Panka Deo gets the same question all the time. “People always ask, ‘Will you bring me one of those Indian burritos today?’ ” he says. “I have to laugh. It makes sense and it doesn’t.”
It’s easy to imagine that the 37-year-old owner of JP Roti Shop has explained what a roti is — and isn’t — hundreds of times. The signature dish at his family’s Dorchester eatery is not a burrito, but the stretchy wrap stuffed with curried meat and seafood could be mistaken for one. Deo explains that this style of roti hails from Trinidad, in the West Indies, where his family is from. The Jamaica Plain clan became known for the dish, beginning with his mother, who sold them as a vendor at the annual Trinidad-style summer carnival in Roxbury. Soon, fans from well beyond the neighborhood started showing up to cookouts in their yard. All of that good Trini fare is now cooked up in a slip of a space, open since July in Codman Square.
Pull open the sturdy metal door and step inside. Directly in front of you is a mini-mart with aisles of snacks and drinks. Look to your right and you know you’re in the right place. On a Saturday afternoon, a patient crowd stands four people deep, waiting for rotis made to order.
There are precious few places to sit, but that’s by design. Everyone is getting food to go, so chairs are occupied by customers waiting to pick up. It’s not immediately apparent where to place an order. Folks point a newcomer to a young fellow perched on a stool in the corner (he’s one of Deo’s cousins). He takes your name, writes your order with a Sharpie on a white paper bag, and hands it to the aunties cooking behind the counter. Be prepared to wait anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes for your name to be called. The kitchen crew won’t start making your order unless they know you are present and accounted for. You pay when you pick up your order.
Dhalpuri roti is the specialty here. Cooked yellow split peas are seasoned and milled into a fine consistency, then kneaded into wheat flour dough that’s rolled thin like a crepe. Each 12-inch round is grilled flat. Flecks of the ground legumes add subtle texture to the final product.
On a day we drop by, there is no goat, but every other curried filling is on offer. You customize your roti, indicating items you would like included. Choices range from all veggie ($7.50) to a combination of shrimp, beef, and chicken ($12). You can also order the dish deconstructed, with meat and veg in a takeaway container accompanied by roti “skin” on the side (add $1.50 per plate). Make sure a muffin-size sweet bread ($3), a clove-scented crumb cake studded with raisins, makes it into your sack.
If you don’t know the difference between aloo (potato) and channa (chickpeas), or what bodi (long beans) and kuchela (mango chutney) are, just ask for your roti with everything. The chile-sensitive might forgo the dribble of hot sauce, but they would be missing a deliciously incendiary slurry made from habanero peppers (also available for $11 a pint).
Rush home and unwrap the foil encasing the delicacy. Congratulate yourself for not having devoured the heavy, fragrant bundle in the car. It may not be traditional to do so, but slice it in half so you can admire the strata of tender stewed beef, morsels of chicken, and snappy whole shrimp tucked amid soft-cooked potato, pureed calabaza squash, and nubbins of green beans. Together with a ruby-hued sorrel punch ($2), you feel transported to a tropical clime.
Deo tells us that Thursdays are when specials like oxtail, curried fish, or stewed greens are on offer. These aren’t available Fridays or Saturdays (the only other days the place is open) because, as Deo quips, “it’s dead busy.”
Join the standing-room-only crowd. This roti is worth the wait.
JP ROTI SHOP
482 Washington St., Dorchester, 617-825-4860.
All credit cards except American Express. Not wheelchair accessible.
Roti (veggie, chicken, shrimp, beef, or combination) $7.50-$12 (plates add $1.50). Sweet bread $3-$8. Drinks $2.
Hours Thu-Sat 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sun-Wed.
What to order Roti with shrimp, chicken, beef; sorrel drink; sweet bread.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.