Dave and I first stumbled across this storefront in KL's "Little India" a little over two years ago, at the tailend of our first gluttonous visit to the city. With a few hours left before our flight back to Saigon, we'd already eaten two breakfasts -- nasi lemak (coconut rice with various dishes) and a plateful of Indian milk sweets -- and weren't in the market for a third. But when we stopped in front of this shop, mesmerized by the rounds of dough being flipped in the air and then slammed flat on the stainless steel countertop, we received such a warm welcome that we let ourselves be led inside. After plates of flaky roti accompanied by spicy curry and cups of chai (burp), we rolled back to our hotel, caught a cab, and just made our flight, not at all happy to be leaving what we were pretty sure was Asia's prime chow city.
A couple of Saturdays ago we decided take a trip down memory lane and track the shop down. After a few minutes of despair -- the neighborhood is falling, bit by bit, to bulldozers and redevelopment -- we thankfully found our little roti heaven intact. Same roti master (a hulking, but friendly, Jabba the Hut-like character with forearms as thick as small tree trunks), same shop -- with the addition of a lady frying up mee goreng (fried noodles) and nasi goreng (fried rice) in a huge wok at the front -- same warm welcome.
We started with a couple of plain roti, and were underwhelmed. Although nearly grease-free, they weren't hot and crisp, as we'd remembered (accompanying thin curry, however, was delicious).
Then it occurred to us -- duh! -- that roti is usually a breakfast food; we were eating that morning's leftovers. By ordering stuffed versions we could get Jabba moving (he was sitting behind the counter, peeling onions with great concentration) and watch the show, and enjoy our roti fresh off the griddle. Our choice: one banana and one sardine.
The latter arrived first. With the first bite all memories of the cold, deflated roti that had preceded it vanished.
Now, I suspect this roti might not be up everyone's alley. I happen to be a fan of sardines in any form, including those that come out of a can. Admittedly, they tend to be on the "fragrant" side, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Here we have flaky yet supple (and yes, a bit greasy, but in a positive sense) pastry wrapped around toothsome pieces of fragrant canned fish meat. Note the heavy char on the pastry, lending some crispness and smoky depth of flavor (but not a burned taste). Accompanied by the same thin, lightly spicy curry as our plain version, this roti made us very happy indeed, and took just a few bites to finish.
After which we turned our attention to Jabba, already busy whipping up our "dessert" roti. After slicing a banana, he dips his hand into a container of oil and greases his work area.
He flattens the roti dough (which has already been portioned and formed into separate balls) into a disc,
and then further flattens and enlarges it by repeatedly raising it and then pounding it on the prep counter.
The result is a paper-thin yet surprisingly elastic dough -- the secret to a flaky yet chewy roti.
Banana roti (a.k.a. banana "pancakes") are ubiquitous in Thai night markets -- especially so in resort areas -- but I've always been repelled by their excessive oiliness (from lots of margarine) and sweetness (from sweetened condensed milk). This banana roti, by contrast, was sweetened by nothing more than the caramelization of the fruit's natural sugars, making it sweet but not cloyingly so. Like the other roti we sampled it, too, was accompanied by a saucer of thin curry. By now, probably because of our sheer staying power, we rated highly enough with Jabba and his colleagues to deserve chunks of potato and carrotsin our curry.
In addition fried rice and noodles and the roti we sampled, this shop also offers egg (telor), onion (bawang), and margerine (majerin) roti.
No-name roti shop, one street over from Jalan Masjid India, about a half a block down from Jalan Melayu. Sandwiched between Mohammed Yousuff Frames and Danitex Trading Co. (Walking distance to LRT Jalan Masjid Jamek station.) Open 5am-8pm. Closed Sunday.