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Clap Roti: Recipe and Reckoning

By Saide Kamille Singh |
JULY 27, 2023
My mother, over an oiled karahi
So, you want to make clap roti.

First, in your efforts to understand the culinary pursuits of your people, you must acknowledge that your ancestors will guide you in some ways, but not all. Your learning must be intentional, careful, and diasporically attuned. Even so, you must enter the kitchen already knowing that to get to Guyana, your ancestors traversed an Atlantic Ocean that represented nourishment and fulfillment, but also emptiness and displacement. Yes, this tension will gnaw at your livelihood, but you will be okay.

You’ll let the gas stove click three times before the blue flames creep up and when you place your pink ceramic pan from Target on the burner, you’ll remember your mother’s rusted and warped pans and the memories will flood in. How she peered under the oiled karahi to make sure the burners lit. How she falsettoed some song in Hindi even though she didn’t know the language. She would tell you to “mek ya way” whenever you wanted to help, but you knew that, secretly, she wanted you there. She would heat up a tawa, a flat pan for roti making, on the other burner as she pushed diced onions and minced garlic into the karahi. And, she did this all while her shoulder was scrunched up to her ear, holding her phone in place as she gossiped with her sisters back home.

They were definitely talking about something good, something juicy, scandalous even, but “dis was big people dem talk” and you didn’t care about it much. In the meantime, while the greens browned, she turned to her right and began washing dishes. With her back turned, you made your way over to the karahi before she could say “hello hi wha you doing” and brush you away from her stove. She’d dry her sudsy palms on a dishrag and return all her attention to mounds of dough left uncovered on the counter next to you. She would glance at you once, but let her eyes zero in on the tawa. One day, that same day you were kicking your brown knees from countertops, she asked, “you know what they call this back home?” and before you even had a chance to answer, she said
clap roti.

● ¼ cup indo-diasporic poetics
● 4 tsp of ancestral guidance
● a pair of rough, taught hands
● a good chutney soca mix 1


Why is there no specified cook time?

Before making clap roti, you will have a number of questions, one of which might be, “How long will this take?” “I don’t have all day,” you say. First, I applaud your ambition in wanting to adhere to a schedule; however, this will take time, an unspecified amount of time that will carry you beyond the page and into the depths of the kala pani and you should know that this cultural, culinary work is generational, matrilineal, and orally shared. Have patience. Or at least work toward learning it.

What can I serve with clap roti?

Bhajee, chicken curry, bhunjal chicken, beef curry, fish curry, hassars curry, goat curry, pumpkin curry, bygani choka, dhal. You can also just eat it with butter. You can dip it in warm tea.



In the making of clap roti, like most other dough-based foods and pastries, you need to mix the dry ingredients first, then slowly integrate the wet ingredients (in this case, water). But to understand the “water” in this recipe, you must understand the viscerality of water in the Indo-Caribbean context, otherwise known as the kala pani. For feminist scholar Brinda Mehta, kala pani, or “Black water,” delineates the history of oceanic crossings by Indian migrants conscripted into indentured labor after the abolition of slavery by the British in 1834.2

My previous ventures into the kala pani examined Indo-Guyanese women poets within the corpus of the kala pani: the first time with a digital humanities scholarship that allowed me to create a Scalar site entitled “Indo-Diasporic Currents” and most recently in my undergraduate English Honors Thesis entitled “Indo-Diasporic Women Poets: Writing and Reorientations of the Kala Pani.” In these works, I explored how Indo-Caribbean women produce lyrical and evocative poetry that speaks to their lived experiences during and after indentureship. With this recipe, I embark anew on the indentured migratory waves of the kala pani. I am using the clap roti to highlight how Indo-Guyanese women have imagined beyond the temporal and geographic constraints of the domestic sphere to assert their prowess as cultural workers, preserving and recreating an Indian-Caribbean culture both distinct from and reminiscent of India. As Black Caribbean American novelist Paule Marshall writes, Caribbean mothers and grandmothers have transformed the space of the kitchen by creating foodways that assert their agency and continue oral history through recipe sharing.3 Writing to understand these foodways acknowledges the depths of their knowledge, creativity, and craft.


Now that you’ve added water to your dough, let it stand for about 10 minutes and then cut it into 8 pieces. As you partition the dough, you might decide to call your mom to hear her voice and also to ask her again how to make clap roti. Even though you’ve made clap roti many times before, these shifting diasporic tides have pushed you further and further away home and so when you call your mom, you know she remembers the right way to make it: the Indian, Caribbean, Guyanese way. Before she can dole out instructions, she will ask, “What do you have on hand?”4

The hands of a recipe are important. It is my belief, contra the conventional wisdom, that you can never have too many of them in the kitchen. In this domestic sphere, the hands can be an evocative metaphor for labor, Indian-Caribbean cultural transcendence, and the physicality associated with sharing knowledge between generations. In your mother’s case, she is asking what you have on hand so that she can give you a recipe that will work with your available materials. She has done this in the past.

The clap roti doesn’t require too much besides flour, butter, oil, and baking powder, but even if you do not have one of those ingredients, she will help you out. That is the tradition of the clap roti. By “tradition,” I am referring to Cristine MacKie’s Life and Food in the Caribbean, where she writes that the diet of indentured Indian laborers was restricted by the availability of food and incredibly low wages, which were often even further deducted if employers issued “any supplementary foodstuff.”5 These restrictions meant the foods were “of a very low quality: heavy carbohydrate laced with the occasional vegetable that was in season… The most families could afford when they arrived, and indeed for many years after, was flour and water to make roti or chappati.”6 The roti that is commonly eaten today with various curried meats was once unavailable to the laborers. This is hard to read, because I cannot imagine pulling apart a roti’s warm delicate shell and having nothing to eat it with but itself.


You’re going to want to roll the dough out into a rather thin circle. Not an oval. A circle. And as you roll out the dough into a perfect circle, you might remember India’s concentric-continent-model for the world in which each continent encircled the mystic Mount Meru and was divided from the others “by one of the seven magical oceans representing the basic needs of humanity.”7 The oceans, in ascending distance from Mount Meru, were made of salt, brown sugar, wine, ghee, milk, curds, and fresh water.

MacKie suggests that we use this model to hypothesize how the Indian diet was constructed and practiced. You can use it to direct the growing circumference of your roti. When you roll the dough, imagine crossing those oceans. As you push your roller out to its edges, stay attuned to the energy you exert and the exasperation you experience after rolling out just one roti. It is not an easy task, as the round and flat quality of the roti necessitates an immense downward pressure.8 You might not have those rough, taught hands yet (as outlined in the ingredients), but recall the hands of those who helped you first make roti.

“Cracked hands/Drop down hands” of a:

Hard working woman
The hands dem corn up
Sick and tired

Dropping the fertilizer has caused
The hands to sore

Hard work mek the hands rough
Dem swell; dem have Artritis
Finger dem swivel up
Finger dem swell9

Those rough hands, corned and arthritic, labored even before they got to the sugar cane fields. They survived the traumas of the kala pani and the continuum of patriarchal violence.


Heat up the tawa and place those thinly rolled-out pieces of roti onto the warmed surface. You might want to brush the roti with some oil so that it doesn’t stick. Once it’s ready (you will know when this is) you will clap all the air out from the roti. Imagine this as a loud applause for the completion of your clap roti. It is here I admit that the Caribbean kitchen is a loud kitchen. If you’re flattening out your roti in silence, chances are your clap roti will not be as good as it would be if there was some chutney mix playing in the background, along with your Guyanese mom talking about somebody or something to her sisters back home over the phone, “yuh na hear what happen to dem?” And the response, to the sound of a clap, “no ah wa happen?”


The roti will last long in the fridge. Stack finished and cooled clap roti onto a large piece of tin foil lined with clean napkins. The napkins will prevent the roti from drying out. Usually, the roti will be finished before the companion curry, so you might have to make more. Then, you’ll have more roti than curry. And thus begins the endless intergenerational loop.

Mom and I in the Caribbean kitchen space, ca. 2002

1. This is subjective, but ask an older Caribbean auntie because she will know the best playlist and mixes.
2. Brinda Mehta, Diasporic (Dis)Locations: Indo-Caribbean Women Writers Negotiate the Kala Pani (The University of West Indies Press, 2004), 5.
3. Paule Marshall, “From the Poets in the Kitchen,” Callaloo 24, no.2 (2001): 628. Marshall describes a domestic sphere inhabited by women poets in the kitchen. These were not born and bred academics who converged around tables in classrooms, but rather poets who did not recognize themselves as such, “ordinary housewives and mothers” who crafted a space that transcended notions of women’s relegation to the kitchen. Though Marshall speaks specifically about Black Caribbean women, there is a parallel in the intellectual production and cultural permanence that occurs in the kitchen for Indo-Caribbean women as well, and largely for women of the third world. In this traversal through clap roti and the Indo-Caribbean women who have reconstituted the kitchen space, this recipe works within the axis and entanglements of culture studies, food histories, and imaginative literature. In the kitchen, these women disseminated and articulated a culture and language, in a way reminiscent of revolutionary poets, that implicitly encouraged reformation in this place of historic marginalization. Even though they did not record their words on paper like the poets we’ve come to know, these women passed on tradition and imagined worlds that surpassed the kitchen space.
4. Also is known as “making do,” as examined in Lynn Marie Houston, “Making Do,” Multi-Ethnic Literatures 32 no.4 (2007), 107.
5. Cristine MacKie, Life and Food in the Caribbean (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1992), 357.
6. MacKie, Life and Food in the Caribbean, 357.
7. MacKie, Life and Food in the Caribbean, 357.
8. MacKie, Life and Food in the Caribbean, 359. Here, MacKie writes, “It is very difficult to make a good, soft and flexible one, and it takes a great deal of experience. However, when well done, it is superb.”
9. Ramabai Espinet, ed. Creation Fire: A CAFRA Anthology of Caribbean Women’s Poetry (Sister Vision Press, 1990), 232.

Saide Kamille Singh is a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research is interested in Indo-Caribbean women’s “kala pani” poetry– an important and underwritten postcolonial literary discourse marking the movement of Indian agricultural workers, largely women, who entered into economic servitude on Caribbean plantation estates.