Penang Local: Cult Recipes from the Streets that Make the City, written by Aim Aris and Ahmad Salim, brings the flavors of Penang to the home kitchen with an incredible assortment of street food favorites for any time of day. A few highlights include Roti Jala (Lacy Pancakes), Chilli Pan Mee (Chilli Flat Noodles), Coconut Shake, Ikan Bakar (Grilled Fish), and Apom Lenggang (Crispy Sweet Crêpes). I will also be featuring their recipe for Roti Canai (Malaysian-Style Paratha Roti) following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Smith Street Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Aim Aris and Ahmad Salim
Aim Aris and Ahmad Salim grew up in Malaysia and are currently based in Melbourne, Australia. Together, they “run pop-up dining projects as a way to share their culinary creativity and to showcase contemporary Southeast Asian flavours in a casual dining set-up.”
Aim works as a freelance travel and food photographer . She graduated from RMIT University in Melbourne with a PhD specializing in mechanical engineering and renewable energy.
Ahmad started his culinary career in 2012 and currently focuses on modern Australian cuisine in specialty Melbourne coffee houses.
Aim and Ahmad begin with a short introduction of the vibrant and multicultural foods found in Penang. They will take you briefly through its history and into the intertwining of Malay, Chinese, Peranakan, Indian, and other cuisines found today.
Among the recipes, you will find pages devoted to specific ingredients such as rice, noodles, and belachan along with an insight into favorite markets and eats throughout the city. For beginners, there is a section on basic recipes with condiments and sauces for building a foundation and a glossary with descriptions of common ingredients found in Malaysian cuisine.
The chapters are divided into three parts based on time of day: Early, Mid, and Late. Each chapter begins with mealtime traditions, favorite dishes, and go-to spots to eat.
The photography is provided by Georgia Gold with food styling by Deborah Kaloper. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a full-page photo of the finished dish. Titles are written in the original language and English. Measurements are listed in Metric and US Customary. Each recipe includes a headnote with background information, serving size, helpful tips, and menu ideas.
Roti Canai (Malaysian-Style Paratha Roti)
The recipe for Roti Canai (Malaysian-Style Paratha Roti) can be found in the Early chapter. Introduced from southern India, this flatbread comes together with just a handful of ingredients, but does take some time to prepare.
Aim and Ahmad state, “In Penang, Mamak (Malaysian-Indian) stalls selling roti canai are easily found and usually operate 24 hours a day, every day – making it a versatile and cheap all-day snack and a great meeting point when you’re catching up with friends.”
Roti Canai has been a favorite of mine ever since I first tried it in New York City and I am so excited to continue practicing how to make it at home! This unleavened flour-based bread is briefly kneaded until smooth and elastic, divided into small balls, coated in oil, and allowed to rest at least one hour or (ideally) up to overnight. Don’t skip the resting period! The dough will be much easier to handle and stretch until thin without tearing.
Each piece of dough is gently pulled into a thin circle, rolled up, then coiled in a spiral shape and pressed flat again. The resulting bread is cooked in a hot pan until lightly browned on each side to create a crisp exterior that gives way to light and flaky layers. Lightly “clap” (push the edges of the bread towards the center) after removing from the pan to help separate these layers.
I served the Roti Canai the same way I had it in the NYC restaurant- with a bowl of basic curry (Kuah kari, recipe also in book) and Teh Tarik (Malaysian Pulled Tea). It is also delicious with dhal, sugar, or simply plain.
A couple of variations are noted for once you get the basic dough down- Roti Telur (with egg) and Roti Banjir (covered in curry).
I also made Samosa Daging (Beef Samosas), Muah Chee (Peanut Mochi), Ayam Masak Bawang (Onion Chicken), and Char Kuey Teow (Stir-Fried Flat Rice Noodles).
The Samosa Daging (Beef Samosa) recipe was inspired by the stalls on Transfer Road and in Little India. I absolutely loved the flavor packed into these little fried pastries. They are filled with diced potatoes, beef, curry powder, onion, garlic, and the perfect amount of spice. The recipe makes 30, but they freeze well for an easy snack later.
The Muah Chee (Peanut Mochi) have a glutinous rice flour base and are covered in a mixture of sweetened peanuts and sesame seeds. They are served with fried shallots for a wonderful combination of sweet and savory.
The Ayam Masak Bawang (Onion Chicken) was another favorite! Chicken drumsticks are coated in turmeric, then fried until lightly golden. They are then simmered in a spiced onion-based sauce and perfect paired with roti, chapati, or rice.
Noodle lovers will find a variety of options in Penang Local! I was immediately drawn to the Char Kuey Teow in the Late chapter. Fresh flat rice noodles are stir-fried quickly in a hot wok with chilli paste, lap cheong, shrimp, eggs, bean sprouts, garlic chives, and a savory sauce.
Penang Local is a great pick for those interested in Penang and the cuisine of Malaysia. There is a wonderful variety of quick, easy snacks and stir-fries along with other meals that require planning ahead or a bit more involvement.
Having a market nearby with Malaysian and Southeast Asian ingredients will be helpful in locating items such as dried shrimp, fresh noodles, pandan leaves, tamarind paste, palm sugar, lemongrass, kecap manis, rock sugar, choy sum, Malaysian curry powder, curry leaves, glutinous rice flour, lap cheong, and more.
Looking for more books in this series highlighting notable cities? Check out my review of Hong Kong Local and a recipe for Hong Kong-Style Milk Tea.
Roti Canai (Malaysian-Style Paratha Roti) Recipe
Excerpt from Penang Local
Roti Canai (Malaysian-Style Paratha Roti)
- 450 grams (3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 125 milliliters (1/2 cup) vegetable oil plus extra to coat
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 250 milliliters (1 cup) lukewarm water
- To make the dough, place the flour and oil in a bowl and mix well. Dilute the sugar and salt with 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water, then pour it into the flour mixture. Add the remaining water and stir until the mixture is well combined.
- Using the '3 minutes knead then 2 minutes rest' method, knead the dough with clean hands until it is smooth and no longer sticky. This is to stretch the gluten in the flour and give the desired texture of roti canai.
- Divide the dough into eight portions and roll into small balls. Roll the balls in oil until well coated and rest for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.
- To 'canai' (flatten the dough), flip a 32 cm (12 1/2 inch) round tray over as you'll be using the underside (a pizza tray is ideal). Take one dough ball and press it firmly onto the tray with your palm. Working your way around, gently pull the dough towards the edge of the tray, keeping the shape as round as possible. Continue until the dough has almost completely covered the tray.
- Lift one edge of the dough and carefully pull it off the tray. Roll it up, then coil it into a spiral shape, then gently press down on it and set aside. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. Sprinkle the dough with oil and rest for 3-5 minutes.
- Heat a clean frying pan over medium heat. Working with one piece at a time, flatten the rested dough once again, then place it in the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the base is lightly brown and crisp. Flip the roti over and cook until cooked through and lightly brown on both sides.
- Remove the roti from the pan and give it a light 'clap' between your hands. Repeat with the remaining dough. Serve warm with curry, dal, sugar or enjoy it plain.