Roti Chanai

This is a signature Malaysian Indian dish, and in general, a signature Malaysian dish.  We’re not quite sure how to translate the name.  Roti means bread, but the word chanai eludes us.  One thought is that it’s an alternate spelling for Chennai, which is a city in India.  If you’ve ever been to a Malaysian restaurant in the United States, you’ve probably seen this as an appetizer.  Basically, it’s a fancy, folded, flaky, fried bread, served with dhal or sometimes a pink onion relish (or both).  Here in Malaysia, you can also find it served with chicken or mutton curry. We tried to make it the other day, and were very pleased with the results.  We were less pleased, of course, with the ingredients.  Who knew that so much butter/ghee could go into one dish?  And then, after all that butter, you have to saute it in oil.

This makes enough for four people to gorge themselves on four rotis each.  We haven’t included our recipe of Malaysian-style dhal, but we will soon.  If you make it and have leftovers, they are pretty good in the microwave, but they will be a little soggy.

Also, for all of you roti chanai hawkers and authentic roti chanai chefs reading, we know this isn’t actually the way to make it.  We know that we are cheating with the second dough and all.  But really, we just don’t understand how those guys do it.  It’s a talent that we have yet to learn, like throwing murtabak.

Dough 1
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. butter or ghee, softened to room temperature
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
5 Tbsp. water

Dough 2
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter or ghee, softened to room temperature

Vegetable oil

First, make Dough 1.  Mix together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.  Mix in the butter till distributed.  In a cup, beat together the milk, egg, and water.  Slowly add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, a bit at a time.  As soon as the dough just begins to bind, stop.  Knead the dough on a floured countertop for 15 minutes.  Divide the dough into 8 balls and let rest for two hours, loosely covered with foil. Make Dough 2 by combining flour and butter.

After dough 1 is done resting, lightly flour a countertop.  Take one ball and flatten it with your fingers to form a chubby disk.  Place 1/8 of Dough 2 in the middle of the disk, and then wrap the rest of Dough 1 around it to form a ball with Dough 1 on the outside and Dough 2 on the inside.  Roll out the dough ball to form a large square.  Then, gently roll the dough towards yourself so that you form a long tube.  Pick up the tube and turn it 90 degrees so that it is facing away from you longways.  Roll this tube longways again, making it nice and thin and very long.  Now, roll this tube up longways, and cut in it half.  You should now have two dough rolls that look like cinnamon rolls.  Place the cut side of each one down and roll it out until nice and thin.  You should now have two rolled-out dough pieces with lightly-visible swirls.

Heat 2 tsp. of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add a dough piece and fry on each side for 3 minutes, taking care not to burn it.  If desired, lightly (lightly!) sprinkle each side with salt.  Repeat with other dough piece, and then for the other 7 dough balls, to make a total of 16 rotis.

Comments 4

  1. suzi April 22, 2005

    hi, i ran across your blog and think it’s wonderful! the recipes are amazing and i can’t wait to try a few. thanks for sharing them!

  2. waky April 24, 2005

    Yes “chanai” or “canai” sounds similar to “Chennai”. But what “canai” means in Malay/Indonesian is to grind/polish, more accurately: an act in flattening the dough, before frying it. (See here

  3. Madeleine from Philadelphia, PA November 21, 2005

    Ok, tried my hand at Roti Canai because there is only one restaurant in my area that serves it and we really love it. I can duplicate the chicken curry it is served with so therefore thought I’d try my hand at making the ‘crepes’. Made the dough in my Kitchenaid and let it rest in my fridge overnight. Well, I ended up with really good Paratha (Indian bread), but not quite like the Roti Canai I intended. Don’t get me wrong, unintentionally figuring out how to make paratha is a treat in itself. I am not much of a bread maker and once tried to make chapati and that bombed so this new cooking attempt was a success albeit unintentional. I did as much reading about Roti Canai before I attempted this and it was said that Roti Canai is a variation on paratha. What is the trick to making it truly a roti canai vs paratha? Is it all in flattening and thinning the dough enough? Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Dolly November 15, 2009

    Hi, been searching for Roti canai (i think?) thus I found your blog. I enjoyed looking through your pictures & travels. Got so interested with Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Center because I visited the place too.
    I am a Canadian immigrant, originally from the Philippines. I thought I would clarify you with the second picture in your Indonesian Travels — regarding the mango tree & fruits (as labels), those are actually PAPAYA tree and fruits. We have lots of these tropical fruits in the Philippines too.
    One of these days, i’ll try cooking some of your recipes. Thanks for sharing!

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