City Paper is not for tourists
Chef Peter Prime‘s new H Street NE restaurant Cane is a portal to his native Trinidad. Make the most of your first visit by ordering a tiffin box—a stackable sampler platter of various curries, chutneys, and chokas served with warm paratha bread that Prime griddles just before it’s served.
The chef explains that Indian workers use tiffins to bring their lunches to work either by bicycle or on foot. The compartments help keep each other warm, while still maintaining separation between the various components. “It’s a perfect set-up to deliver the East Indian dishes that we’re highlighting on the menu,” Prime says. Trinidad’s cuisine is an exquisite mash-up of culinary influences from Africa, India, China, and the Caribbean.
While you can buy a four-tier tiffin on Amazon, Prime says it took a while for him to find a version that’s practical for a restaurant setting. When a server delivers the tasty tower, they unstack it, revealing each dish hidden within the round metal bowls. With some versions of the tiffin, Prime worried that “the guest would end up wearing the curry.”
Cane serves an omnivore ($32) and an herbivore ($28) tiffin. Each amply serves two people. Try the herbivore one first; it allows Prime to have the most fun serving what’s in season. Highlights include potato-based and channa-based mild curries, a deep crimson-colored tamarind chutney that is as spicy as it is sweet and sour, and two chokas.
A choka is a condiment of sorts that features vegetables that have been roasted so long that they become soft and their skins slough off. Cooks combine the vegetables with peppers, garlic, and red onions that have been fried in hot oil. Cane serves them at room temperature.
Prime is surprised by the popularity of the tiffin boxes. He’s trying to keep up with demand. The limiting factor is the bread. “Last night was the first night that we didn’t run out of the paratha,” he says.
His next project is developing a vegan version of paratha so that the entire herbivore tiffin will be vegan. H Street NE, after all, is one of the District’s chief corridors for plant-based dining.
Cane, 403 H St NE, (202) 675-2011; cane-dc.com