New York is the first place I’ve lived where I feel connected to it as a place and not as the foundation for relationships. I have found myself at home on the concrete and the subway platform. I like the cocoon of the tall buildings and the visual comfort of rows of brownstones. There are endless frustrations here, and they often have me wondering why I came or stay. But I never falter in thinking that no matter what happens in the future, this is the place where I felt most at home; the place where my ashes should be sprinkled.
When I think about Vancouver and Edmonton, and even that distant Toronto from grad school, it is people I want to see again, not the cities themselves. My missing them is not about the streets and buildings. Edmonton is a city I find hard to relate to right now, with disappointment easily outweighing any nostalgia. And with Vancouver being more of a rest stop in my life, it is hard to ever see it as a place that somehow belonged to me. But if home is where the heart is (excuse the sap), then there are homes for me there, as the warmth and love of my friends is often deeply missed. And in the case of Edmonton, I very much miss going out with my friends for things like Red Star‘s Reggae Night.
When I left Edmonton in August 2009, Reggae Night had become a monthly affair, and I would meet a small group of friends on those Wednesdays. Blair, the owner, would spin while his mother would prep roti, jerk chicken, and cornbread for those of us who would gather to mourn how far away we were from the Caribbean. The Red Stripe always helped. The food was never anything more than fair to average, but without much of an island food presence in the city, it was always a treat.
I don’t know if was a craving for roti or my friends when I decided that an afternoon off to visit the Brooklyn Museum would involve lunch at Glenda’s. I had bookmarked a Serious Eats post positing it as the best place for roti in Brooklyn, and it must have always kept buzzing at the back of my mind. Located in Crown Heights, Glenda’s is interesting to consider in terms of connection to a place. In my limited knowledge, Crown Heights is associated with violent riots, gentrification, and Carnival. Even in the short period of living here, the gentrification juggernaut of Brooklyn has made serious inroads here.
But north of Eastern Parkway, where Glenda’s is located, it feels less pronounced, and you definitely feel like you’re in a neighbourhood with a strong Caribbean presence. Glenda’s feels untouched by any current connotations of Brooklyn. The presence of thick plexiglass (possibly bulletproof) that comes between you and Glenda as you place your order plants your feet more squarely in connotations of Brooklyn past. The 70s basement faux wood panelling on the walls and out-of-date tables and chairs do that, too. It’s not charming, it just is. A clean place to sit and eat. And it’s not Brooklyn past—I am there. As a foodie, I researched and read. I’m not there on a quiet afternoon because I live nearby or happened upon it. It is a place in flux, like almost all of New York, all of the time. Which I love.
And wait for it… I loved that roti. I went with the veg and got added channa/chickpeas. Friendly Glenda asked if I wanted hot sauce, and I said yes. But when my roti was ready, there was no little side dish of sauce. “Oh, can I have some hot sauce, please?” I asked. “I mixed it in there for you. Let me know if you want more,” she replied. Glenda is both a good cook and a perceptive one, as she spiced the filling perfectly for me. The mix of potatoes, channa, cabbage, and peppers had a nice depth of curry flavouring and seasoning, but the heat from the hot sauce is what made the sizeable roti addictive. And slow going. I definitely needed a pause between bites when my hunger would allow it. The best part was the roti shell. Not only was it tender and chewy, it was A+ perfectly folded around the filling. I’ve only ever eaten roti with a knife and fork because there was nooooo way a pick-up could occur given either the folding technique or the dryness of the skin. Glenda’s roti could be picked up like a loose burrito without anything falling all down my front and staining me turmeric.
I had wanted to try doubles, but alas, she said it was too early, they wouldn’t be ready for a while. I made do with trying sorrel. I’m a big fan of having the hibiscus drink jamaica when at Mexican restaurants, so assumed I would also like sorrel. It was a bit too Hawaiian Punch in terms of sweetness, but it was perfect for that wonderful contrast between sweet and salty that can work with certain food and beverage pairings.
A Red Stripe would have also been nice. But only if my Wednesday crew was there, too.