Roti Jala translates to “net bread” from Malay. For obvious reasons. In the simplest terms, it’s a coconut crepe. The batter is a similar formula to a crepe or thin pancake, except that coconut milk replaces regular milk. That sounds good, right? It is.
The tricky thing about this is achieving the pretty lace quality of the crepe. In Malaysia, they have these little plastic things called Roti Jala Molds. Here is a photo of one in action. I imagine they are ridiculously cheap, but unfortunately, they are not sold in Toronto – or, at least, I have no idea where I’d find one. I tried making roti jala without a mold (using a free-pour style out of a measuring cup) and I got a lot of blobs and large streaks of batter in the pan. It tastes fine, but does not make my eyes happy. I tried punching holes in the bottom of a styrofoam cup. That didn’t really work, either. The batter wouldn’t run through the holes until I punched them quite large, and then it just dripped out in blobs, making a mess.
Then I had an idea, and off to the dollar store I went. For 1 dollar, I bought a pair (one bright red, one bright yellow) of condiment/ketchup+mustard squeeze bottles. This works! Well, with one small complication – the hole in the nozzle is rather small, so if the batter has any clumps they will clog the bottle. I remedied this by straining the batter through a mesh sieve. It’s a pain in the ass, I know, but it really made a difference. The squeeze bottle also lets you control the pressure applied to the batter. Squeeze hard, and thick streams come out. Squeeze lightly, and drips exit only. Squeeze medium, and a fine thread of batter is applied to the pan. Perfect. Delicate. Pretty.
I’ve also added a specialty ingredient: kewra water. Alternatively, it’s called kewda water, keora water, pandan essence, screwpine essence, and so on, in various combinations of these words. It’s not a typical inclusion into roti jala batter, but I like the fragrance it adds. It is by no means necessary, so you may omit it. If you’re looking for it, you can find a small bottle of it in several markets in Little India / Gerrard street for about 2 dollars.
All that’s left then, is the application of the batter to the pan. You can do this in any pattern you like. Spirals, random chaos. Write your name in coconut. Take a look at that photo I linked to above for a standard effect.
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 cup regular coconut milk (not too thick)
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of kewra water (optional)
- pinch of turmeric (optional)
Serve with: chicken curry
What you will need: measuring cups and spoons, medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk, fine mesh strainer, non-stick frying pan, spatula, serving plate, plastic squeeze bottle as depicted above
- In the mixing bowl, add the flour, and the salt. Add the turmeric if you are using it. Traditionally, you would add turmeric to give the roti a yellow colour. Personally, I don’t care for the yellow colour that much, but it’s up to you. Using the whisk, mix these ingredients together to get a smooth mix.
- Pour in the coconut milk, and the kewra water, if you’re using it. Whisk these together to get a thick batter.
- Crack the egg into the bowl, and beat it into the batter. The batter will thin out somewhat once you get the egg into it. It may still be a bit thick, so you can add a tsp of water or two. The batter should be slightly runny, not watery and still hold together well.
- Now is a good time to strain the batter. And while you’re doing that, put the frying pan on the burner and turn the heat to medium-medium-low (I used 4-5 on my dial, slightly less than half of full power). I strained the batter directly into a large measuring cup, but you could do the same into a 2nd mixing bowl, or whatever you like. Use the whisk, or a fork to press the batter through the mesh. The goal here is to remove all clumps of flour from the batter (these clumps would clog the nozzle of the squeeze bottle or mold).
- Once you’ve got a fine, smooth batter, load some into the squeeze bottle (I simply poured it in via a measuring cup with a spout). Give it a test to make sure the batter runs through the nozzle properly.
- Add about 1 tsp of oil to the pan, and using the spatula, coat the entire pan with it. You do not need a lot of oil on the pan for this recipe, and preferably not large globs of oil anywhere on the pan, as these will just absorb into the batter.
- Now you’ve got a hot, oiled pan, and a ketchup squeeze-bottle full of coconut pancake batter. This is probably the first time in your life you’ve been in this position. Savour the moment.
- Go back to the photograph of the woman making roti jala again. Keeping that image in mind, gently squeeze the bottle until a fine stream of batter comes out, moving the bottle in a circular motion around the pan. Remember Spirographs? Those were cool. Try to make a roughly circular shape about 6-7″ in diameter.
- Fry the roti for a few minutes, then flip it over and fry the other side for another minute or so. It’s up to you how crispy or soft you like them. My girlfriend likes them very soft. I like the thinner strands of batter to be crisp. To each their own.
- Once the roti is done, lay it out on a serving plate and either roll it up into a tube, or fold it in half twice (into a triangle). That’s a roti ready for serving. Continue making more roti this way until your batter is used up. This will make 8-10 rotis, roughly.