I haven’t read the article yet. But I feel like seeing Bee Quammie in the Toronto Star has freed me to write this post.
A few years ago, there was a story in the Star about roti. As a Canadian of Caribbean descent, I was disappointed, and I know that I wasn’t alone. For those of you who do not know, roti is a food staple within Caribbean and South Asian communities. Articles such as this one discuss its origins.
In hindsight I suppose the contents of the story were meant to be informative. But when it was first published, that’s not how I saw things at all. Instead, to me, it read like a cautionary tale about a dish that people ought to be warned about. Its analysis of one restaurant’s roti spoke ominously of its sodium and caloric content.
I am a child of immigrant parents. For many of us, food from our parents’ homelands is one of very few concrete ties we have to our heritage. I feel this especially deeply because I don’t live in the GTA—a place with a large Caribbean-Canadian population.
At the time the story’s author lived in the same town as me. I ran into her once. Shortly after we met, I told myself that I was going to ask her about what she had written. But I never followed through.
These days, I tend to believe that people have begun to understand: The way that you write about a culture’s food matters.
Last year I bought a Trinidadian cookbook. Inside, there are a ton of recipes for me to explore. But do you know what happened to me during my first few weeks with this book? I became obsessed with making doubles. I even sent photos to one of my cousins. I laughed, and my heart felt lifted as she told me: A family member had jokingly suggested I send her some of what I’d made.
Sometime last year, I ordered a meal kit from Carib Dish. I cooked something that I’d never even had before: An authentic oxtail dinner. I felt a sense of joy as my mother gave me tips beyond what had been outlined in the instructions.
I hope that as time goes on, the media continues to contemplate the meaning behind its messages. What happens when they rarely showcase a particular type of cuisine—and then when they do, said cuisine is placed in a negative light? That’s an insult to those who might enjoy it the most. Not only are you mocking what we eat, you are suggesting something awful about those who do the eating.
Years after that roti story was published, I longed to come up with a story of my own. I wanted to defend and show my love for this dish in a way that hadn’t been done before.
The taste of this treasured, filled flatbread soothes my soul as nothing else can. When I eat it, I feel a connection to my ancestors. With every bite, it’s as though they aren’t so far away after all.
Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash.