Filled with curry, doused in it, too: Burlington takeout spot serves Trini roti with a twist
D Hot Shoppe is at 4155 Fairview St. in Burlington
The Greater Toronto Area is home to an impressive amount of roti shops and nearly every style of the Caribbean staple is represented.
Traditionally, the flatbread is served as a dipping vehicle alongside stews and curries. You rip a piece of roti, fold it and scoop up as much of the curry as you can before slipping it into your mouth.
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There is a more popular style of roti and curry here, and it is reminiscent of street-style roti wraps that you find in the Caribbean, specifically from Trinidad. The story goes that in the 1940s, a roti shop owner wanted to create a more "commuter friendly" roti lunch for his customers. Roti was laid flat; curry and meat were spooned into the centre, and the flatbread was then folded into a wrap. No mess, no fuss.
If you want to go on a roti crawl, Mississauga and Brampton are great cities for roti wraps. There are dozens of shops that highlight every corner, every style of Caribbean roti. They're all very, very good. But for me, I prefer D Hot Shoppe in Burlington for their unique take on the iconic Caribbean street dish.
Simone and Gabriel Lou-Hing opened D Hot Shoppe in 2005, a year after they moved to Burlington from their native Trinidad.
"My husband and I came here for a better life. We had family here. We wanted to raise our family here," Simone said.
She readily admits that Gabriel is the cook in the family.
"He spent some time cooking at his aunty's roti shop in Mississauga. He's a great cook and always wanted to open his own place."
Going against the tide, Simone says that they had no interest in opening "another" roti shop in Mississauga. Their eyes were set on Burlington, and the duo wanted to set their roots in the lakeside city.
"In 2005, there was nothing here," Simone said of the industrial road D Hot Shoppe is located on — the QEW on one side and Lake Ontario three kilometres away on the other side.
Everything is made fresh every day. When we sell out, we are sold out.- Gabriel Lou-Hing, D Hot Shoppe owner
Gabriel was put in charge of the menu and Simone naturally gravitated to running the front of house.
The pair quickly found a local following, with Simone's warm and exuberant style and Gabriel's homestyle menu of roti and curry.
D Hot Shoppe's menu is diverse: there's cuttlefish, chicken, goat, potato, pumpkin, shrimp, mixed vegetables and beef.
Gabriel uses roasted jeera (ground cumin) instead of the traditional variety, along with a tried and tested mixture of garam masala, turmeric and garlic to cook his curries for about an hour before they're served.
"Everything is made fresh every day. When we sell out, we are sold out. We don't keep anything over," he said.
Gabriel also makes a hot sauce, which he uses to dress the roti. Due to the popularity of the hot sauce, there's now a heat chart by the ordering table where a Scoville-style scale shows how hot you can order a roti: from "a touch," where you get a soupcon of hot sauce, to "suicide." For the hottest order, Gabriel splashes a precipitous amount of hot sauce all over the roti.
How D Hot Shoppe's dish differs from a traditional roti
There's a bigger reason why the shop has become so popular. It is unlike roti you'll find elsewhere because it is not an authentic Trini roti.
"We do things differently around here. It's inspired by my aunt," Gabriel said.
Every day, his team in the kitchen roll out the flatbread and cook it over a flat top. After it is cooled, Gabriel lays out the roti on a table and pours a generous serving of curried vegetable or meat in the middle.
Then, Gabriel dresses it with some housemade hot sauce and folds the roti to keep the curry contained. He flips it over, tucks it in, places the roti on a plate, and finishes the dish with D Hot Shoppe's signature — a generous ladle of curry to bathe the wrapped roti.
This finishing touch elevates the roti eating experience from memorable to inimitable. I grew up eating roti across the GTA, and even the best roti can suffer from having dry pockets. The areas of the roti the curry can't get to; parched folds of roti that are not as fun to eat. Sometimes there isn't enough curry to get around.
Gabriel's technique of dousing the roti wrap with another serving of curry bypasses that. The entire roti is covered with that smokey, earthy curry, plenty for every forkful of roti.
I was introduced to D Hot Shoppe by a friend's mother, an Anguillan who takes roti very seriously. I remember she said, "Go to Burlington, try this place. There's no roti like it." Recently, I bumped into her at a party and was praising D Hot Shoppe's curry chicken roti. "OK, next time, get the curry chicken hot but with pumpkin instead of potato," she said.
This has now become my custom order at D Hot Shoppe. The spice of the curry and hot sauce is balanced with the sweetness from the pumpkin. If you love a generous amount of curry with your roti wrap, there's no better way to enjoy it. Just don't call it authentic.
D Hot Shoppe is at 4155 Fairview St. in Burlington.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
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