We’re half a world away from Trinidad, but Calypso Col’s Caribbean Roti Hut at Mermaid Beach is as close to the real thing as you’ll get. Not only was the owner born in Trinidad, but his family brought the recipe with them on migration to Australia.
Beulah and Lenny Richmond were taught the skill of making roti in Trinidad by an Indian friend and, after coming to Australia, opened the Caribbean Kitchen in Dee Why, Sydney in 1972, operating it until 1985. Their children carried on in the business, opening roti huts in Cairns and the Gold Coast.
Just as the Richmonds brought their culture to Australia, the roti itself is a blending of East and West Indian cultures– the bread from India; the curry from the Caribbean. The word ‘roti’ has two different meanings: firstly, in Asia ‘roti’ refers to the pastry-like wheat flour bread itself; the wrapping, cooked on a tava, or curved griddle. In West Indian countries, especially Trinidad, a roti refers to the soft oblong-shaped bread wrapped around a meat and vegetable curry, a melting pot of the flavours of India and Caribbean Creole.
Calypso Col’s Caribbean Roti Hut is Col Richmond’s work of love, carrying on from where his parents left off. It’s a casual, bright, spotlessly clean café with simple furnishings: handmade burnt wood tables, corrugated iron panels featuring Trinidad beach scenes, bright blue and red feature walls, ambience added by the filtered sound of steel drum reggae music.
It’s the food and the friendly service which brings customers back to the Roti Hut. “We are a family business, which means we add that personal touch,” says Col. “We keep the menu small so that everything is prepared fresh. We cook from our heart.”
And cook with love, they do! It’s time intensive work, with each dish made from scratch. Rotis are all handmade, every potato used in the curry peeled by hand, without preservatives, artificial colourings or MSG.
Besides the roti, Calypso Col’s Caribbean Chilli Sauce is the house specialty. Handmade from all natural ingredients, Col uses bright yellow chillies which he grows himself. Starting off dark green, the chillies slowly turn bright yellow to display the unique flavour and colour that have been the hallmark and passion of the people of the Caribbean for generations.
I’d eaten many times at the Roti Hut on Mulgrave Road in Cairns, but Col’s is the best roti I’ve tasted. My lamb, vegetable and potato roti arrives, stylishly wrapped in greaseproof paper on a silver tray. It’s simple to eat with two hands, and a deliciously healthy meal of dryish curry, chunks of tender slow-cooked meat which falls apart, perfectly cooked potatoes and vegetables, wrapped up in a delicious outer coat. I peel the outer layer away a little and smother the filling with Col’s hot sauce for maximum effect! Yum!
‘Why have I not eaten here before?’ I ask myself!
Addiction has set in with the first mouthful, and already I’m scanning the menu for what I’ll choose next time. There are about ten meal options ranging from $7 for Vegetarian to $12 for Prawn roti, with most of the meals costing $9.50. A bottle of Col’s sauce to take away is also a must!
In the four years since The Roti Hut opened, Colin and Linda have established a firm clientele of regulars, some phoning ahead, many riding past on bicycles to collect their takeaways, others settling in for the most nutritious eat in takeaway in town. Sometimes, we’ve heard, it gets really busy, but we’d always be happy to wait for such nutritious, handmade food, knowing that Calypso Col “cooks from the heart hoping to touch yours”.
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