The bread that you see above is my favorite type of flatbread: a Roti canai (ROH-tee CHA-nigh), also called paratha. Roti is a general Indian term for “bread,” in this case, an Indian flat bread that is rich and flaky. The flakiness is achieved by smearing the dough with oil or clarified butter (ghee) then rolling and folding the dough over itself. The process is repeated about three times, rolled out to its desired size, and then fried in oil or cooked on a tava or grill. The pastry layers separate and flake during cooking.
This rolling and folding process is similar to the procedure used to make Danish pastries and flaky Southern biscuits. I’ve been told that experienced roti bakers will forego the rolling pin and flatten the bread by rolling it between their hands, gently pressing and pulling, and then throwing it in the air, (think pizza dough). I’ve tried this “spinning it in the air” bit, and it is
dif- fi- cult to do, believe you me.
Indian flatbreads are best with specific dishes: the oval, white naan is usually paired with dry-cooked meat and vegetable dishes, the flat, chewy chapati for lentil dishes, etc. Anyone who appreciates Indian food (me! me!) knows how important flatbreads are in the meal, for scooping up food or a means to wipe up the remaining sauce. I of course, am happy with just an order (two, please!) of roti canai and a side dish of choleh masala, (a saucy garbanzo/chick pea dish), no fork and spoon necessary.
These are my favorite places to enjoy roti canai, listed in order of preference: