Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Early Morning Stuff...and I Mean Stuff

There's nothing like having roti canai as the first meal of the day. The hot, crispy, fluffy dough dipped with mixed curry or dhal with sambal tumis, along with a good cup of coffee. Well, health enthusiasts might not agree with me, but millions upon millions of Malaysians, in one way or another, have this on their menu at least twice a week.

Traditionally, roti canai is a breakfast delicacy, the Indian Muslim contribution to this nation of ours have been enjoyed in so many ways in different parts of the country. Those who doesn't like hot stuff in the morning opt for condensed milk; many Malaysians from the east coast (and west) prefer it with sugar while many others opt for the traditional method.

Food historians still argue over the origins of roti canai. The strongest theory suggests that roti canai originated in Penang by Indian Muslims who emulated the lavish Paratha, and resulted in the easier and friendlier roti canai, which is grilled with a little oil and ghee and eaten with the curries that they have in stock. The traditional roti canai is presented with either fish curry or mixed curry. From there, it evolved to the more lavish takes such as roti telor and murtabak. Like I said, it is a theory. With the Malays entering into roti canai making/business for decades, the sambal tumis was introduced to "spice up" the dhalca, or dhal. Today, this method is already merged by the Malays and the Mamaks in presenting their roti canai.

Roti canai has evolved from being just a breafast fare to a 24/7 fare. You can find restaurants and stalls everywhere selling this item anytime of the day. Me? Well, I'm a bit of a traditionalist, I prefer roti canai for breakfast and I still prefer it the old school way, with mix curry.

Old school roti canai? Okay, I understand that some people prefer the squared, thin roti canai, but I prefer the old, thicker, crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside roti. The size seems smaller but the wirhgt and ingredient is just the same.

Alor Setar has hundreds of roti canai stalls, operating all day or at different times of day. So far, there has been only 3 roti canai places which have caught my attention (and taste buds).

Ranking at number one will be the Roti Canai at Restoran Mee Abu. Mee Abu is a legend in
Alor Setar. the business itself was started by an Indian Muslim known as Pak Abu in the 1950s. His main business itself was making Mee Rebus. As time passes, he started adding his menu and his roti canai came about. Now there are 2 Mee Abu restaurants in Alor Setar, my favorite is the one in Jalan Sultanah, which has quite a reputation on its own. Some of its reputable customers are YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir, who at one time inquired why they never took their business to KL. Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary was one of their customers as well, along with past and present politicians from both government and opposition parties.

Mee Abu's roti canai seems smaller, but thicker. It is crispy on the outside but fluffy and moist on
the inside. Having them early in the morning is a blessing because they serve it with kuah
campur, or mix curry from their nasi lemak mamak menu. Even then, the roti canai there is good enough that you can even eat it by itself. Believe me, after having 2 pieces, I can easily skip lunch and tea.
As Mee Abu is a legend on its own, I will expand on this restaurant in an article of its own when I am done.

The second ranked will be the roti canai at Restoran KB Arca (formerly known as Restoran Pak Tuan, located at the opposite end of Restoran Mee Abu at the same row of shophouses. The person who makes the roti canai is a former employee of Mee Abu Restoran itself. As of that, he has a 95% similarity to the Mee Abu roti canai. However, his roti canai is served with dhalca with sambal tumis, which can some times be a bit too hot for my taste. All in all, his roti canai, just like Mee Abu's, is exquisite and best eaten while it's fresh of the grill. The mamak who makes the roti canai passed away a few years back, now his business is being continued by his wife and children, and trust me, the quality of the roti canai remains the same.

The third might surprise some, as this time it is made by Malays. I'm not saying that the Malays make bad roti, but it is surprising even for me that they can make old-school roti like the Mamaks. Located at Restoran Monas in Jalan PKNK or Jalan Tun Razak, these guys sell roti canai to the masses that frequent their shop from early in the morning until around 11:00am. Usually by that time, there'll be none left. The roti is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The roti is served with a combination of dhal and sambal tumis. I do find the dhal a bit too watery but then again, at this shop, I usually eat the roti only.

The holidays witness the fame to these outlets when it is usually full and I have to find another
place to have my breakfast as well.

I must also confess that the best roti canai I had is the one I cannot buy. I have a good friend, Zaliny from Ipoh, Perak, and his mother makes what I consider the best roti as it is homemade. He usually brushes me off by saying that the roti is "biasa saja" but who can blame him? He is so used to it, I guess. Not many Malays can have a mother who makes her own roti canai at home. I'm just hoping that his wife might take over the trade as I believe that we should never let cooking skills and secrets fade away.

For those who would like to try the flavors of Alor Setar roti canai, here's a rough guide on how to get there. 

To those who knows other places with good roti canai, do contact me at

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