Photos by Micheal Bruce

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Candice Heerah roti woman from St James

'Ah want meh hot roti, Heerah, with plenty pepper'

By By Lorraine Waldropt

The street that never sleeps is true to form tonight. Despite Monday blues and the Lenten season, crowds gather around their favourite liming spot in St James. Smokey and Bunty's corner is as busy as ever. Candice Heerah is also busy at her popular roti stand. There is a crowd at her stall too. "Gimme a liver with potato with slight pepper," says a man with a ponytail standing close by with his drinking partner. This order seems to be his second as he gobbles down the remains of a wrap roti. In a matter of seconds Heerah pulls out a roti skin dishes out the order and it's a wrap. Three more people stand in line giving their orders and her assistant attends to them while she grabs her rolling pin and, on the spot, rolls out some new roti dough.

"You sell buss up shut or dhalpourie?" I ask, intrigued by the speed with which she handles her product. Heerah takes a moment and sighs. Her long hair is rolled and neatly tucked under a hair net but her brilliant smile is effervescent. "We sell dhalpourie and dosti no buss up shut and we sell it with potato, beef or liver and on some occasions chicken," she informs. "Dosti; what is that?" I inquire. The man with the ponytail and his partner let out a big laugh at my Indian delicacy ignorance. "Had to be she doh buy roti from here. Otherwise she woulda know what dosti is and that you does make the best!" his partner says between slurs to Heerah. "Dosti is not like buss up shut, it takes less work to prepare and it is thinner and not as fluffy," Heerah answers understandingly. "It's a cross between buss up shut and sada roti then?" I query. "Well you could call it that," she suggests. As photographer Micheal Bruce is on hand to capture the dosti with his expert lens I tell her about the interview and our interest in her livelihood.

Her assistant eavesdropping, interjects in the background, "Way, Candice girl, you could become a star. But really, you deserve it." Heerah aggrees to do the interview but on one condition, that she talk and conduct her business simultaneously. Plash! She places one dosti dough on the hot tahwah which steams ups the air and stirs up the appetite. "How long since you in his business?"I question. "I doing this for six years now. This stall is really my mother-in-law's business. She is sick now otherwise she would have been here selling too. She in the business more than 66 years now. There are customers who patronise here who coming here and buying roti even before I born," declares the 25-year-old mother of two. "That's why our spot is so popular. People come and buy here because their grandparents and parents used to buy here. We have dedicated customers who like what we prepare," she adds. At this moment a couple approaches the stall. "We want the usual," the man, who looks like a GQ model, tells Heerah who starts preparing the order instantly. "You want to try one?" he asks me. "I buying here since I small. Its the best roti in the world (and believe me I have travelled far and wide) because they prepare it with love!" he continues in a "Fresh Water Yankee" accent.

His companion looks on enviously as Heerah flips a dosti with a wooden stick. "This stick is called a dabbla and the stick I use to apply the oil is a puchara," asserts the roti connoisseur as she teaches me the tricks and trade of roti making. Two women in poom poom shorts cross the busy Western Main Road and shout midway in the street. "Gimme two beef with pepper. Is for Tommy so you know the drill." Heerah smiles acknowledging the request; she knows Tommy and starts to load up on the pepper sauce. Now I realise why this roti stall is so successful. Not only do the customers eat the roti hot on the spot (hungry anticipation of the great tasting product) but Herrah and her mother-in-law have developed a relationship with their clients who are of different classes, races and ages. "We start work at 5.30 p.m. and close off at 2 a.m. if it's a slow night or 11 p.m. if it's a fast night. Most nights are fast though. Because we sell roti in the evening (not a norm locally) a lot of people come to our stall to buy roti. This work can be challenging at times but it's worth it. I love cooking. I want to go to Hotel School and get my degree to expand the business," the Cascade resident says. A glimmer of ambition sparkles in her eyes as she speaks about her career.

"We often have stalls at the big fetes for Carnival. UWI, Moka and some big ones. I think I have what it takes to take this cooking talent to the next level. I used to love Home Economics at School," she says. I am amazed at her multitasking ability as she speaks to me, rolls out dosti, cooks them on the fire and wrap rotis all at the same time. A group of limers now approach the stall and I take my cue to leave as the action heats up on the street that never sleeps. "This roti stall could be named 'the stall that never sleeps' then, because you serving clients in St James?" I quiz finally. "Hahaha I guess you can call it that," she concludes laughing and with that she starts her magical manoeuvres once more with her tahwah, dabbla and puchara.

From the Editor—

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candidates for our Real Women Real Stories series. If you

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you have a likely candidate please send an email with

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This week Real Women Real Stories makes a stop at the liming capital of Trinidad — St James. Hot roti prepared on the spot by Candice Heerah is the sizzling story and not the music and madness common to the many bars on the lively Western Main Road. Heerah teaches us how to make the best dosti and how to please a dedicated cadre of customers.

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