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Thursday, February 7, 2008

WRAPPER'S DELIGHT

Shakera's isn't much to look at, but the roti is a stroke of perfection

Posted on Thu, Feb 7, 2008 at 4:00 AM

I’ve heard many from Mother India pooh-pooh the cuisine of their West Indian brethren for being derivative and inappropriately spiced – a fairly harsh indictment, given that Indo-Caribbean cuisine, particularly of the Trinidadian and Guyanese variety, distinguishes itself by its intensity. The catalyst is turmeric, the pungent yellow spice used liberally in West Indian curries (and less so in dishes from the Indian subcontinent) resulting in a distinct and arguably more flavorful sauce. When that amber-hued curry is ladled into a doughy roti then folded, it makes for one of the most fulfilling meals you could possibly have, and Shakera’s, a hole-in-the-wall joint in the heart of Orlando’s Carib community, serves up rotis that are just plain exquisite.

Opened in 1992, the restaurant is situated on the bustling northwest corner of Silver Star and Pine Hills roads, and has never been much to look at, inside or out. The dining space is outfitted with furniture that looks like it was lifted from a doctor’s waiting room, with pearlescent Dollar Store vases providing an extra dose of gaudiness to the plastic floral-patterned tablecloths. But what this roti shop lacks in fine accoutrements, it more than makes up for in its kitchen. Windies staples like poulourie (split-pea fritters) and doubles (curried chickpeas stuffed between two fried poori flatbreads) are given the Guyanese treatment, but the curries are best served inside a piping hot roti.

Channa roti ($4.75), for example, bursts with spiced chickpeas and potatoes. Asking for it prepared with X-rated Scotch bonnet pepper sauce prevents you from having to unfold the roti. The enormous boneless chicken version ($5.80) was even saucier, the flavor of turmeric rising above the folds. Rotis can be enjoyed with everything from goat to conch, but a word of caution: Eat your wrap with a fork and
knife; grabbing it with digits will leave a mess on your hands.

Oxtail curry ($6) is more runny than thick, and thanks to a little caramelized sugar and cinnamon essence, slightly sweeter than its Jamaican counterpart. It’s just as enjoyable to chew the oh-so-tender meat off the bony rounds as it is to tear off a piece of basupshut – a thick, buttery flatbread resembling a “busted-
up shirt” – and dip it in the curry.

They were all out of duck curry, so I opted for stewed snapper ($11) instead, which was actually fried first, then stewed in a zesty tomato sauce. The meaty fish was served whole, with head detached. Take your time eating it, as you’re sure to get a bone in every bite. Accompanying sides of rice and red beans cooked in a salty, spicy broth were both outstanding.

Unfortunately, the lone dessert I sampled was not. The dense coconut pastry roll ($1.10) was too dry. Besides, after incendiary meals, I’m always partial to downing a refreshing bottle of Ting, a grapefruit soda that acts as a palliative.

If any eatery typifies the notion that the best food is found in the dumpiest of places, Shakera’s is it. And if you don’t believe me, one look at the line of devoted customers queuing up for the hot roti should do it.

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