Malaysian Flatbread (Roti Canai)

By Norman Musa From the book Amazing Malaysian
Malaysian Flatbread - Roti Canai from Amazing Malaysian

This famous Mamak dish is considered ‘sacred’, as most of the people who know how to make it are not willing to share the recipe. I asked for it many times, but no one would tell me! At last I’ve managed to find it, and I’ve perfected it by adding coconut water to improve its crispy flakiness. You can use coconut water from a tin, or you can just use water, if you like. The ingredients are inexpensive, but the technique is a little tricky at first. Once you’ve practised, I can guarantee you will be an expert, like a Mamak in Malaysia. A good flatbread should be flaky on the outside and soft inside – to achieve this, you need to puff it like a pillow with both palms of your hands as soon as you’ve cooked it to a crispy brown.

These flatbreads are best served with a fish curry, in my opinion, but most food stalls in Malaysia serve them with a soupy vegetable dhal.

For how many? Makes 10


  • 600g plain flour, plus a little extra for kneading
  • 1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 100ml coconut water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus 750ml vegetable oil for the marinade
  • 4 tbsp condensed milk


1. Put the flour and salt into a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

2. Put the coconut water, egg, the 2 tablespoons of oil and the condensed milk into a medium bowl or measuring jug, then add 170ml of water and stir well. Add this mixture to the bowl of flour and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

3. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to prove for 30 minutes. Add a little flour to the dough and knead again, then leave to prove for another 30 minutes. Knead again, then divide the dough into 10 dough balls about the size of a small fist. When dividing the dough, use your thumb and index finger to squeeze and cut the dough. The technique is to make sure there is no join in the dough ball, so the dough can be stretched into one thing piece. Put the dough balls into a deep plate, then pour the 750ml of oil over it until it covers all the balls. Leave to marinate for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.

4. Put one of the dough balls on an oiled work surface and use your palm to stretch and flatten it, then flip and stretch it a few times more so that it becomes thinner and larger. Fold the sides, top and bottom over, to get a square shape with air trapped between the layers.

5. Heat a little oil in a flat pan and fry the dough until both surfaces are golden brown and have a crisp texture. Now place the fried flatbread on a clean surface and puff it up from the edge inwards so it crumples.

6. Repeat with the rest of the dough, and serve with curry, for dipping.

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Something for the weekend