Roti means bread in Malay.

While (based on what I've read and seen in Lonely Planet) it may mean different things in other countries, from where I come from (Singapore), roti is basically just another word to refer to your standard loaf of bread.

There are some differences between roti and those pre-sliced nicely-wrapped bundles from the Gardenia factory, however. For one, roti is generally sweeter, and the crust has a peculiar, slightly bitter taste. Its shape is also less rectangular, with more than half of the cross-section being circular. Oh, and it probably doesn't contain seven different vitamins and isn't fortified with iron.

Roti is normally sliced, toasted, and served with some form of spread. The most popular spread would be kaya, which gives rise to the delicious breakfast of roti kaya, or roti pangan as it is oft called.

One interesting thing about the word "roti" is that while it is Malay in origin, most of the older Chinese folks here use the word "loti" while speaking in one of the dialects (usually Hokkien or Teochew). Its meaning is the same as the Malay word it is a corruption of, and the actual Chinese term for bread is hardly ever uttered.

Roti from Suriname

In Suriname, the term roti refers both to a kind of flatbread that is similar to Indian roti and to the dish that it is served as a part of. The bread can be both plain or stuffed with potato or split yellow peas. Stuffed roti is called dhalpuri roti. The roti is usually served with a curry of chicken, potatoes or vegetables, or a mixture of those. Making the rotis yourself is quite a lot of work, so if you don’t have much time you could make the curry and serve it with flour tortilla, naan or pita or a similar kind of bread that is available in the supermarket.

Making rotis

For 12 rotis, that will feed 6 persons (4 if they’re students) you need:

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Add the water and mix until you’ve got a supple dough. Form balls of the dough and roll them out thinly. Heat a griddle or large frying pan and grease it with a little of the oil. Bake the rotis one at a time, about one and a half minutes on each side. Spread a bit of oil over both sides. For stuffed rotis, you follow the instructions above up to the rolling out of the dough. For the filling, you need: Boil the peas with the garlic until they are soft. Pour off the water and mash the peas into a paste, then mix in the cumin and salt and pepper to taste.
Take the balls of dough that you made and make a hole in each of them. Put a tablespoon of filling into each and close the balls by pressing the dough together. Lay them aside for a few minutes, then roll them out carefully so the filling doesn’t come out and bake them like the plain rotis.

Making the curry

The curry that goes with roti is made with a curry powder that is called masala. This knowledge is of little use to you, as most Indian/hindu spice mixtures are called masala… In Suriname and the Netherlands, the mixture is available as “hindustani masala”. It is very similar to “standard” curry powder like the one that is sold by Crosse & Blackwell. If you can’t find this, make your own by mixing 6 tbsp coriander seeds, 4 tbsp cumin seeds, ¾ tbsp black mustard seeds and ¾ tbsp whole black peppercorns. Toast them in a dry frying pan until they start to smell, then grind them to a powder and add 2 tbsp ground turmeric. You can add some chili powder to the mixture if you think you’d like it more spicy. Okay, on to the curry!

For the curry, the recipe isn’t all that strict. You can put in pretty much anything you like in the way of meat and vegetables. Traditional are potato, yard long green bean and chicken, though. It might be best to start with that and then make variations as you see fit. Likewise, the amounts needed all depend on what you like: do you prefer lots of meat, or perhaps a vegetarian version? I’d say to go for about 100-150 g meat per person and about 200 g vegetables, but they, improvise a bit if you like! As a starting point for those who are afraid of improvising, for those 6 persons we talked about before, you need:

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, minced
  • 6 tbsp masala mixture
  • 600- 900 g chicken
  • 6 potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 900 g yard long green beans or normal green beans
  • 2 tomatoes
  • some chopped chives
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • a handful of chopped cilantro
Heat some vegetable oil in a large pan and add the cumin seeds. Fry them until they start popping. Then add the garlic, onions, pepper and masala and stirfry for half a minute. Add the meat, vegetables, tomatoes and half a litre of water. Stir well and let simmer for a bit. Then add chives, thyme, pepper and salt. Cover the pan and simmer for half an hour to 45 minutes, until everything is done. 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time, remove the lid so that the sauce can thicken a bit. When everything is ready, add the cilantro.

To serve, put the rotis on plates and put the curry on top. The idea is to tear off pieces of the roti and use these to eat the curry. I know it’s possible but when I try it I make a huge mess. What I usually do is to tear of a piece of roti, hold it with my left hand, put some curry on top with the help of a fork or spoon, fold it shut and then eat it. But true Surinamese would probably laugh their heads off if they saw me.
Alternatively, for a roti-on-the-go, you can fold it around the curry like a burrito. Roti can be accompagnied by hotsauce made from scotch bonnet peppers and tomatoes, but it might be hard to find that.

Variations: You could make the curry with only chicken and serve the roti with the curry and stir-fried cabbage (conical is good). Or make a vegetarian curry with potato and beans and add a boiled egg. Or make the curry with lamb in stead of chicken (increase the cooking time accordingly). Worlds of possibilities.

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