as a wrap originated in Trinidad in the 1940’s as a way to serve spicy curries as a fast food. Hummingbird Roti in San Fernando claims to be the first place to do this, but it spread very rapidly. They are also popular in Guyana. The roti bread and the name came to the Caribbean along with indentured servants from India. However the West Indian dish, both curry and bread, is quite different from the East Indian version found in cities such as Toronto. Who started making a Caribbean dish based on Indian bread with typical Indian roti and curry? Likely someone in Toronto, Montreal, or New York, as the dish is found in all of those cities. The odds are reasonable that East Indian roti wraps are a Canadian innovation! As many people online note, roti with East Indian filling isn’t the same as the West Indian variety, but given roti is originally from India, it is an example of a food that has been modified multiple times. Definitely reason for further study!