Triple Whammy Roti Tour

The itinerary I sent to my mate looked like this:

“18.00-18.30: Roti Joupa (SW4 7UT)

19.00: PUB

20:00: Trinishack Roti (SE24 9DA)

20.30: PUB

21:00: Bajan Spice (SE15 3QF)

21.30: The Old Nun’s Head (that’s a PUB)

You might want to have a light lunch…”

I mean really, what would be the point in visiting just one roti joint of an evening when I could be visiting three? I had recommendations under my belt and I’m not very good at being sensible. Sorry, I made that sound negative, what I meant to say was, I’m very good at not being sensible. I want an adventure, dammit! I want to spaff around South London of an evening and call it a Triple Whammy Roti Tour!

So first stop was the Trinidadian Roti Joupa, which unfortunately is in Clapham but hey, I can take one for the team every now and then. We ordered a curry goat roti and a ‘hot double’ which is a Trinidadian street food snack consisting of two fried flat breads filled with channa (chickpeas) and various toppings, in this case crunchy cucumber bits and a really fierce scotch bonnet sauce.  The chickpeas were quite sweet, balanced by (I think) sour tamarind. This was the tastiest £1.50 I’ve gobbled in a very very long time. Superb.

The curry goat roti however (below) was disappointing. The roti itself was just terrible, heavy and gummy in texture, rather like the tortilla one finds wrapping something watery called ‘Mexican chicken’ in the supermarket chiller. It was the kind of wrap that sticks to the roof of your mouth when you eat it; the opposite of a beautiful flaky roti, basically. The goat (although I suspect it was actually mutton) was very tender but just a bit bland, really. I received some tweets afterwards saying that the rotis have always been rubbish so I’m not sure where all the hype comes from but no matter, it’s worth going for a couple of those hot doubles alone. A double hot double for your trouble.

Roti Joupa, 12 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7UT [map]
Tel: 020 7627 8637

From Clapham North we boarded the kind of backstreet bus that has a P in front of its number and winds around backstreets that didn’t even exist pre-P buses; they just appear in front of them, like invisible computer game platforms, then disappear again once the bus passes through. It was hot, the bus, so we headed straight to the pub for a frosty pint before hitting up the second stop, Guyanese roti joint Umana Yana in Herne Hill.

Now, now we’re talking. So many flaky layers to that roti, almost lace-like when tugged apart. It coated our fingers with oil, letting us know just how much fat goes into making it so delicious. Just look at the contrast between the roti in the picture below and the anaemic tortilla-esque one up top.

I wanted an aubergine filling but she’d run out so we got aubergine and chicken which, let’s face it, are not exactly the most natural bedfellows. Not in the way that, say, aubergine and lamb are. Aubergine and lamb are well tight. The chicken was also cooked down into tiny strands, like the chicken one finds in the filling of a really cheap pie. It should have been so very wrong but it was genuinely bloody fantastic. Richly spiced with a luxurious texture from the aubergine. The bucket of hot sauce alongside was properly special too, rammed with scotch bonnets and I mean rammed. She could bottle that sauce and sell it no problem. If she does she’ll need a name and may I be so bold as to suggest one? I’d name it: ‘5am Wake Up Call’. Does what it says on the bottle.

Umana Yana means ‘the meeting place of the people’ in Wai Wai, which is the language spoken by, somewhat unsurprisingly, Wai Wai people. The meeting place is apparently a kind of conical thatched hut. I know this because a sign on the wall in the shop told me so. It was recommended to me by a reader and at the time she made special mention of the hospitality of the owner as well as the quality of the food and she was right to do so – such a  jolly, welcoming woman. She’s lovely to talk to, she makes incredible roti, she makes hot sauce that I would buy on a regular basis were it available in the shops and she raised no objection to me and my mate swigging from a bottle of Armagnac outside her shop. Go.

Umana Yana, 294 Croxted Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 9DA [map]
Tel: 020 8671 8227

From Umana Yama, a step up in the bus hierarchy with the ever reliable (chortle) 37 down to Peckham Rye and short walk up into Nunhead for our final stop, Bajan Spice. We were getting a little full by this point so we  messed with the agenda and wolfed the next roti down sharpish for fear it would be game over.

Sadly, this final roti wasn’t really up to scratch. My tour was bookended by two shoddy examples. The mutton was tender and the flavour well, quite nice I suppose (‘nice’ is always a great compliment) but there was rather a lot of potato and (whispers), I’m not really a huge fan of potatoes. Yeah yeah. Also, the roti was as crap as example number one at Roti Joupa.

The pot of hot sauce provided alongside was miniscule, which is okay I suppose because it’s spicy but they could have asked how much I wanted.

“Be careful with that”, warned the chef, “it’s home made”.

So a) you’ve got no idea who you’re talking to and b) you’ve no idea where I’ve just come from, so basically,  gimme more sauce. It wasn’t a patch on the heat or flavour of Umana Yana’s sauce in any case, the rest of which is residing happily in my fridge, ready for the next time I need to get up extra early…

Bajan Spice, 28 Nunhead Green, London, SE15 3QF [map]
Tel: 020 7358 0090

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37 thoughts on “Triple Whammy Roti Tour

  1. I read this a while back (I’ve been to Umana Yana), and recently visited Malaysia Kopi Tiam on Charing Cross Road. The ‘Roti King’ works on the first floor – you go through a rather grotty-looking restaurant to go upstairs and order roti canai. They were delicious – fresh, fluffy and came with a fantastic curry. All for £5.50 (2 rotis included). Recommended!

  2. Hey all,

    I’m wondering if anyone has tried Chaconia on Deptford High Street > https://plus.google.com/100203791657172636244/about < my friend is a regular there and, that even though evidently their prices are going up a tiny amount for 2013, the value for money can't be beat (definitely the prices on the menu seem too good to be true), how do the prices on the menu compare to places like Roti Joupa and Umana Yana?

    I'm told they do all of the above discussed, but doubles are on the specials menu so only seen on occasion as are some amazing fried fish (red snapper I believe). Also been told me about a snack called Pholourie which at 7 for £1 seems like a bargain already.

    If anyone would like to join me, I think I'll be hitting this spot soon!

  3. From the pictures, the roti from Roti Joupa looks the best. Roti shouldn’t be so greasy you can feel the grease in your fingers. It should be soft, flaky, but relatively dry. I think you have roti mixed up with Puri bread, which is meant to be oily.

  4. Hit Roti Joupa and Umana Yana last night. We were on bikes and have to say that we got quite a bit slower after all that roti.

    Roti Joupa wins on the roti stakes. The paratha were delicious.

    Umana Yana won on the hot sauce front, good stuff. When a pile of three rotis came out I sure they weighed a kilo. DId not sit well in the stomach when trying to ride up forest hill.

    Thanks for putting me on to these places. My friend who has recently cycled through India and Pakistan was most impressed with the Trinidadian take on rotis and paratha.

  5. The Guyanese looks great though; other West Indians would never believe you, but the food in Guyana is the best in the region. In fact, most Jamaicans and, especially, Bajans, would give you the look that French people give you when you tell them that London is a more exciting place to eat these days than Paris………….

  6. Ahh Roti Joupa! I’m actually on a quest to save Clapham High Street from Room 101, in the food stakes at least (I have neither the will or inclination in other respects)…maybe Roti Joupa is not going to be my shining beacon of hope, but should I give it a go anyway? What says you? Heather x

  7. I’ve walked past that roti place about 4 times a day for goodness knows how long, and never even THOUGHT about going in. So wrong. It is now where I’m having dinner tonight. Thanks.

  8. ooooh, yum, when I spent some time in Malaysia roti was one of my favourit things to eat – every day for breakfast (OK, and sometimes, lunch, dinner, snacks). Not sure it’s common where I am now but next time I’m in London I’ll try some of these out.

  9. Hey Helen,

    For a good Trini roti, replace Roti Joupa with Roti Master in Croydon.
    That is a really good one: bigger rotis, well seasoned meat and friendly staff :)

  10. She doesn’t do the doubles every day though. You have to strike lucky. Very tasty served with her homemade tamarind sauce. She also makes her own sorrel drink, which is a kind of rosehip.

  11. Wonderful (intrepid) post, Helen!

    How disappointing about Roti Joupa though! I was planning on taking a gaggle of mates there when I get back from Trinidad in a few weeks. That dhalpourie should be filled with crushed split peas, and the goat/potato shouldn’t be so runny. Plus, you really should have some extra bits in there too (green beans, pumpkin, curried mango).

    The doubles look bob on though; although £1.50 is hilarious. They’re 30p a pop here! I’ve often wondered about setting up a doubles stand at music festivals and the like in the UK; you’d make a bloody killing!

    The Guyanese looks great though; other West Indians would never believe you, but the food in Guyana is the best in the region. In fact, most Jamaicans and, especially, Bajans, would give you the look that French people give you when you tell them that London is a more exciting place to eat these days than Paris………….

  12. Yay. Glad you finally went to Umana Yana. Debbie is wonderful……and what she comes up with in such a tiny space is unbelievable.
    If I lived nearby I would be sampling her goods at least 3 times a week. I like her salt fish and potato curry, and the doubles she does, although they go by another name in Guyana.

    She also does catering. Have been in there when she has been packing up large containers for parties.

  13. I’m not sure the owner of Umana Yana really technically *noticed* us swigging the Armagnac, but I’m sure she would have been fine with it had she done.

    Almost definitely.

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