The Great Torontoist Challenge: West-End Doubles Edition
Photo by Chenette from Flickr.
Generally eaten in its native Trinidad and Tobago as a breakfast food, the loveliness that are doubles reminds Torontoist, yet again, why it’s frustrating that the powers that be won’t let us expand our street-vendor scope past encased meats. Luckily, there are a slew of places that serve up doubles from “proper” store fronts, and while we have a feeling they taste way better off the back of a truck, we decided to hop off our soapbox for the day and give these tasty curry concoctions a whirl.
This isn’t the first time doubles have graced these pages, and there are many great places we missed out on. It must be noted, this Challenge aside, that Toronto’s doubles supply does not only flow from the west end. The east end, all the way out to Scarborough, has many a doubles shop that deserve our patronage; we just weren’t able to get to them on this one.
- Drupati’s Doubles & Roti Shop. Located in Rexdale, Drupati’s is much loved by the doubles-consuming public, with many a message board full of their praises.
- Ali’s West Indian Roti Shop. The large palm-sign out front makes it hard to miss this Queen Street eatery, which not only offers doubles, but also homemade ice cream and a variety of halal items. They deliver too, which is handy when you have a craving but don’t want to wear trousers.
- Island Foods. Island Foods’ website is quite ballsy, declaring a visit to any of their three locations will make you “feel like you’re on a real vacation in the tropics.” While we can’t really speak to what sort of hallucinogen you’d have to be on to actually think you’re on a tropical island and not in Parkdale, we can assure you that Island Foods has an extensive menu including doubles, rotis, and, maybe best of all, boneless goat!
- Kori’s Roti Stop. Torontoist realizes we’re taking this whole west end thing a bit far by having a contestant from Oakville. That said, these doubles were submitted to our challenge by a Trinidadian, so we had to pay attention.
Photos of Island Foods doubles by Julie Reitsma.
Due to some timing turmoil, one of our contestants didn’t make it to the actual judging. Bacchus Roti Shop, the third of our contestants to hail from Parkdale, specializes in Guyanese fare and is known, apart from their doubles, for their vegetarian rotis. Bacchus is also the Roman god of getting your drink on, which, admittedly, is probably not really relevant. What is relevant is that you can’t be crowned queen of the ball if you don’t make it to said ball. We at Torontoist, however, are gracious and really want to give this location a fitting mention—we had every intention of including them properly, and were crestfallen that it didn’t work out. All that being said, we have compiled our thoughts on Bacchus’ doubles, and while they were excluded from winning the ever-important title, you can read all about them anyway in the conclusion portion of this post.
- Handleability. Does it fall apart when you pick it up? Or is it a well-wrapped, compact, handful of joy?
- Filling. Is the channa a good texture, with fresh, well-cooked chickpeas? Is it full of flavour, and not too greasy but still melt-in-your-mouth?
- Outer shell. Does the bara hold together well? Is it tender, freshly fried, but again not too greasy? Is it too thin or too dense?
- Spice levels. Does it have a nice level of bite? Is it too bland, or so hot that your ears start smoking? Were spicy accoutrements readily available upon procurement of the doubles?
- Value. Doubles are already a high-value food price-wise, but is it a nice size as well as good quality?
Photos of Ali’s doubles by Julie Reitsma.
- Handleability. Kori’s—4.5/5. Kori’s doubles comes wrapped in top-notch foil, handy for unfurling in small amounts so as to expose enough for a bite, while keeping the rest warm and cozy.
- Filling. TIE: Kori’s and Drupati’s—4.5/5. Chock-a-block with fresh chickpeas, the Drupati’s channa had a great flavour. Kori’s channa, also super fresh, was melt-in-your-mouth, with a delectable hint of tamarind.
- Outer shell. Drupati’s—4/5. Soft and fluffy like some sort of fried cloud.
- Spice levels. Drupati’s—4/5. It made our nose run, in that good, wholesome-fun way.
- Value. Drupati’s—4.5/5. At $1.25, this doubles was the cheapest of our contestants, and with such high quality, it is indubitably the best value.
We like coconuts and we understand that doubles are fried. To be plain, we don’t even really know if it was coconut oil—it could have been peanut—but coconut seems more fitting for their claims of creating an atmosphere that apparently transports you to the tropics. What we do know for sure is that the first bite of an Island Foods doubles didn’t transport us anywhere except to a deep fryer that hadn’t seen clean oil in a very long time. Granted, the components were cooked to almost the right level, the staff were extremely friendly, and the price, at $1.30, was very economical, but with a lack of spice and the ever-pervasive grease tang, these doubles were barely edible. Despite being the smallest entrant, two of our judges couldn’t bear to finish it.
Ali’s doubles have a nice look to them—they’re a good size, low on grease, well-wrapped, and for a small fee, you can get some tamarind sauce for dipping. Speaking of, Ali’s doesn’t add the pepper sauce to their doubles for you. Instead, they give you a small tub for your self-saucing needs. While at first Torontoist found this to be a grand idea, we soon realized that we’re really quite inept at adding proper levels of spice, and once the doubles are assembled, it’s difficult to create an even zinginess. Our spastic attempts at creating a good spice levels did nothing to help the fact that the channa was bland and insufficient in quantity when compared to the too thick, though very tasty, bara.
Photos of Kori’s doubles by Julie Reitsma.
All the way from the scenic 905, Kori’s doubles are, above all, huge. Wrapped in their foil, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were hamburgers—like proper hamburgers, not the golden-arch type. Other than corpulence, these doubles boast a delicious filling, with a slight fruitiness, and your choice of eight different levels of spiciness. Though the bara—a bit too thick—wasn’t the best we’d had, these doubles are not too greasy, and considering the size, is a pretty fair value at $2.00. The question remains—are you willing to ride the rails out to Oakville to pick these up? Only available on Saturday and with a “call-ahead” recommended, this doubles experience is a wee bit more involved than just hopping on the 501 to get out to the west end of Queen.
Not only did Bacchus not get to make it to judging, but thanks to a broken camera, we are sans photo. Regardless of all of these shortcomings, which really are all ours, Bacchus makes really super-duper doubles. Wrapped in the classic waxen paper, Bacchus stuffs their doubles to the brim with chickpea-curry goodness, and the bara was so perfectly fried that one judge wasn’t even sure if it had been fried at all, but wondered whether it had rather magically materialized in Bacchus’s kitchen, the work of some sort of benevolent snack fairy. At $1.79 each, these doubles are a good value, and though our panel did have to wait a seriously long time before they were ready, the kind staff compensated with free pastries. Oh, if Bacchus had only made it to the judging! We realize that without proper comparison, our assessment of these doubles may be too glowing, but we really did enjoy the experience, delayed though it may have been.
Photos of Drupati’s doubles by Julie Reitsma.
With either a tie or a win in four out of five categories, Drupati’s takes the crown in our challenge. Only missing out in the handleability department due to perhaps not the best wrapping job and an enthusiastic serving of channa, Drupati’s didn’t go wrong in any other way. Of all the doubles we consumed, Drupati’s had the best bite to it. The pepper sauce wasn’t just straight flavourless heat and was the perfect complement to the melt-in-your-mouth filling. The surrounding layer, though a bit pale, was soft, squishy, and chewy in the way you want bara to be. Though they aren’t quite so downtown as some other contestants, the $1.25 per lends itself well to getting a group of doubles-devotees together and using all the leftover monies you have to share one of those minivan cabs or bribe a TTC bus driver to get you there direct and post-haste. What it comes down to, whether in Oakville, Parkdale, or Etobicoke, is that the West Indians have figured out a way to fill us up, any time of the day, for minimal cost but with heaps of flavour. And, considering how good-for-you chickpeas are, we were left, post-challenge, quite befuddled as to how places like Burger King and McDonald’s are still in existence.