A 5-Minute Malaysian Bread for When You're in a Pinch

Roti jala is the best at sopping up all manner of curries, sauces, and stews.

May 22, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

Most people have experienced the milk-and-cookie dilemma. You know, the one where you get halfway through a cookie and realize you have no more milk to wash it down with. And so you pour out more milk, only to finish the cookie and still have a quarter-glass of milk left, forcing you to reach for yet another cookie, feeling guilt and pleasure at the same instant. Repeat ad infinitum.

Well, I have a version of that, but with curry and bread.

Countless times have I made a chicken curry, Malaysian rendang, or a Nik Sharma–inspired spiced stew for dinner, and labored over some flatbread or Indian naan to go with it. Only each time, often toward the end of the meal, I’ll realize that I’ve either made too much bread and not enough curry, or—and this is the much less desirable scenario—not enough bread for the amount of curry I’ve made, leaving a glistening pool of gravy just waiting to be mopped up. Only unlike the milk-and-cookie dilemma, I can’t just pour out some extra curry from a Tetra Pak in the fridge, and there’s no bread jar for me to sheepishly reach into for more bread.

For emergencies like this, I turn to roti jala.

Roti jala is a Malaysian bread that, unlike most breads, doesn’t require any leavening and proofing, and can be whipped up in a matter of minutes, using little more than pantry staples. In fact, its name—literally meaning “net bread” in the Malay language—is a bit of a misnomer, because roti jala is really more like a crepe than a bread.

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Top Comment:
“Hi Yi, Roti jala looks beautiful and so easy! Can I make it without eggs? Any substitute you recommend? ”
— Annada R.

To make it, all you need is some flour, water, eggs, coconut milk, and an optional pinch of turmeric for color. Whisk all of this into a smooth solution the consistency of pancake batter, then drizzle onto a hot pan to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and it’s done! (That's bread in about 5 minutes from start to finish; rinse, lather, repeat.)

Unlike a crepe, though, there’s no need to swirl the pan around and patch up the gaps in between, like you would a botched children’s drawing. For a roti jala, the gaps in the batter give it a lacy, doily-like pattern, reminiscent of fishing nets (hence, its name).

In Malaysia and Indonesia, roti jala features prominently in the local cuisine. They’re often folded into neat little bundles, served as a substitute for rice alongside creamy curries and spicy beef rendangs, and sometimes even had with the many aromatic, stew-like gulais of Malay cuisine. Once dipped into these spicy stews—by hand of course—the supple, slightly springy roti jala will immediately soak up all that sauce, and act as a vessel for the curry to get into your mouth, with the perfume from the coconut milk and the tinge of turmeric in the roti jala serving as a backdrop to the spice-laden canvas of the curry.

So whenever I have extra curry for dinner, I’ll immediately segue to the kitchen, whip up a roti jala batter and drizzle it on the pan. As the first roti is done, I’ll dip it straight into the still-warm curry and eat it with one hand. And with the other, I’ll drizzle in more batter to fry up the next roti, repeating the process until I’m left with an empty bowl, with barely a smudge of curry in sight.

Curry-and-bread dilemma, solved.

Have you ever had roti jala? Tell us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rachael K
    Rachael K
  • Latentblonde
  • Lindy King
    Lindy King
  • Annada Rathi
    Annada Rathi
  • sweetfood
Engineer + cook + food blogger. All about cross-cultural cooking, funky-fresh ferments, and abusing alliteration.


Rachael K. May 28, 2019
But where can we get the recipe for that stew/curry it’s beside?!
Latentblonde May 27, 2019
Could I sub almond milk for this, or would that make the batter too thin?
sweetfood January 23, 2020
That would taste different. With coconut milk, you will get better aroma that balanced with curry
Lindy K. May 24, 2019
Hey Yi, I want to try this. Quick questions. Sounds like you don't flip it? And how thick do you pour it in. It seems like barely covering bottom?
Faye R. May 27, 2019
No, you don't have to flip them. As they are quite thin and lacy, all you need to do is wait for the batter to dry a bit and then fold or roll.
Annada R. May 22, 2019
Hi Yi, Roti jala looks beautiful and so easy! Can I make it without eggs? Any substitute you recommend?
Jun May 23, 2019
Hmm that would be tough, since egg is the binder here. But you could experiment with nut butters or mashed bananas maybe! Though disclaimer: I've never tried them myself, heh.
Faye R. May 27, 2019
Yeah, you can substitute the eggs with 3/4 cup to 1 cup of fresh milk if using the above recipe.
Latentblonde May 27, 2019
I’d think a flax egg would work fine, but I haven’t tried it.