Global Breakfast: Trinidadian Buss-Up-Shut with Curry and Spicy Fixins in Richmond Hill

By Anne Noyes Saini


(Photographs by Anne Noyes Saini)

Global Breakfast, a new series here on the Real Cheap Eats blog, celebrates the diversity of the foods eaten for breakfast throughout the world—from arepas to dim sum to corned beef hash—as found in New York City.

In both Trinidad and India, griddled flatbreads are popular breakfast foods. That’s not surprising, since South Asian immigrants introduced many food traditions to the West Indies.

But over time—amid Trinidad’s diverse brew of Asian, African and European cultures—many of these dishes with South Asian roots have evolved and changed. So if you order a paratha (known as a “buss-up-shut”) in a Trinidadian roti shop, you’ll get a flatbread that bears little resemblance to one served in a North Indian dhaaba (roadside diner).

The dough for Trinidadian buss-up-shut is made with white flour (rather than the durum wheat flour used in India) and spiked with baking soda. It’s kneaded and set aside to rise slightly before being folded into layers, rolled out and griddled. That gives buss-up-shut a lighter, chewier texture than dense, crusty Indian parathas.

But the key difference is in the griddling. After lightly browning both sides of a buss-up-shut, the barely cooked dough is gently beaten and prodded into a heap of soft, feathery, finely-layered bread. It looks a lot like a torn, busted-up shirt (and “shirt” sounds like “shut” when pronounced with a West Indian accent)—thus, its colorful nickname.

Buss-up-shut is eaten mainly on special occasions in Trinidad, but it’s available every day on the breakfast menu at Sandy’s Roti in Richmond Hill, Queens. An order includes your choice of more than a dozen vegetable and fish curries and will run you just $4.

Sandy’s buss-up-shut (shown above) is huge—more than a foot in diameter when unfolded and as thick as a pita in some spots. Thankfully the breakfast curries are served up in equally generous portions.

The pumpkin and bodie (long green beans) curries both came strongly recommended by a Trinidadian friend. When we stopped by, the bright-hued pumpkin curry (shown above) won out. A side order of tomato choka ($2.25) and several condiments—mango kuchela (pronounced KOOCH-ell-uh) and pepper sauce—tipped this generous feast for one into a shareable meal for two.

No eating utensils were offered, so we dug in with our hands, using pieces of the soft, warm bread to scoop up mouthfuls of pumpkin and tomato.

The pumpkin curry was savory and mildly sweet, seasoned lightly with onion and garlic and happily devoid of excess oil. The tomato choka (shown above)—roasted and mashed tomato mixed with oil, raw onion and garlic—kicked in piquant flavor.

The spicy-sweet mango kuchela (shown above)—a Trinidadian condiment made with grated raw mango, chilies, sugar and spices—had savory, fragrant undertones from the ground spices in the mix. In contrast, the house-made pepper sauce (shown below) was tangy and garlicky, with potent Scotch bonnet peppers. We put it on everything and relished the tongue-tingling, stomach-warming burn. (We later snagged a small to-go container for $3.)

The two condiments were among several house-made pickles and sauces on hand to anoint the steady stream of doubles ($1 each) being ordered by nearly every customer at Sandy’s. A popular street food in Trinidad, doubles is like a sandwich. Chickpeas stewed with Indian spices are topped with a spicy-sweet-tangy blend of condiments and smashed between two pieces of fluffy, fried bread (called bara).

Doubles is also a popular breakfast-on-the-run in Trinidad. Think of it like the junky, but satisfying, bagel-and-shmear New Yorkers grab from corner street carts in the morning. In contrast, buss-up-shut with curry is the hearty omelette you rarely have time to sit down and enjoy.

Sandy’s Roti
121-10 Liberty Ave. (map)
Richmond Hill, NY 11419

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