I hung around my aunt Betty’s kitchen a lot when I was growing up. I loved to watch her and my cousin Shanti cook. Sometimes I’d just observe them work and at other times they’d assign me little tasks. I particularly enjoyed helping to “oil” the roti (brushing the dough with oil and rolling it to form layers when cooked). It was my favourite part about making roti, mostly because the dough was soft, elastic and silky. It was like playing with play dough and my aunt made roti for her family’s dinner every evening so I got to “play” often. One day, my aunt offered me a sweet reward for being a good little helper. She made me a sugar roti!
Now don’t be confused, a sugar roti is not the same thing as a sweet roti or what we in Guyana call cho-tah (think pancake). A sugar roti my dear friends is a roti where the dough is stuffed with sweet Demerara brown sugar and cooked until lightly toasted on both sides and the sugar inside, melted. Think of it along the lines of a Dhal Puri only that it is stuffed with sugar instead of a spiced split pea filling.
I can still remember the first time I had a sugar roti…
Auntie Betty had cut the kneaded and rested dough and formed them into balls. She’d ‘cut’ the dough by grabbing large pieces, with one hand and tearing it from the larger mass of dough, measuring with her eyes that they were equal in size. On this particular day though, I noticed that she had a smaller piece of dough left back. I just figured that she was going to make a ‘baby’ roti. And I was right, only that this was a different type of roti altogether!
She formed the cut dough into balls and I oiled the roti except the little one that she told me to leave alone.
Half an hour later we were back in the kitchen, and set about cooking the roti. Well, auntie Betty cooked the roti, I just watched. I was particularly excited to see how this small roti was going to turn out. As the last roti was placed on the tawah to cook, my aunt took the small piece of dough, flatted it with her hand against the table, cupped the dough and then filled it with sugar. I must have been wide eyed with my mouth open because I heard her chuckle. She quickly pulled the edges of the dough together, pinching it to seal in the sugar. Auntie Betty put it down to rest seam side down and proceeded to finish cooking the last roti. By this time I was completely baffled by the idea of sugar in the roti but I was excited to see how this was all going to turn out.
Auntie Betty pressed the little ball of dough stuffed with sugar into some flour and then rolled it into a round disk, no more than 3 to 3 ½ inches. She transferred it to the tawah. It looked so tiny in the centre of the big round tawah. When the roti started to puff up, she flipped it and brushed the cooked side with a little oil; by that time, the roti ballooned. She flipped it over and brushed with a little oil; flipped it again and then removed it from the tawah. Auntie Betty placed it on a plate, took a knife and cut it open. The sugar had melted into syrup and oozed from the roti, she handed me the plate and said, “Eat it. This is for you.” I looked up at her beaming, my heart full of love. “Thanks Mommy!” (I also call my Auntie Betty mommy. When she and my mom are together I like how they both answer when I call out for mommy).
I blew on the roti a little to cool it and then took my first bite, syrup dripping onto the plate as I brought a piece to my mouth. Oh. My. Goodness. Never had I tasted anything like it before. Warm sweet syrup, tender roti… The late afternoon sun was streaming through the open window, golden with hues of orange. The kitchen was enveloped with the warmth of the sun and the walls glowed. I remember feeling very happy in that moment.
My first taste of sugar roti and I was hooked. Of course each day after that I expected to get sugar roti but that wasn’t the case. My aunt clearly felt that it was a treat and not something to be consumed daily or very often. On days when my cousin Shanti was making roti, I’d entice her to make me a sugar roti. She would, but like my aunt, she didn’t do it often.
The other day I was online and someone mentioned sugar roti, and as if in a trance, I suddenly decided to make roti just so that I could make sugar roti. I did. I ate by ‘baby’ sugar roti and was transported back to my aunt’s kitchen. It was a sweet memory.
There is value in cooking with children. It enriches their lives and it enriches our lives too.