How to Make Roti Prata aka Roti Canai: Everything you need to know!
Homemade Roti Prata

The reason I am writing this post is because I cannot find a single resource on the internet that gives you everything you need to know in order to create Roti Prata/Canai. In order to make a Roti Prata that is as good, or even better than those you find outside you really need to know all the details, from what kind of flour to use, to how to prepare the dough, to how to flip the dough just like your favourite Prata Man. So this post is necessarily long because I want to include everything which I have learnt over the course of the last month or so from talking to Prata Men, studying Prata flipping videos and even to the extent of discussing the characteristics of flour with the expert at Prima Flour Mills. I have included a few recipes plus a slideshow on how to make the dough and 2 videos where I demonstrate, step by step, the dynamics of the Prata flip as well as another method to achieve the same Roti Prata which even a 5 year old can do. I hope that by reading this post, you will be making Pratas at home in no time and wowing your friends with your Prata Prowess.

But before we get into the nitty gritty details, let’s talk about Roti Prata. I spoke to a patient of mine a while ago who happened to be from South India about Roti Prata. Many people have previously told me that the dish we Singaporeans call Roti Prata, (aka in Malaysia as Roti Canai) does not exist in India. My patient confirmed that it is not true. Roti Prata does exist in India, but only in a small part of Southern India and predominantly in a place called Chennai. Over there, this dish is simply called Prata. Indian migrants brought this dish to Malaya where it became known as Roti Prata. The Malaysians however, named this dish Roti Canai which means the “Roti” (bread) from Chennai.* If you still doubt that this dish is available in India, consider this: Most of the men who make the Prata in Singapore are foreign workers from Southern India. Do you really think that we brought them over to teach them how to make Prata? It’s like bringing the Chinese over and trying to teach them how to play Ping Pong right?
Anyway, Roti Pratas are a favourite breakfast dish amongst Singaporeans but there is a certain level of mystique about it because of the process of flipping the dough such that not many people would even attempt to do at home. Why would you want to make it at home if it is so readily available and is relatively cheap? Well, I can think of three reasons.
1. Most of the Pratas you eat at the stalls will contain high levels of Trans Fats since they are made with cheap margarine and they usually contain more oil than is necessary. When you make Prata at home, you can choose to use Olive Oil and limit the amount of oil used.
2. When you can make your own Prata, you can then add ingredients which you will never find outside, like say, Luncheon Meat, Egg and Onion Murtabak (filled prata) which is really very tasty. Then you can organize parties and get your friends to bring toppings and design their own Murtabak!

3. Because nobody believes you can.

Fluffy on the inside, Crispy on the Outside! Best for soaking up your favourite curry!

So let’s get started with a discussion of the basic ingredients. The simplest Prata you can make consists of flour, water, salt and sugar. You can enrich the dough by adding oil, condensed milk and egg. Since we are making this at home, we can afford to put in some of the good stuff. So the recipe I would do in my home would be the following:

Enriched Prata Dough Recipe (Richer taste, more tender)

1. Plain Flour 600g
2. Water 270ml
3. Condensed Milk 80g (1/4 cup)
4. Oil or Melted Butter/Ghee 15ml (1 tablespoon)
5. Salt 1 teaspoon
6. 1 egg

Here is another recipe without the condensed milk

Leaner Prata Dough Recipe (Crispier texture)
1. Plain Flour 600g
2. Water 300ml
3. Salt 1 teaspoon
4. Sugar 1 tablespoon
5. Oil 15 ml
6. 1 egg

Lyoner, Egg and Cheese Layered Prata

Notes on ingredients:

Flour
This is by far the most confusing and took me the longest time to figure out. In Singapore, almost every Prata shop uses a flour called “Ikan Terbang” (Flying Fish). It comes in 25kg sacks and on the sack it is written that it is “Best used for Roti Prata”. Now it is critical to get the right flour because you need the correct protein level in order to be able to create a dough which is both extensible and strong, but not too resistant to stretching or you will have problems flipping it. I eventually bought a whole 25kg sack of Ikan Terbang flour because I wanted to make sure that at least I got the right flour so that I can just figure out the rest of the recipe. You can buy a whole sack of flour for $34 at Hong Lim Complex at the corner shop on the the junction of South Bridge Road and Upper Cross St. They will also sell you 1kg portions for $1.80.

But you don’t have to do that because I finally managed to talk to the flour expert at Prima Flour Mills who told me that Ikan Terbang is simply plain flour with a 10.8% protein content. Furthermore, you can buy the exact same flour at your supermarket as it is sold in 1kg packs labeled “Plain Flour” by Primaflour. So where ever you are in the world, if you can get your hands on plain flour with a protein level of 10.8%, it would work perfectly.

Water
I make my dough using room temperature water. The importance of water cannot be understated. Too little water and your dough will be too stiff and not very extensible. That means that when you flip it it will not stretch out nicely. Too much water and your dough will be too pliable and lack enough resistance. A hydration level of about 60%is about right. (Hydration level = Water weight/Flour weight X 100)

Condensed Milk
You can omit this if you like but it adds a nice caramel flavour and sweetness to the Prata. The milk also tenderizes the dough somewhat and the sugar helps to caramelize the Prata to a nice brown colour. If you omit the 1/4 cup of condensed milk, replace it with 40mls of water and 1 tablespoon of Sugar.

Oil/Butter/Ghee
This helps to give the Prata a nice flavour and also in making the dough more pliable. Oil acts like a levening agent by getting in between the gluten sheets. So the more oil, the fluffier the prata. You can omit the oil if you wish, it will just be a little less pliable when you flap and the taste will be a little flat and the prata less fluffy. Most people are so used to the Prata sold outside that they might comment that the homemade ones just lack something. If that is the case, just buy some Planta Margarine and fry your Prata in a pool of that stuff and you will achieve that authentic prata taste! Yes, we have been conditioned to enjoy the taste of Trans Fats!

Salt
Salt adds taste and strengthens the dough. Without salt, your prata will taste very flat and lifeless.

Egg
The egg proteins help to strengthen the gluten and makes the flipping easier. The egg white helps make the dough more resilient and the yolk contains lecithin which helps emulsify the oil. The egg also adds more nutritional value to the dough. When I omit the egg, I find my prata tears easier when I am flipping it.Making the Dough

This is by far the most important part of the whole Prata production process. If you have a good dough and bad flipping technique, you can still end up with a good Prata. However, if your dough is bad, there is no way you will ever get a good Prata.

In order to make a dough that is pliable and elastic, you need to remember just one crucial point. Be patient with your dough! What dough needs more than anything else is time. Dough is like a bad tempered friend. If you want to get through to him, you have to use a soft approach. The more you fight it, the more it will retaliate. Let it cool down for a while and deal with it gently and it will do whatever you want.

So as you can see from the slideshow, there is a lot of waiting involved. The first wait is after you mix the flour and water. Once both water and flour is mixed evenly, leave it alone for 20 minutes for them to get to know each other intimately. This stage is known technically as the autolysis stage. If you continue to force it to combine together, you are just wasting your time and energy. Give it 20 minutes and when you start to knead, you will get a smooth dough in no time.

For this dough, you really do need to develop the gluten a bit. So I usually knead it at speed 2 on my KitchenAid (Medium slow) for 10 minutes with a 5 minute rest time in between. If you want it to be even more elastic, repeat the 5 minute knead and rest cycle one more time. If you are kneading by hand, you will need to double the kneading time. What you want to end up with is a tacky dough which becomes smooth as a baby’s bottom with just a bit of dusting of flour.

Right after kneading, divide the dough into equal parts. I usually divide mine into ten 100g dough balls (approx). At one time, I used to oil my hands and ball it like how I see the Prata Men do it but I realized that the oil makes it difficult for the flour to combine at the folds. What you really want is a smooth ball of dough without any folds because these folds will cause fractures in your dough during the flipping process. So now I divide my dough and make them into nice balls before I oil them.

Once you oil the balls, you can do what they do outside and put them altogether in a box. But I find it easier to use non-stick muffin trays as I can minimize the amount of oil used and when I remove them, they come out as nice round ice hockey like pucks which is easy to flatten into round discs for flipping. You should try to rest them for at least 8 hours or overnight, because during this time, the enzymes in the flour will start working on the sugars and some of the wild yeast in the air will start fermenting the dough. The resting makes the dough more pliable and easy to flip as well as give it a more complex flavour. Remember to cover the dough balls with clingwrap to keep the surface from drying out. If you are in a hurry, you can flip the dough in as little as 50 mins after balling. (I guess it could be shorter, I just haven’t tried it yet) It still works, but you might find it breaks a little easier.

ieat’s Express Prata Dough Recipe using the Cuisinart Food Processor


Sometimes you might just want to dish out your prata on the spot. I found that you can do this in an hour and fifteen minutes if you use a Food Processor. Basically, all the ingredients go into the Food Processor with the dough blade attached. Blend for 20 seconds until all the flour and water are mixed and the dough looks like a shaggy mass. Next, rest the dough for 20 mins then turn on the processor for 30 seconds followed by 2 min rest and another 30 seconds. The rest in between prevents your processor from overheating and allows the dough to rest so that it is easier to process. Divide and rest the dough for 50 mins and you are ready to go!

The important part of this process is the rest time after balling the dough. The longer you rest the dough the better. I find that by 50 mins dough is extensible enough to be flipped. However, if you can rest the dough longer, you will find that it becomes even more pliable but the improvement might only be 10 to 20%. If you leave your dough overnight, you allow fermentation to take place and your dough will have time to develop a full bodied flavour.


Flipping the Prata

This is the fun part but is also the hardest to master if you want to be able to look like a Pro. (To really look like a Pro, you need hairy arms and a dark complexion, this I cannot help you with) I have actually tried to learn the technique from several Prata Men in the past and they have given me a few pointers here and there. But most of the time they just tell me that it would take me 3 months to pick up the skill if I practice everyday. As with most things, if you don’t understand the fundamentals of what you are doing and are just doing it blindly, it would take a long time. However, I have studied the videos on youtube over and over again and I eventually managed to conceptualize what is actually happening during the flipping process. With this basic understanding, I managed to master the skill within two weeks. (I must have flapped hundreds of balls though). In the video, I will show you the concept of the prata flip using a round disc, then you can see how it is done with a towel and eventually a piece of dough. I believe that if you study it well, you will be flipping Pratas in no time.

HD version uploaded on 31 Mar 2011


The Pro version of making Roti Prata

For those who are not so patient and don’t have a need to show off to their friends, I have made a second video where you can achieve the same membrane thin stretched dough using a method even my primary school daughter can do. Don’t be intimidated by the prata flip, just concentrate on making a good dough and I guarantee you that you will get to eat crispy, fluffy and healthier Pratas at home in no time.


The novice version of making Roti Prata

Ieat’s Drive for the Perfect Prata Recipe

I have been thinking hard about how to achieve a crispier prata without having to add more oil to the dough and have came up with a method that works pretty well. The only drawback is that you really have to time the whole process properly. As far as I know, no one else has published a recipe like this online so I think this should be an ieat original recipe.

What we need to do for a crispy crust and a fluffier inside is to introduce little air bubbles into the dough. You can do this by adding yeast or baking soda. I chose to use yeast because it gives you better control of the levening process. If you are after a Prata that will adequately portray your potent personal Prata prowess, I will use either Ghee or French Butter in place of oil and I also add 1/16 tsp of yeast (a pinch only) into the flour when I mix all the ingredients together. Once you ball the dough and oil it, place it immediately into the fridge to rest for 8 hours. By putting the dough in the fridge you slow down the levening process but you are still giving the dough time to rest and combine properly. About an hour and a half before you decide to flip you prata, bring it out of the fridge and rest at room temperature. The yeast will now slowly wake up and produce little bubbles of carbon dioxide in the dough. If it is rested beyond 2 hours, you will end up with bread, so timing is important. Just a slight 10% rise is enough to bring your Prata to the next level! You will find with this dough that your stretch membrane will not be less transparent as the normal dough without yeast and is a little less resilient. But the texture of the final Prata is crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside and is especially good if you are planning to do Murtrabak as the layers inside will all be tender and fluffy.

Corned Beef, Eggs and Onion Murtabak. What would you put in your Murtabak?

Conclusion

Once you have mastered how to make Prata, it is time to organize a Prata Party where you can invite your friends over to create new Murtabak (filled pratas) flavours! Some of the ones that worked really well for me were beef burger and cheese, parmesan and sugar, Luncheon Meat, Egg and Onions and Cornbeef, Egg and Onions.You can really go crazy thinking of all the wonderful flavours that you can put into your Prata!

Daddy flipping Prata: Photo by Megan Tay 7 yrs old

Special for ieatishootipost readers

This year I started writing recipes which celebrates our Singaporean Heritage. I like researching dishes which a lot of people feel are just too challenging to attempt and I try to delve into every single detail of the recipe so that anyone who wanted to make the dish will only need to read one article. Part of the reason that I started on this cooking spree comes from having the CuisinArt Food Processor and KitchenAid Mixer which were sponsored by Mayer. When you have solid machines to work with, it makes the research so much more enjoyable. I used to make dough by hand and it was laborious. With my KitchenAid and CuisinArt, I can make several batches of dough effortlessly which makes it possible for me to to make several batches of dough in order to fine tune the amount of ingredients in the recipe.

I have spoken with Mayer and they have kindly agreed to extend a very special priceon their products for our readers. To enjoy the discount, write to marketing@mayer.com.sg and let them know you are an ieatishootipost reader and ask for a quote. Mayer carries a whole range of excellent kitchen products including ovens, coffee makers, ice cream makers etc. You can check out their product linehere.

Mayer is also sponsoring the upcoming Prata workshop in July but unfortunately it is already full. If you would like to attend the next one, do write in the commentsto express your interest. If there are enough participants, we will start planning the next Prata workshop soon.

You can visit the Mayer website at www.mayer.com.sg

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Mr Lim Kay Kong, the Director of Research and Development at Prima Flour Mills who was instrumental in helping me finalize the Prata recipe. Thanks also to Soundman for helping to produce the Prata Flipping Instructional Video.

My Pandan Chiffon Cake and Tau Huay recipes can be found here

Please do write in and let me know how you went with your prata. I would especially like to know if you were able to make yours even better!

Update: 15 Sep 2010

After playing with the recipe for a few months, I have slowly lowered the water content. In the past, I used a 60% hydration, ie 600g flour to 360g water, I found that a 50% hydration is actually easier to handle. So I have modified the recipe by decreasing the water.

* Footnote: After the writing of this blog post, one of our readers wrote in with reference to an article from the wsj that states that the origins of the word Canai is most probably attributed to the Malay word “to stretch” rather than its place of origin. You can click here to read the article.