Roti Canai

Mention Malaysian food, and one of the first things that comes to mind is probably roti canai.  In Malaysian restaurants outside of Malaysia, you may not always find what you want, but chances are, they’ll have roti canai on the menu.

Roti canai is a kind of flaky flatbread of Indian origin that’s traditionally eaten with lentil curry (dhal), or in fact, any kind of meat curry.  It’s a popular breakfast item, although really, you can eat it any time of the day!  It’s also popular in Singapore, where it’s better known as Roti Prata.  In Burma, they also have something similar, called Palata.

I saw hawkers making and selling “palata” on the streets in Yangon, Burma

It’s not surprising that this versatile and much-loved roti has spawned a great number of variations.  My favourite is murtabak, which is essentially a roti canai filled with meat and onions.  But I’ll leave that to a future post!

It never crossed my mind that I could ever make roti canai at home!  But when I first tried this recipe about 5 years ago, with excellent results, I was overjoyed!

The most difficult part of making roti canai is tossing and flipping it until the dough is paper-thin. That’s how the professionals do it.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get that maneuver down pat, but fortunately, there’s an easier method.  You can just do it the amateur way like me and use your hands to gently pull and stretch the flattened dough until it’s very thin.

First you want to grease a surface with melted butter/ghee/oil and, taking one of the balls of dough, oil the top and flatten and spread it out by pressing down and moving the palm of your hand in a circular motion.

Next, using both hands, gently pull all around the dough, stretching it until it’s very thin.

Keep stretching it until it looks like this:

One way of preparing the dough for frying is to first take one end and fold it over a third of the way. Then take the opposite end and fold that over top.  Then, working from the long end, take one side and fold it over a third, and then fold the opposite end over.

And now, it’s ready for frying!

Once it’s done cooking, use both hands to scrunch up the roti, which separates the layers and gets it fluffy and flaky.

Freshly made, it’s soft on the inside with crispy, flaky outer layers.  Are you hungry now?

(Recipe from IeatIshootIpost)

ROTI CANAI (makes about 10 pieces)


600 grams plain flour (I used all-purpose flour)
270 ml water, room temperature
80 grams (1/4 cup) condensed milk
15 ml (1 tablespoon) melted butter/ghee or oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
Additional melted butter/ghee/oil for oiling dough


1. In a large bowl, mix together the first six ingredients. Rest for 20 minutes.

2. Develop the gluten – Knead it at speed 2 (Medium slow) for 10 minutes with a 5 minute rest time in between. If you want it to be even more elastic, repeat the 5 minute knead and rest cycle one more time. If you are kneading by hand, you will need to double the kneading time. What you want to end up with is a tacky dough which becomes smooth.

3. Divide dough into 10 pieces (about 100 grams each), roll into smooth balls.

4. Oil dough pieces and place in container with pieces next to each other (you can also place the dough in muffin tins too). Cover dough with melted butter/ghee/oil and saran wrap. Rest for at least 8 hours or overnight (leave out at room temperature).

5. Grease work surface.  Take one piece of dough and dab some melted butter/ghee/oil on top.  Use the palm of your hand to flatten it and, moving your hand in a circular motion, spread out the dough.

6. Use both hands to work around the circumference of the dough by slightly lifting and gently stretching out the dough (without tearing it!).  Keep stretching it until it’s very thin and almost translucent.

7. Sprinkle a little bit of melted butter/ghee/oil  on the surface of the stretched dough.  Then, from one side, fold it over a third of the way.  Take the opposite side and fold it over the previous fold to get an elongated piece of dough.

8. Taking the long end, fold it over a third of the way, then fold the opposite end over on top.  You should end up with a squarish piece of dough.

9. Heat up a pan on medium-high heat with a little butter/ghee/oil.  Fry the roti on both sides until golden-brown.

10. Place the cooked roti on a plate/surface. Placing both hands around the sides of the roti, scrunch it up all around so that it “puffs” up and flakes (Be careful, the roti will be hot!).

11. Serve immediately with dhal or curry.

Note: The generous use of butter/ghee/oil is important as it sort of acts like a leavening agent and results in a tastier, fluffier roti.  The last time I made it, I forgot to keep oiling the folded layers, and in the end, I found the roti wasn’t as fluffy and also a bit on the dry side.


4 responses to “Roti Canai

    • Hi abbeycoseattle, I never thought about it that way, but yes, I suppose there are similarities in terms of the folding to make layers and the generous use of butter/oil! However, I’ve made croissants before and I can say roti canai is a lot easier to make! Croissants also use yeast and are a lot lighter and flakier, whereas this roti is denser, like a flat bread.

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