By: Adline A. Ghani
The other day, I was invited to a buffet dinner at a 5-star hotel, and while my Malaysian friends and I piled our plates with Italian and Japanese food, the sole mat salleh in the group went for the roti canai and chicken curry. Some of us made fun of him, because you don’t go to a 5-star hotel to eat roti canai. After all, you can easily get it at a mamak stall for RM1.00! But, our mat salleh friend happily gobbled it up and went for seconds.
This, to me, means two things: One, roti canai can hold its own against all sorts of international fare, and two, we often take our beloved roti canai for granted, which is why I decided to write a piece on roti canai, an homage of sorts if you will, right here at GoEatOut.com.my. But first, the introduction.
Roti canai is a type of flat bread that’s popular in Malaysia as a breakfast, snack and supper food item. ‘Roti’ means ‘bread’ in many North Indian languages as well as in Malay, while ‘canai,’ on the other hand, means ‘to knead’ in Malay, although some people believe that it is derived from the name ‘Chennai,’ a city in India. In Johor, where I grew up, it’s also known as roti prata.
Roti canai dough is made of wheat flour, water , egg and ghee (clarified butter). The resulting bread may be round and flat, but it’s actually made up of many thin layers. To get these layers, one has to knead, flatten, oil and fold the dough several times, and then allow it to proof and rise.The flattened dough is then cooked on a flat iron skillet that’s doused in oil.
When witnessing someone making roti canai, it becomes obvious that it requires quite a lot of skill. Accomplished roti canai makers can actually spin, twirl, flip and toss thin pieces of roti canai dough up into the air, creating quite an impressive display. Theatrics aside, the quality of the roti canai depends not on the performance of the roti canai maker, but the roti itself, which should be soft and fluffy on the inside, but crispy and flaky on the outside.
Other than the plain roti canai, there are also variations like roti telur (with beaten egg), roti tampal (with a sunny side up egg), roti bawang (with onions), roti pisang (with banana), roti sardin (with sardines) and roti planta (with margarine), to name a few. There is alsothe popular roti boom, which is a smaller, thicker and oilier version of plain roti canai.
Roti canai is often served with dhal (lentil curry), as well as chicken, beef, fish or mutton curries. Some people also like to eat their roti with sweetened condensed milk or sugar. If you have a craving for roti canai these days, and don’t feel like making a trip to the mamak stall, you can also try making your own at home, as there’s now frozen pre-made roti canai that just needs to be reheated. Now that’s fast food!
Image by Indradi Soemardjan (GNU Free Documentation License).