Full disclosure: my friends run Ooloonthoo, a restaurant in Roatan, which is what inspired me to take a trip to this island, 35 miles north off the coast of Honduras.
Ooloonthoo is clearly a labor of love for Paul and Soden James. They built their combo restaurant / home with an elegant, open-air dining room suitable for about 10 tables, and a clear view of water and sunsets over the trees. “Ooloonthoo” is the Tamil word for the lentil from which pappadums are made.
Canadian-born Paul was trained at the Stratford chef school — something else Canada’s Stratford is famous for besides theatre and Justin Bieber. Soden is from northern India, but the two met when she was a student in Canada. Together, they have worked and eaten their way around south-east Asia and several Caribbean islands. Though a chef by training, Paul took to scuba diving like, er, a fish to water, and they were first drawn to Roatan because of the diving. But as they say, you can take the chef out of the kitchen, but not the kitchen out of the chef, so Ooloonthoo, the “first and only Indian Restaurant in Honduras,” was born in 2005.
As a two-person team, they operate it by reservation only, a few minutes away from West End’s main drag, on the road to Sandy Bay. Chef Paul is in the kitchen and Soden takes care of the front of house (maitre d’, sommelier, server, and info desk in one). Their schedule changes from week to week, month to month (for example, high season for Central and South Americans is different than high season for tourists from other places; the rainy season has its own highs and lows, and so on).
The night we ate there, other diners included a group of regulars who visit several times a year, and a couple who had read about Ooloonthoo in the New York Times. The latter seemed pleased with their decision to try it on their first night. Kayla the resident Rottweiler and goodwill ambassador appeared after dishes were cleared away, and posed happily for photo ops with anyone who would pat her on the head.
Paul brings a light but flavorful touch to many spice and flavor combinations, some inspired by Soden’s family recipes. His Chicken Tikka, in particular, was spectacular.
In addition to the two-course dinner menu, Ooloonthoo also offers half-day cooking classes tailored to visitors’ interests. For us, Soden revealed the fine art of masala chai before Paul skillfully, but patiently provided basic knife tips, along with a gastro-cultural history of Indian cuisine and recipes to take home.
Soden and Paul have hosted many officials and dignitaries that pass through the area, and for Canadian political trivia, they even have a picture of Justin Trudeau, son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre, eating in their restaurant. Justin brought his family to Roatan, as his father had brought him and his brothers when they were young.
Paul’s Shrimp Molee Recipe
Paul’s recipe combines Indian and island flavors and ingredients.
2 lb jumbo shrimp
One medium-sized white onion, peeled & cut into large dice
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 inch fresh ginger, peeled
2 green chilies
4 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
8 whole cloves
8 whole green cardamom pods
3 whole cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp turmeric powder
3 cups coconut milk
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
4 tbsp cooking oil or ghee (vegetable, canola, mustard)
This delicious sauce from the south western state of Kerala can be prepared in advance and works very well, not only with shrimp but fish such as red snapper or grouper, lobster or cubed chicken breast can also be used. Peel and de-vein the shrimp, being sure to leave the tails on. The tail shells will add flavor to the sauce, while helping to create a pleasing presentation. Refrigerate the shrimp until you are ready to finish the dish. Place the diced onion, garlic, ginger & chilies along with the lemon juice into a blender or small food processor. Using the pulse option, puree the mixture into a smooth paste. When necessary, use a spatula to scrape down any pieces of the mixture that stick to the sides. Set the resulting paste aside until ready to use. Put the oil, along with the cinnamon, cloves & cardamom, & fry over medium heat until the spices become aromatic. Add the pureed onion mixture to the wok and cook while stirring to remove the raw character. Be careful while adding the onion mixture to the wok because it may splatter.
After frying this mixture for a minute or two, add the ground turmeric & salt and stir to combine all ingredients. Once all ingredients are combined, add the coconut milk and gently bring the sauce to a boil. Taste the sauce at this point and feel free to adjust the amount of chili, salt & lemon juice to suit your own taste. At this point, the onions in the sauce may still retain too much of their raw character for your liking. If so, gently simmer the sauce for about ten minutes and taste. The rawness should have mellowed into a beautifully, well balanced sauce. You can now set the sauce aside until ready to finish the dish. Just before serving, bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat, add the shrimp and cook until done. The tails should curl up and the shrimp should be firm but not rubbery when pinched between your finger and thumb.
When cleaning shrimp, first remove the legs from the underside of the shrimp, then, using your fingers, gently peel the shell segments from around the body of the shrimp. Place the shrimp on a cutting board, on its side, so the back of the shrimp with its dark line is visible. Use your free hand to secure the shrimp and press lightly to create a little tension in the flesh of the shrimp. Then, using a small, sharp utility knife (for your safety, a chef’s knife is larger than necessary for this job) gently draw the blade down the length of the shrimp, cutting only deep enough to reveal the dark tract just beneath the surface. Using the edge of your knife, gently scrape out the unwanted tract and wash the shrimp thoroughly before refrigerating.
Kate Keating is a writer and researcher whose daily commute happens in cyberspace most days (mostly because, in real time and space, she lives and works across a province instead of in a city). Kate divides her work and life between Toronto, Ottawa, and London, Ontario, Canada.