Elsie "L.C." Chin and her husband created a Trinidadian food destination.
Elsie Chin and husband “Chin” have run L.C.’s Roti Shop in a North Miami strip mall for 21 years. They specialize in modified versions of the dishes her Indian great grandparents brought with them when immigrating to Trinidad in the 1800s to work as indentured servants on a sugar plantation. Chin’s ancestors left China for the same purpose. Elsie emigrated in the 1970s from Pencal in Victoria County, Trinidad. When they were first starting out, to save on money for lettering, Elsie decided to spell her name L.C.
Elsie and Chin have created a fun environment. Caribbean dance music is always pumping at record setting decibel levels and there are no red lines through any signs at L.C.’s, where the owners try to keep things loose.
Drinking is encouraged at L.C.’s Roti Shop.
My friend Ben drank straight from this young cracked coconut, a gargantuan specimen about a foot tall and nearly that wide that offered a deep well of sweet nectar.
We began our feast with a plate of Phulourie (8 for $1), pillowy fritters plated with a pool of mango chutney. I used the surprisingly grease-free phulourie to sop up sweet chutney. The combination was effective, but we saved room for roti by stopping short of cleaning the plate.
Chin cooks feather-light, pull-apart roti on a griddle behind the counter. Ground yellow split peas line the inside of the bread, separating layers and adding both flavor and texture. It’s possible to get the ethereal roti folded around the ingredients like a burrito, or have the ingredients served on a separate plate, where the roti itself becomes a utensil. There are eight different fillings, and we sampled half the menu.
Duck Roti ($8) featured luscious, on-the-bone nuggets of fowl. Each roti comes with a pile of curry-soaked mashed potatoes.
Goat Roti ($7) is Chin’s favorite. He eats goat every day and touts its health benefits. The tender meat was similar to lamb, and not at all gamy.
Sorrel is hibiscus flower. Elsie called it “Trinidadian eggnog,” and said, “If it’s not there at the holidays, there is something wrong. She boils the dried flowers with ginger, clove, cinnamon and other spices, then lets it sit overnight before mixing it with vanilla and brown sugar, to add sweetness. Apparently Yoda likes sorrel too.
Elsie displayed a canister of sorrel in its raw form.
We asked for a sampling of shrimp and conch roti, both partially submerged in a thin layer of herb-flecked, mustard colored curry. Diced conch was incredible, much more tender than normal. Shrimp were a little overcooked, but had great flavor.
Near the end of our meal, we received a metal dish of fresh-cut avocado slabs. It was a nice gesture, but we were already full of roti at this point.
Elsie insisted that we try mauby, a drink made from tree bark. At first taste, it reminded me of root beer, but it had a bitter finish. Intriguing drink.
Elsie imports mauby from Trinidad and showed us her canister.
Because we showed so much interest in the food, Elsie invited us to tour her kitchen before we left. She keeps an open door policy and had no qualms about sharing her secrets. It was impressive to see how much time and effort she put into her seemingly simple cuisine.
Elsie and her husband make everything from scratch, and the commitment to freshness is reflected in wildly vivid flavors. On my next visit to South Florida, there’s no doubt I’ll return to indulge in another taste of the islands.
Note: No credit cards accepted. Cash only.
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