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Did you know that the humble roti prata (also known as ‘roti canai’ in Malaysia) is listed number 45 in the World’s 50 most delicious foods in a CNN reader’s poll in 2011? I absolutely have to agree. Except in my personal list this versatile fluffy flaky panfried bread will be in my top ten for sure.
Roti is ‘bread’ and prata is derived from the word ‘paratha’ which means ‘flat’ in Hindi. The arguments as to the Indian origins of it oscillate from the northwest in Punjab to the south in Chennai. Wherever it came from, let’s just say I thank God they discovered prata so we could all enjoy it today!
In Singapore it’s not unusual to see locals eating prata with a hot curry even at breakfast which surprises some of our Aussie mates here just as they are by our similar love of noodles like Prawn Noodles or Nasi Lemak rice as the first meal of the day or as a late night supper past midnight!
Perhaps that’s why it’s no wonder most 24 hour hawker stalls in Singapore tend to be the roti prata ones especially if they operate as part of a coffeeshop serving hot drinks that pair so well with prata like Teh Tarik (milk tea).You can definitely find me at one of those prata hangouts on my annual trips home to Singapore. And I still like my prata in its original ‘uncorrupted form’ unlike some who may revel in the creativity of hawkers these days with their more exotic (and amusing?) offerings — banana, chocolate, mushroom, cheese, ice-cream,and vegetables perhaps for Paleo lovers? Ha. The farthest off course I’ve ever ventured is tearing off my prata and dipping it in a plate of sugar with my scrawny little six-year old fingers way back then in the eighties!
I’m absolutely mad for prata and used to have to put up with nasty frozen versions from the Asian grocers in Brisbane until I discovered how to slap up some of my own. While I still haven’t mastered quite how to fling (in order to double or triple the stretch of the paper-thin skin) the prata dough in mid-air with the finesse of a true mamak hawker, I’ve got to say the authentic taste of this recipe might fool you enough. I’m sure that ghee (clarified butter) would’ve added the aplomb and crescendo it can ascend to but this will leave you satisfied enough if you haven’t got a prata or roti canai mamak establishment coming anywhere near you!
There’s nothing quite like the ‘crisp on the outside’ and ‘soft on the inside edges’ texture that’s to die for in a good prata. I make mine rectangular-shaped for maximum crispiness. The best part is when you finally get to slap it on a heated pan or griddle and watch the magic of its transformation from humble oily dough to crispy prata come alive. There’s only one rule to live by prata: you must eat it with your bare hands! It’s the ONLY way to show your prata the love it deserves.
Roti Prata (Roti Canai) Ingredients:
500g all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
200 ml water in a pouring jug (more may need to be added to knead dough)
1 1/2 TB condensed milk
50g salted butter, softened to room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten with a fork
It’s best to start making your Roti Prata a day before you need to use it for best results (in order to give the dough the optimal resting time). I also prefer to use my Kitchen Aid or bread machine for the kneading process rather than hands. It just saves you time and gives a more consistent result than mucking around with sticky hands!
Add the flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Use a dough hook if using a kitchen mixer. Make a well in the centre of the bowl and into it—add the wet ingredients one by one: butter first, then beat on slow to medium for about 2-3 minutes. Add the condensed milk and lightly beaten egg. Whisk again on medium speed and as you do so, start adding the water gradually from the pouring jug until you see the dough forming and coming together. If the dough seems dry, add a little more water but be careful not to let the dough become a wet mass.
Once ready, tip the dough onto a floured surface and start kneading by hand. Roll the dough into a cylindrical log and using a dough cutter, slice it up into about 10 pieces. Then start kneading each of the pieces individually a couple of times. The objective is to achieve a pliable soft texture that isn’t dry but smooth. Shape each piece into a small ball. Coat each of the balls with more butter and simply place them into a mixing bowl stacked against one another or above. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and allow the dough balls to rest overnight.
The next day, start by liberally oiling the surface that you’ll be working on with some vegetable oil. Oil your fingers and take a dough ball and begin by kneading the ball downwards and outwards in a circular motion to flatten the dough out before you stretch it to its max. Gently begin stretching the dough out and stop before you see holes appear. That’s your maximum stretch limit right there! It takes long practice before you can start flipping the prata like the expert ‘mamak’. My recommendation is to start by picking up the tips of the corners then slamming it down on your work bench again, repeating this slamming down action until the dough is as well stretched as you can get it to be. (I like to pretend I’m flipping the laundry before I hang them on the clothes line! A great de-stresser it is)
Fold down the edges over to the centre of the stretched dough to make a square.
Heat up your frying pan with half a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Once heated, fry your roti on both sides, flipping once you see some puffing action and until each side is golden brown. Serve immediately with a flaming hot spicy curry!