Sunday, January 4, 2009


Roti canai is an Indian food that has been popularized in Malaysia as a 24 hour food, literally, day in and day out and is swiped, slurped and gulped down with a curry by every Malaysian like nobody's business. It is the most popular roti in the country because it's cheap and it's available everywhere and at any time.

Many say that the name' canai' has been derived from the city of Chennai, formerly Madras, (hence the name roti canai/chanai), introduced and popularized by Indian immigrants. On the other hand 'canai' is also a Malay word meaning knead, hence roti canai or kneaded bread. Many Malaysians also believe that this roti is more prevalent here than in India which seems to imply that it is actually a roti that had been invented here and then exported and introduced to India.

But whatever the story is behind this roti maybe the unique characteristic that distinguishes it from other breads is in the way in which it is made. After kneading the dough it is left to rest for a few hours. It is then flattened, twirled and tossed into the air until it becomes so thin that you could almost see through it.

Not a particularly easy roti to make if you haven't the guts, the adventurousness, the patience or the opportunity to learn. But not impossible at all. Like everything else once you get the hang of it (pun not intended) it's easy peasy.

This roti like many other Indian rotis is eaten with all kinds of curries under the sun. A tad greasy (understatement intended) but it seems that nobody cares, at least nobody in Malaysia anyway. After all it's no more greasy than your neighbourhood McDonalds, KFC or the English fish and chips. So don't complain!

I will show you the sequences of making this roti with a lot of help from pictures as it is quite hard to explain in words so I do hope the pictures that I have, with much inconvenience and a with a whole lot of trouble, taken, (in between greasy hands, greasy table and greasy dough) and with the help of one of my wonderful sons, will aid you in getting a more vivid view of the process.

But first a little personal history. I had learnt to make this when, at the age of sixteen, my mother had brought me along to watch an old Malay man (yes, not Indian (long story)) share the secret. I was very lucky to have had that opportunity and he was a very good teacher because after that lesson, no practice, and a year later at the age of seventeen I was making my first roti canai for relatives whom we had invited for dinner. And my rotis were a success.

As they say show not tell is a better teacher. So look at all the pictures and I hope you will be brave and give it a go!


600 gm all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp sugar (2 hours)
1/2 tsp sugar (8 hours)
1/2 pint water
1 egg
pinch of salt

Sift flour into a large bowl or your mixer bowl. Beat the egg and add it to the water, add salt. Stir. Pour the egg mixture into the flour and turn on your machine or knead by hand until you get a smooth ball of dough. Not much different from kneading any other bread dough. This recipe is very precise so it is quite unlikely that you will need to add more flour or water at all. If you do need to, do it a little at a time. Once the dough is smooth roll it inot a long sausage shape and then cut it into 10 pieces. Leave that for a moment.

Get a medium sized wide bottomed bowl or a bowl like the one in the picture and fill it with oil about 2 inches high. Now roll each piece of dough into a nice round ball and place them one by one into the bowl of oil. If necessary add more oil to completely submerge the balls of dough. Don't worry the oil will not be wasted. You will be using it, though not all of it and the rest can be used for cooking ( no it will not be dirty at all unless you have ten other people dipping their hands in it.) Cover with cling film and let rest for either 2 hours or 8 hours depending on the amount of sugar you used.

Grease the surface of your table very well with the oil from the bowl. Better more than less. After the dough has rested for the said number of hours take one ball of dough out from the bowl, place it on the oiled surface/table. Drip some oil from the bowl onto the dough for smoother handling and proceed to flatten it with the palm of your hand as much as you can or until it is about the size of a teacup saucer like in the picture below.

Note : As you take out a ball of dough from the bowl you may find that it sticks to the other balls of dough in the bowl. Do not be concerned. Just detach it from the other pieces and proceed.

Now, using the palms of both hands rub the dough in a circular motion all over and you should find the dough becoming a larger and thinner circle. Get it as thin as you can by doing this without tearing the dough or puncturing it. In between all that you may need to sprinkle oil from the bowl onto the sheet of dough if you find difficulty in rubbing the dough or if the surface of the dough seems somewhat dry . Usually this roti is made on stainless steel counters which does not cause as much friction so less oil can be used in the process. Look at the two pictures below to get an idea.

Now, using both hands, because the sheet is very delicate by now, lift off an edge gently and by pulling and stretching the sheet around the edges you will be able to get the sheet to become thinner and larger. Try not to tear a hole in the sheet, but if you do it is not the end of the world. Just proceed, gently pulling and stretching avoiding hte hole as much as possible, until the sheet is thin and almost translucent. The stretching of the dough lends some airiness and lightness to the dough and sometimes I shake/wave it (like you would if you were shaking a bedsheet) to trap some air underneath. Of course when the experts do it the dough gets very light and it gets a good airing due to the flipping and tossing of it into the air. I can't do that so this is the best that I'm willing to go. Watch the pictures below.

Once the sheet is as thin as you can get it lift it up at one edge and about an inch or two off the table with your fingers like you would a filthy piece of rag. Look at the picture below. Then let it down again onto the table but this time as you let it down swirl it around until it rests on the table like a swirly little turban. Look at the following pictures. This is where you get the last opportunity to trap some air into the mound of dough to give it the lightness later.

Once that is done, and using the pads of your fingers rather than the palms of your hands pat the little turban all over until it flattens out into a larger circle, about the size of a dessert plate. Observe the pictures that follow.

Done. It is now ready to be pan fried. If you are working the dough some distance away from the stove I would suggest that you place the flattened dough onto a saucer and carry it over to the pan for easier handling. Heat up the pan first until hot, add about a teaspoon of oil and wait for that to get hot then place the pancake into the pan. Fry both sides until a golden brown and crisp. The heat should inflate the roti a little through the air pockets that were formed due to the earlier stretching and the final twirling into a turban.

The final product.

TIP : The most hassle free way of making this roti is to finish up the dough by making all the 10 pancakes and keeping each one aside (you must have a surface large enough though) or you could place each one on a saucer each and put aside until the rest are all ready. Then fry them one by one. If you do it this way you will not be running up and down between stretching and pulling the dough, wiping your greasy hands on your tea towel/shirt/jeans/pyjamas/hair/face etc and frying the roti.

This same dough sheet is used to make 'roti bom' which is a smaller and thicker version of the roti canai, 'roti planta' which is roti canai with added magarine of the 'Planta' brand, 'egg roti' which is roti canai with an egg broken into the dough and folded up before frying, and 'murtabak' which is a meat filled roti canai.


terri@adailyobsession said...

am speechless. i've never known anyone who makes their own roti canai. ok so ho fun too, but tt's like comparing making a cart to a rocket.

i am most tempted, esp since the thought of hygiene always spoil my consumptn of roti canai--did u hear d one about the roti canai man who went to the toilet n what was on his ring when he came out?--but this looks way too much skill, n mess, for me to attempt! i salute u!

i will direct this recipe to a person who will love it--my son ming, bc he loves roti canai n he's away in melbourne.

thanx a zillion!

Zurin said...

LOLOL...u make it sound like I just made a rocket!...I think someone with half a brain can make roti canai.but u must have two hands...I have yet to try it with 1 hand behind my back..not that ive tried it with half a

ugh ...heehee..did u hear the one about him flippin his darn sarong? sometimes the sarong is worn just like the scottish kilt(if tt s not a myth that is) True mom saw it...err... him.

O wl ur Ming make roti canai if he has the recipe? WOW!

gv it a try Terri! u can do it.

Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

I'm back !
hey I went to Cold storage at The Gardens, did get some Rasp & BlackBerries.I guess all imported fruits are far cheaper than KK.
say Blueberries, KK sell 18.90...but CG at 8.90 onli!!!
Rasp very sour! didnt like it! haha

anyways, I like the roti canai post! who's the photographer? lol!

Zurin said...

OOH soo cheap ! Icant believ it! I must go there too. nice huh the Garden? did u buy lots of baking things?the photographer..oh some me but of course those with hands my second son took...grumbling grumbling(busy studying for exams) but I forced him..heheh..bad mother....

Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

hey U are so cute! ur son the-other-way round ! normally mom grumble the kids to study, but u! hahhaahhahaha

er, i only like CS at The Gardens! haha. the rest far too pricey...

I didnt go to cake connections, no time.

hey! i realised, Ikea sell very cheap stainless steel mixing bowl! I really really wanted to grab it! but impossible i m holding the big bowls with me on the flight!

Cake Artisan said...

Looks great. I will have to give that a try sometime.. We make a lot of malay style curry and this would be great with it! Thank you for all your hard work with pics etc.!! :))

Zurin said...

Cake artisan, Thanks for visiting...hope u wl try it one day ..let me know ok!

Nadia said...

im trying this one soon inshaallah..have freezer now so maybe can make and freeze ..hamzah's been asking...does GM make roti canai herself? LOL and i MISS roti telur....sigh.....but I do;t hv serbuk kari malaysia..serbuk kari lain not the same la sigh....
now that i'm almost done decor'ing the house i can focus on kitchen activities LOL...

Ninette said...

Hi, thanks for stopping by my blog, and I love your roti entry. I will add this to my entry.

almadenmike said...

Excellent description and photos. I have two questions:

1) Is the type of oil used important? I've long heard that ghee (clarified butter) is recommended, but since you didn't mention it, I thought I'd ask.

2) Have you had any success freezing your roti for future use? If so, at what stage do you recommend freezing the dough?

Many thanks!

zurin said...

Since this is an Indian invention I would imagine that ghee would be used. so you cld try ghee. It wld add a richer flavour and very likely a crispier texture..but any flavourless vegetable oil is absolutely fine as well.

Yes I do freeze them very very successfully. After making the pancake I 'll fry them a little but still very pale then let them cool, pack them in zipper bags about 10 a bag and freeze.

When u need them just let them defrost and then reheat in a little oil in a pan until golden brown. Sometimes I reheat them frm frozen but wiht a smaller flame.Sometimes I plunge them in the toaster (if I have made them the right size for the toaster.)

I hope that helps....thanks for dropping by :)) please dont hesitate to ask if you need more info ;))I wl be glad to help .

Eva said...

I know it's been ages since you wrote this post, but I just wanted to say THANK YOU SOOO MUCH!!!I've actually been looking for a reliable recipe for the "rotis" made in Thailand for ages, which is basically the "roti canai"! Your recipe is sooo well explained that I have no choice but to try it today!!I'll let you know how it went! I just had a question...why do you put different rest times depending on the amount of sugar added?!? Maybe it's obvious, but I don't see it and would like to understand it. And just another small question, is any type of flour, other than plain all-purpose, maybe only available there, that is best to use to make these...cause I read for malabar parathas, which are also stretched the same way they use "maida"...Well, again Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful recipe!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! Those roti canai look yummy and I must try this recipe. The instructions with pictures help tremendously. I do have one silly question though. The recipe said 1/9 pint water, I did conversion and it says 1 cup water. Does that sound right? I just want to make sure I have all the ingredients correctly.

Looking forward to your reply!

Thanks for the great recipe.


Zurin said...

Hi Anon, tq for dropping by. Yes Igoogled too and it says 1 cup and if I remember correctly ..yes it was 1 cup.. hope you will be email me if you wld like to ask more questions. :)) or u cld comment here too. :))

Achie said...

very informative post! i've been searching for detailed instructions in the net, and yours is the most detailed i've seen so far. i shall try to replicate this at home. by the way, can i use this same recipe to make thai roti or popularly known as thai pancakes? the kind that are topped with chocolate syrup and condensed milk? is it also possible to freeze them on their turban state since I intend to make some ahead of time and sell them in a food fair?:) i will appreciate any response. Again, thank u for this post!

Zurin said...

Hi Achie,

Tq for your comment n interest.

Yes you can freeze them successfully but not at the turban stage. Go ahead and make it right to the end but when you fry it just pan fry it until a very light golden brown. Like half cooked. Then pack and freeze.

On the day that you want to serve it make sure you defrost it completely in the packet (without taking out frm packet)and then finish pan frying it until a lovely golden brown and crisp.

I believe these are similar if not exactly the same as the Thai ones with chocolate sauce. I have never tried them but my son came back from a trip from Thailand and told me they eat roti canai with chocolate syrup!!! so I guess from his exclamation it must be the same :))

I hoe you'll try these rotis. They are good!

Evelyn said...

Thanks for posting Roti Canai recipe and awsome illustrations. Will definately give it a try. I miss the Roti man at Serangoon Gardens Bus depot.
There is no Roti Man in Toronto!!

Evelyn said...

I would like to personally thank you for posting the Roti Canai recipe. Would definately give it a try!!

Keep going with your Blog!! it is fantastic!

H said...

I want to make this so awfully badly; looks fun!


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