T&T is a polycultural paradise, filled with vibrant people of fete and faith, the home of the steelpan. The exquisite language of this space is adorned with loan words indicating a society born from arduous journeys of its ancestors. Our uniqueness is unique! Despite the countless avenues traversed, a wonderful array of dishes constitutes the delectable cuisine of this land from roti to doubles to fried bake. But have you ever wondered about the cooking tools behind these scrumptious everyday delicacies? Whatever the baking goal, the bilna and chowki will provide the solution.
Indian indentureship to Trinidad from 1845 to 1917, heralded the transplanting of customs and traditions to a new territory 900 times smaller than India. Religion, music, language and food travelled across the tumultuous Kali Paani. So, too, did a range of cooking utensils. Some are used primarily for special occasions, yet none has had supreme purpose as that of the bilna and chowki! Without this dynamic duo, the endless pursuit of happiness to get the sada roti loya (dough) to swell perfectly on the tawa is unattainable. As traditional utensil usage falls in favour of the perpetual superiority of modern, time-saving cooking apparatus, this couple stands the test of time.
The bilna or rolling pin, cylindrical utensil, roughly 10-15 inches in length and three-inches in diameter with handles on both ends for an easy grip. Handcrafted for the purpose to press out dough evenly, it is often employed in the cooking technique referred to in the Indian community as baylaying. The art of baylaying involves the movement of both hands from the middle of the bilna to the ends and back to the centre is required. Rolling upwards and turning the dough in the clockwise rotation is key to get the dough flat and even.
The chowki provides a steady platform that guarantees your desired dough shape. Wooden and circular with legs roughly 3-4 inches, this pasteboard complements its slender partner. Sprinkling bits of flour to the chowki, also known as parthan, prevents the dough from sticking.
Trinidadian lore forbids the washing of a wooden bilna and chowki. Simply passing a damp cloth and scraping the hard remnants of dough with a knife would suffice. This multi-purpose tool can help accomplish many tasks, use it to pound your garlic into a fine paste for any savoury dish! The combination of a large knife s tip and the bilna as its power source punches an even greater hole than a can opener when done skilfully.
So whether you re having that early morning sada roti or aloo roti dinner, the bilna and chowki saves the day. Bonnie and Clyde. Romeo and Juliet. Compulsive fixation or not, there is none so compatible as the bilna and chowki.
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water (add more if required)
For aloo filling
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground hot pepper
2 tsp geera
1/4 cup oil or melted margarine for coating
1 Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl.
2 Add cup of water then mix and knead until dough is soft. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rest for 1/2 hour.
3 For the filling, cut potatoes in half then boil them with skins on until it becomes tender. Then, peel and mash well with the back of a fork.
4 Add garlic, onion, salt, pepper and geera. Stir well and set aside.
5 Divide the dough into six portions. Roll each portion into a ball (loya) then flatten with palm of hand.
6 Put 2 tbsp of potato mixture in the centre of the dough. Pull the edges together at the centre to cover the filling and reshape into a ball. Repeat for each portion.
7 Leave it to set on a lightly floured chowki, covered with a damp cloth for roughly 10 - 15 minutes.
8 Roll out each ball on the chowki using a bilna. Aim to get dough as thin as possible without bursting it.
9 Place on a hot oiled tawa. Let it cook on the first side for approximately 1 minute. Keep small bowl with oil nearby in order to oil the tawa and spread on roti.
10 Then turn over roti and brush with oil; cook for roughly 30 - 45 seconds.
11 Turn over again. Brush with oil and cook this side for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve with a curry dish.