Food is and has always been a central point within every culture. Because of this, population groups don’t just take stories, history and habits with them when migrating; but also dishes. Once in another country, cultures will mix and the dish will be changed to fit into the new culture. A good example of this is roti. After it was introduced in the Netherlands in 1975, it has gradually become an everyday Dutch dish that can be found in almost every supermarket. But which route has this dish taken exactly before it ended up on your plate?
The name “Roti” is derived from the Hindi word for bread. Thus, it is no surprise that the roots of this dish lie in India. It is unknown how roti came to be exactly, but there are some theories. The most widely accepted theory is that nomadic women in India found out that dough could be made out of flattened wheat and this dough could be baked on flat hot stones. This resulted in a primitive form of roti. As with many cultural characteristics, it took centuries of experimentation before roti took its current form.
From India to Surinam
Hindustani people are people who lived along the river Indus in northern India. A big part of this population group moved to Suriname, where they came to be known as Indo-Surinamese people. Between 1873 and 1916, approximately 34,000 Indian people migrated to Suriname. This happened following the abolition of slavery in 1863. Suriname, that used to have plantations that ran on slavery, suddenly had to switch to alternative labor forces. Because laborers from British India were cheap, they were seen as the best option.
In 1872 a treaty, an agreement between states or other political powers, was signed in collaboration with the English government. And so, after a three month trip, the first British Indian migrants set foot ashore in Suriname on June 5th, 1873. Most of them came as indentured laborers; they were often farmers, peasants and people without land back in India, who saw Suriname as a clean slate. They left a poor existence in India. However, the situation in Suriname often wasn’t any better. More often than not, the system of working under a contract was actually veiled slavery. They had to work in poor conditions on the plantations for the duration of their contract, which was 5 years. After the expiration of this contract they could choose to stay in Suriname or return to India. Due to the horrendous conditions on the boats, many Indo-Surinamese people did not want to take this trip back home and decided to stay in Suriname. In 1916, all emigration of contract workers was ceased by the British government, pressured by the nationalistic movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Today, Indo-Surinamese people make up 27.4% of the total population of Suriname with 180,000 people. They have maintained their rich culture. For many of them, it was important to maintain their own traditions, religion and values. This, of course, also included their traditional local cuisine.
From Suriname to the Netherlands
Many Indo-Surinamese people decided to emigrate to the Netherlands after the independence of Suriname on November 25th, 1975. Their future in Suriname was quite uncertain and they were hoping to have a chance at a better future in the Netherlands. Currently there are approximately 120,000 Indo-Surinamese people in the Netherlands, mainly concentrating in and around The Hague. Despite two relocations, Hindustani people have strongly held onto their own culture. Apart from herbs and spices, they have also brought certain dishes to the Netherlands. Among these is the beloved dish called roti, which can be found in almost every supermarket in the Netherlands nowadays.
Photo: by cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark – Roti prataUploaded by palnatoke, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26755312