There are a few food items that Malaysians strongly identify with and take pride in showcasing as truly Malaysian. Nasi Lemak, Teh Tarik and Laksa are some that come to mind instantly. Right there at the top of this list is also Roti Canai.
Roti canai is a popular breakfast dish is Malaysia but it is truly enjoyed at all times of the day, from morning to late night. It is served with dhal or other types of curry though some also add a little spicy chilli sauce called sambal on the side. Yum! In its simplest form, it is just a layered pan fried flat bread. There are also variations with all sorts of ingredients layered in including meat, eggs and cheese!
Origins of Roti Canai
Roti canai is a dish attributed to the Malaysian Indian Muslims, otherwise known as “mamaks”. It is a variation of the Indian paratha linked to their roots in India. Roti canai itself is a Malaysian version that is only available in this region.
While some say the word “canai” comes from the city “Chennai” in India thus literally meaning bread from this particular city, others say that “canai” is actually from the Malay cooking term which means to stretch and knead dough. This process is vital to getting the layered bread just right. Slightly crispy on the outside yet soft and fluffy on the inside. Whatever the case, we can all agree that while roti canai is a dish that is influenced by its Indian origins it has evolved into a bread that is uniquely Malaysian.
How to Make Your Own Roti Canai
While roti canai is available here in pretty much every neighbourhood mamak cafe or stall, you might find it difficult to find overseas. The solution is simply to make your own. All you need is some very simple ingredients a little bit of muscle.
Here’s a recipe I use when I was living abroad. Give it a shot and just direct message @butterkicap on IG or FB if you have any further questions.
- 1 kg flour
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp condensed milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup oil (set aside in a bowl to soak dough balls)
- Mix all the liquids into a bowl except the 1 cup of oil.
- Add flour and knead into a ball.
- Pour cup of oil into a big bowl. Make small balls out of the dough and place them into the bowl of oil. Makes about 18 balls. Let dough rest for 5-6 hours.
- Flatten out a ball of dough. Hold with two hands and whip it around in a circular motion smacking it against the table after each round. This will stretch the dough.
- Once it’s thin enough. Stretch out the edges of the dough until it’s almost translucent.
- Fold it in. Then roll (spiral) from both ends. Place one side of the spiral on top of the other. Repeat until all the balls of dough have been stretched out and rolled into layered balls.
- When you’re ready to cook the roti, lightly squish down each layered roti until it looks like a pancake.
- Heat a flat pan on medium and cook each side until it is a light golden brown.
- Remove from the heat, lightly clap the sides of the roti canai together to fluff it up a bit. Enjoy with a bit of sugar of dhal.
- If you’re making a whole big batch of roti canai to keep then don’t fully cook everything until golden brown. Just cook the roti halfway through and then bag and freeze for another day.
- If you don’t have butter, you can replace it with margarine or ghee.
- Condensed milk can also be substituted with fresh or full cream milk with a bit of sugar.