All Roads Lead to Roti

08 April 2016

Whether you prefer it for breakfast or supper, roti canai is an essential Malaysian meal (or snack, for some). With the many roti variations out there, everyone has a personal favourite but two names came up consistently for those living in Kuala Lumpur  – Valentine Roti and Mansion Tea Stall. What makes them so special?

Roti Canai is thinly-stretched flatbread, made with simple ingredients - flour, water and ghee (clarified butter). Once kneaded, the dough is flattened and folded repeatedly, allowing it to develop its fluffiness through a little skill and showmanship. It is then thrown onto a flat iron skillet until crispy and golden brown. It is usually served with a side of dhal, or a succulent chicken or fish curry.

Roti Canai was introduced to this country, a former British colony, in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, the Tamil-Muslims who invented this form of roti, were peddling it across the Peninsular. There are many theories behind its origins, most famously, that it originated from Chennai, where a large number of Indian migrants originated from. However, the most conclusive theory is that the word ‘canai’ means ‘to stretch or push something pliable or elastic’ in the Malay language, summing up the process of kneading the dough in preparation.

The debate on the best Roti Canai in Malaysia is an ongoing, inconclusive one. Every Malaysian would have a slightly different take on what constitutes the best. One joint that many KL-ites can agree upon though, is Valentine Roti. Valentine serves up some of the freshest roti in town. The dough is made fresh every single day; since we were there earlier, we bore witness to the skillful preparation of various breads for the busy night ahead - roti canai, chapati and naan.

Their classic Roti Canai was thinner and crispier than usual, providing an interesting texture once doused with dhal or curry. The humble Roti Canai has seen its fair share of evolution over time: Roti Telur (egg), Roti Sardin (sardine), Roti Planta, Roti Bawang (onion), Roti Milo to name a few. The signature bread at Valentine is Roti Valentine, naturally. It’s filled with egg, sardine, anchovies, diced onions and carrots. It was crispy on the outside, with a fluffy richness on the inside.

Another day, another roti. This time, we were told that in the heart of the city, lies an unassuming tea stall serving up a mean breakfast (or lunch or dinner) with a simple, ingenious twist. Mansion Tea Stall has perfected the Roti Banjir - sliced roti canai drenched in dhal - with two cracked soft-boiled eggs on top and a dollop of sambal on the side. It’s one of those food inventions we wished we thought of ourselves. It’s simple yet extremely satisfying. Breakfast of champions, especially with a side of teh tarik.

Valentine Roti
Add: Stor No. 1, Jalan Semarak, Opposite Menara Celcom, 54000 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Mansion Tea Stall
Add: No. 2, Ground Floor, Selangor Mansion, Jalan Masjid India, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

By Chris Lim
Photos by
The Spacemen

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