Kevin Mohabir does not cut corners. In the kitchen of his seven-month-old West Indian takeout restaurant, Roti Paradise, everything is made from scratch daily. He makes his own masala seasoning blend (allspice, cumin, coriander, mustard seed, cinnamon and cloves were the spices he would reveal) and, most importantly, roti, the griddled flatbread that gives the shop its name, is made to order. “I know a lot of places that buy it frozen,” he said. “We make it fresh every day.”
Mohabir doesn’t make the roti himself; that task falls to Annet Saunarine, who pats out the dough and stretches it into an enormous circle before slapping it on the griddle. There it is repeatedly flipped and oiled, flipped and oiled, until the surface blisters and turns golden, and the interior becomes flaky and tender. When it is cooked to her liking, she folds it up in a dish towel and slaps it around a bit to abrade the surface. Traditionally, roti is used instead of a fork to eat its accompanying curry as the irregular surface does a better job of sopping up the gravy.
Besides the regular roti, Roti Paradise also makes dal puri, whose dough is stuffed with split peas (dal) before it is rolled out and griddled.
At lunch, the steam table is filled with pans of savory curried goat, chicken (bone-in and boneless), fish, shrimp and even duck, specialties of Guyana (Mohabir’s birthplace) and Trinidad (his wife’s). You’ll also find Jamaican jerk chicken, stewed oxtail and plenty of West Indian dishes that aren’t roti-go-withs — Trinidadian doubles (a pair of little fried buns filled with curried chickpeas), fried yucca balls filled with chicken or egg, and cakes and pastries filled with tropical fruits.
Because of their Hindu faith, many of the Indians who settled in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands were vegetarian, thus their cuisines make copious and creative use of vegetables. Mohabir is as proud of his vegetarian fare as he is of his meat curries. At breakfast the steam table is devoted to delicacies featuring okra, spinach, potato, bitter melon, eggplant, pumpkin, bitter melon and jackfruit, whose distinctive texture “eats” like meat.
Many of the tropical fruits and vegetables at Roti Paradise are grown on a farm that Mohabir co-owns in Jamaica. Before he became a restaurateur he was a produce importer and ran a grocery in Queens Village. In 2017, the new restaurant next door abruptly closed. “The guy completely renovated the place and after a week he decided he couldn’t do it. He said, ‘do you want it?’ The place just fell into my lap.”
By that time, Mohabir had already worked not only in produce sales but as a local newspaper publisher and a deejay. He’d always wanted to open a restaurant and this seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity. “I called it Roti Paradise,” he recalled, “because it just seemed like a miracle to me.”
Now Roti Paradise is open in Hempstead, where Mohabir used to live and whose West Indian community, he believed, was not being served. In addition to his home-cooked food he also sells his own bottled tropical juices and a selection of imported beverages, candies, snacks and groceries.
Roti Paradise, open every day from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. is at 419 Clinton St., Hempstead; 516-279-6859