Three roti canai

Pronounce this popular Malaysian flatbread correctly as ‘roti chennai’ and a clue to its Indian roots is revealed. Indian food writer Madhur Jaffrey says it’s believed to have been brought to Malaysia by immigrant labour from the Chennai area, formerly known as Madras. Stretching the dough to transparent thinness and folding it to capture air makes it light and flaky once grilled on an oiled hotplate. It’s a skilled business and joy to watch but many places, including in Malaysia, will substitute frozen Indian parathas. They do the job of soaking up curry sauce but can’t compete with the airiness and delicacy of the handmade version.

Island Dreams Cafe Stephanie Clifford-Smith

Island Dreams Cafe

They make everything in-house at this 20 plus year veteran of Haldon Street that bills itself as serving food from the Christmas and Cocos Islands. If ever you’ve wondered, that food is essentially Malay as evidenced by the menu including rendang, murtabak, achar and roti canai. Given the Indian roots of the dish it’s fitting the roti canai (AUD $8.50) is served in metal thali plates with the roti taking star position. The curry, like all their wet dishes, is beautifully spiced and the roti is reasonable if not particularly light. Team it with a sweet teh tarik (pulled tea) for the full Malaysian experience.

Address: 47-49 Haldon Street, Lakemba. Telephone: +61 (0)438 475 447

Mamak Restaurant Stephanie Clifford-Smith


After all these years queues are still a common sight outside Mamak, named for the Tamil Muslim cooks selling their ubiquitous hybrid Indian Malay cuisine. You’re never on the street for long though as brisk service turns tables over quickly and roti flipping in the front window provides transfixing entertainment. These are benchmark roti; light, flaky, golden and nicely puffed by a final clap between the hands before serving. Do order the roti tisu (pronounced tissue) for dessert. It’s a conical wonder of buttery pastry and sugar crystals.

Address: 15 Goulburn Street, Sydney. Telephone: +61 2 9211 1668

The Malaya

Comfortably straddling the divide between tourists and business lunchers is this modern harbourside joint which buzzes with more than just chilli. It’s been open for 55 years at various locations around Sydney and gets more sophisticated with each move. The roti are on the dense end of the spectrum and the creamy curry was uncompromisingly spiced without a chilli burn. There’s a good, reasonably priced wine list with most in the main section not quite double RRP. The Cellar List houses the big-ticket items.

Address: 39 Lime Street, Sydney. Telephone: +61 2 9279 1170

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