Culinary ‘Calypso’ in Brooklyn

  • Long hours accompany the making of roti, a flatbread from Trinidad with Indian origins. Pamela Ramcharan makes 100-200 of them each day for food wraps at her family’s shop in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. (Photos by Zach Williams for Voices of NY)
Ram Rajkumal likens the family restaurant in Brooklyn to the Calypso music from his native Trinidad — a cosmopolitan mix of rhythm and harmony.

His mother, Pamela Ramcharan, comes to Ramas Roti early in the morning morning each day to make the food. His sister, Natasha Luces, arrives a few hours later to run the shop through the afternoon rush. Then Ram takes over for dinner at the mother-daughter-son shop located on Bob Marley Way in Flatbush. And they make it work together.

New York City has many immigrant stories. This one expresses itself in roti, a flatbread formed through a mix of water, dough and Trinidadian history.

Indian immigrants brought nan and Hinduism to the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago when were all British colonies. They added local ingredients to make roti, which forms a food wrap with menu items like curried goat.

Ramcharan learned to flash grill roti as a young girl. Years later it would help her make a new home in Brooklyn when she immigrated in the 1990s. She opened a shop a few blocks from the present location and enticed her daughter and son to join her. Luces said the experience taught her how to keep up in a new country after a childhood in the small town of Arouca.

“We didn’t really have time to grow up in Trinidad,” she said. “It took a while to adjust … I would get lost right around the corner.”

Roti remained a constant for the mother-daughter-son team, 150 of them each day. It fed them literally and figuratively as the business expanded and they settled down to life in America.

They moved to their present location 15 years ago as a new generation entered their lives. Rajkumal said it’s too early to know whether his three children will continue the family business. But they do have an appetite for roti.

In one way or another, Trinidadian culture always has a place at Ramas Roti for the people who made it.

Hindu gods watch over the shop as a loyal clientele comes each day to get their roti fix. The shop offers many of them their first exposure to Trinidadian culture and they keep coming back for more.

“For us teachers, this is where we come,” said Kirby Thomas, who teaches social studies at the nearby Fahari Academy Charter School. “You can tell that it’s not stuff you can just get anywhere.”

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