A famous local food, roti canai is cheap, tasty and fills a hungry stomach in the wee hours of the morning.
MORE ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE
Tourists who visit Malaysia for the first time may wonder what is a 'roti canai' when they see it on a menu at a 24 hour mamak stall. It is not difficult to miss as this phrase appears nearly everywhere. There are many variations on this dish, many of which are creations of certain successful mamak traders, which are then replicated by other traders to cater to the customer's demands or requests.
Watching the cooks whilst they prepare roti canai can be interesting. It starts with the cook taking out a piece of dough that contains eggs, butter or ghee, flour and water which has been slightly oiled. The cook proceeds to knead and flatten the dough into a thin layer with oil. Some cooks twirl and spin the dough with their hands to stretch it, repeating this action several times until he is satisfied with the size and the thickness of the dough. Depending on the number of times he twirls and spins the dough, the size could expand up to six or seven times of the original size. The thin layer of dough is then folded into a square or a circle and placed on a hot griddle to fry. Generous amounts of oil or ghee is then sprinkled over the dough to give it a crispy outer layer. Don't be surprised to see the cooks slam these freshly cooked and hot pieces of roti canai between their hands. It is done so that it 'loosens' the dough to make it crunchy and firm to the bite. It is commonly served with dhall curry – a sauce that is made from lentils with carrots, old cucumber and potatoes, chicken or fish curry with a dash of sambal for that extra spiciness and zing. Some prefer to eat it plain, sprinkled with sugar or even condensed milk.
Today, there are many variations of roti canai available in the mamak stalls. To give an idea of what is inside the roti or what it is served with, the word roti is added before the 'special' ingredient that it holds. Some of the most common include roti telur – roti canai with eggs inside, roti bawang – a mixture of eggs and chopped onions, roti pisang – which has bananas in it, and roti planta – dabbed with slabs of a local brand of margarine and sprinkled with sugar. Bigger chains of mamak restaurants have added even more variations, creatively using roti canai as a base in their new dishes. One such example is roti salad, which contains chopped cabbage and carrots mixed with mayonnaise wrapped in roti canai and cut into four pieces. This dish may have been inspired by spring rolls and sushi. There are other more outrageously named roti canai variations, such as those named after the different types of cars produced by Malaysia's leading auto manufacturer. Other traders shred roti canai and fry it with other ingredients, similar to how one would fry char kuey teow.
Seeing the marketability of roti canai, pastry manufacturers came up with the idea of selling pre-made roti canai to consumers, where all they need to do is remove the packaging and fry it straight on a pan. Though this is more convenient and comfortable, nothing beats the taste of a roti canai prepared outdoors, by the hands of an experienced cook and enjoying it with a couple of friends over a nice cup of hot teh tarik.