Roti Canai

Photographer: Kate
Makes 8 pieces

Over summer I spent 2 months in South-East Asia, discovering the land of things that shouldn’t taste good but do. Fish sauce is made from rotting fish and smells like a dock during a power outage but cannot be substituted in many Thai dishes. Green chilli’s with eye watering amounts of capsacin, natures way of campaigning your body’s supposed dislike of pain so that you won’t eat it. When sampled alone, soy bean paste really makes you question your decision to play the Asian food ordering game with your travel mates (pick 2 numbers at random, open your numbered menu, and commit). It makes you wonder how fermenting became a thing. Food must have gone off… somebody would have eaten it anyway and generations later we have soy bean paste, blue cheese, red wine, and sweet sweet whiskey.

So, since my livelihood as a refrigeration engineer depends on slowing reactions like fermentation, I choose to promote this fermentation-free recipe from my travels, Roti Canai. It is bread without those tiny fermenting bacteria known as yeast to puff it up, so it is folded to trap air. It should taste good, and it does.

Roti Canai is a common breakfast in Malaysia, and definitely my favourite way to take a break from the markets. It is served with curry sauce and a “milo dinosaur” if you’re game. A very simple meal but it was one of the culinary highlights of my trip and I was determined to recreate it. It took me a few tries to perfect, the keys to getting it right are using warm water to approximate Malaysian room temperature, kneading it for a long time to develop the gluten and resting it to let the gluten relax. Stretching it out take’s a bit of mastery as well, I don’t even try to do it the way the Malaysian hawkers do by flinging it like a matadors cape against an oiled surface. Just lift an edge, pull and stick it back to the bench. Don’t be put off though, it’s great fun to see how paper thin and translucent you can get it without making a hole. Give it a go on your next curry night!


3 cups flour
1 tsp sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup ghee, liquid (microwave if necessary)
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk, room temp
½ cup water, warm


1. Combine flour, salt, sugar and ¼ cup of the ghee in a bowl, mix with fingertips. Add egg and liquid ingredients and mix until combined. Turn out onto an oiled bench and knead until smooth, stretchy and you can see the light through the dough when stretched into a “window” Knead for another 5 minutes, this took me about 20 minutes total.
2. Divide into 8 pieces and roll into balls. Coat each with 1 tsp of ghee.
3. Rest for at least 4 hours, or refrigerate overnight.
4. If refrigerated, remove at least 2 hours before needed to allow the dough to come to room temperature.
5. Grease bench with ghee, rub one of the balls into a 15cm disc with your palm.
6. Lift edge of disc, pull outward, stretching from the center of the disc and stick to the bench. Repeat, going around the disc a couple of times until you have made enough holes to stop you continuing, 60cm if you are me, 1 metre if you are a Malaysian hawker. You can push any especially thick areas with your fingers to thin them out.
7. Variation: Add curried mince, curried onions or even sliced banana to the centre to the disc before the next step to create a murtabak.
8. Drizzle the disc with ghee, grab the top of the disc with both hands and fold the top third to two thirds down the disc, trapping as much air as you can. Fold the bottom edge up to the top edge, again trapping as much air as you can. Fold the sides similarly to create a 20cm square.
9. Heat ½ tsp of ghee in a large frying pan, cook until golden brown, checking frequently, about 4min each side.
10. Serve with the curry that has hopefully been bubbling away in the oven this whole time. Enjoy!