Brow Beat

A Five-Minute Malaysian Bread for When You’re in a Pinch

Roti jala is the best at sopping up all manner of curries, sauces, and stews.

Rolled crepes with curry.
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

Most people have experienced the milk-and-cookie dilemma. You know, the one where you get halfway through a cookie and realize you have no more milk to wash it down with. And so you pour out more milk, only to finish the cookie and still have a quarter-glass of milk left, forcing you to reach for yet another cookie, feeling guilt and pleasure at the same instant. Repeat ad infinitum.

Well, I have a version of that, but with curry and bread.

Countless times have I made a chicken curry, Malaysian rendang, or a Nik Sharma–inspired spiced stew for dinner, and labored over some flatbread or Indian naan to go with it. Only each time, often toward the end of the meal, I’ll realize that I’ve either made too much bread and not enough curry, or—and this is the much less desirable scenario—not enough bread for the amount of curry I’ve made, leaving a glistening pool of gravy just waiting to be mopped up. Only unlike the milk-and-cookie dilemma, I can’t just pour out some extra curry from a Tetra Pak in the fridge, and there’s no bread jar for me to sheepishly reach into for more bread.

For emergencies like this, I turn to roti jala.

Roti jala is a Malaysian bread that, unlike most breads, doesn’t require any leavening and proofing, and can be whipped up in a matter of minutes, using little more than pantry staples. In fact, its name—literally meaning “net bread” in the Malay language—is a bit of a misnomer, because roti jala is really more like a crepe than a bread.

To make it, all you need is some flour, water, eggs, coconut milk, and an optional pinch of turmeric for color. Whisk all of this into a smooth solution the consistency of pancake batter, then drizzle onto a hot pan to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and it’s done! (That’s bread in about 5 minutes from start to finish; rinse, lather, repeat.)

Unlike a crepe, though, there’s no need to swirl the pan around and patch up the gaps in between, like you would a botched children’s drawing. For a roti jala, the gaps in the batter give it a lacy, doily-like pattern, reminiscent of fishing nets (hence, its name).

In Malaysia and Indonesia, roti jala features prominently in the local cuisine. They’re often folded into neat little bundles, served as a substitute for rice alongside creamy curries and spicy beef rendangs, and sometimes even had with the many aromatic, stew-like gulais of Malay cuisine. Once dipped into these spicy stews—by hand of course—the supple, slightly springy roti jala will immediately soak up all that sauce, and act as a vessel for the curry to get into your mouth, with the perfume from the coconut milk and the tinge of turmeric in the roti jala serving as a backdrop to the spice-laden canvas of the curry.

So whenever I have extra curry for dinner, I’ll immediately segue to the kitchen, whip up a roti jala batter and drizzle it on the pan. As the first roti is done, I’ll dip it straight into the still-warm curry and eat it with one hand. And with the other, I’ll drizzle in more batter to fry up the next roti, repeating the process until I’m left with an empty bowl, with barely a smudge of curry in sight.

Curry-and-bread dilemma, solved.

Roti Jala (Malaysian Net Crepe)

Makes 12-15 crepes.

• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
• 2 eggs
• 1 1/4 cups water
• 3/4 cup coconut milk
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for greasing pan

See the full recipe on Food52.

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