- Cara Reedy is an Executive Assistant at CNN. She previously wrote for Eatocracy on being a small cook in a big kitchen, St. Louis' Provel cheese and her family's soul food traditions. She caveats that doubles aren't pretty (as pictured above) but they sure are delicious.
The Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn has been home to a vibrant Caribbean and African American community since the great migration of the twentieth century. African American people moved to northern states to escape the racial segregation of Jim Crow laws, while at the same time Caribbean people moved to New York for better employment opportunities. The slow Southern charm mixed with the warmth of the Caribbean people make it a neighborhood unlike any other.
When I arrived five years ago, I was a Caribbean food novice. I soon caught up and caught on to the wonderful flavors. My favorite discovery is doubles, a Trinidadian street food that is a Bed Stuy breakfast tradition.
Despite its plural name, a double is a singular sandwich made of two pieces of fried bread (bara) filled with curried chickpea stew (channa) and then topped with tamarind chutney, kuchela (chutney made of green mangoes) and pepper (a vinegary sauce made from scotch bonnet peppers).
Channa and bara are direct descendants of chole bhature, a Punjabi dish of crisp, puffed bread served with a heavy chickpea stew. During the late 1800's Trinidad and India were both part of the British empire. Indian people emigrated to Trinidad as indentured workers to farm the land. They brought with them their food and culture.
The legend goes that Emamool Deen was selling channa and bara in Princes Town, Trinidad, when the customers started asking him to double the bara. He named the creation "doubles."
My personal love affair with doubles started on my way to the subway my first full day in the neighborhood. I noticed a tiny shop with a line out the door. The windows were opaque with steam, making it impossible to see inside. But the smell of hot oil and curry was wafting through the air.
The sign said "Doubles" but at the time I had no idea what that meant. What I did know was whatever it was, it was going to be dinner.
Because most of the little shops in my neighborhood close early, I raced home from work to catch the mysterious food. At 5:30, the shop was shuttered and the smell of oil and curry was long gone. I was absolutely determined to have this curry goodness, so I got up early the next morning and waited on line.
Stupidly, I didn't bother to Google "doubles," so when it was my turn to order, I was lost. There were no menus, just a steam table of items I couldn’t make sense of through the steam. I panicked and stood there with my mouth open. The entire staff of the shop was staring at me. I could feel the impatience growing from the people behind me in line.
After what seemed like an eternity, (it was probably only a few seconds) one of the staff broke the awkward silence and said "Yes."
I blurted out "I'll have a double." That seemed to be sort of correct, because then she asked “You want tamarind and pepper?” I said, “Sure.”
Then she quickly laid two round pieces of bread on some wax paper, spooned out something on top of one, spooned some sauces on top of that and stuck the top piece on, twisted the wax paper around it and dropped it in a brown paper bag, which I immediately stuffed in my purse.
Unfortunately, the grease bled through my purse by the time I got to work. My disappointment over my ruined bag soon disappeared after I bit into the creation. The soft fried bread filled with chickpeas, sweet tamarind and spicy pepper chutney is quite possibly the perfect food
At that moment doubles became an addiction. I got up early every day, to stand in line. I tried out all the extra toppings on the steam table. (salt fish, herring, spinach, potatoes and more). Every morning as I ate my doubles, the pungent smell of curry and oil flowed through the newsroom. Some of my co-workers started begging me to bring them Doubles. Once I did, they too were hooked and I became a one-woman doubles dealer. I was transporting large bags of doubles on the A train from Bed Stuy to Manhattan every day.
Unfortunately, I started to gain weight after a couple of months, so I had to quit cold turkey. I walked to the subway on the other side of the street, to stop myself from getting in line. I’m OK now and have limited myself to once a month, but If I ever leave Bed Stuy, I will have to make them myself.
Try this recipe from Epicurious.com
Got a food obsession? We'd love to hear all about it in the comments below.
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