Roti john is a part of Malay cuisine – just like nasi lemak, mee soto and laksa, and is popular in Singapore, Malaysia and many other places in Southeast Asia. Its origins lie with the English, Malay and Indian communities of the Malay Peninsula. The name roti john literally translates to “John’s bread”, for John was a name commonly used to refer to all white people in the region, whilst roti is a Hindi term for bread. There is a local legend which tells us that once in the 1960’s, an Englishman asked a hawker for a burger, however there were no burgers available so the hawker had to improvise. First spreading minced mutton and onions between two slices of french bread the hawker then proceeded to fry this new “burger” in beaten eggs. The name roti john is also said to have come from this hawker who said to the Englishman, “Silakan makan roti, John”, which translates to “Please eat this bread, John” and can also be taken to mean “Please eat this dish, John’s bread.”
How is Roti Jon Prepared?
The traditional way is with minced mutton with onion and egg, all fried into a hollowed half of a french bread with a tomato based chilli sauce is served on the side. It is not often served as the full baguette but rather chopped up into small bite-sized pieces and is usually excellent for sharing among many people.
Different Breads & Different Meats
Roti John is not always served on french bread, often a local variant is used instead (and can be much more popular). It is also not only mutton that is now used as the meat filling. Having spread across many countries in the region there are a few variants of this dish that have emerged. The most common way in which this dish varies is in the meat used. Other variety of meats that have been used are: chicken, sardines, anchovies and beef. Other popular additions to this dish include mushrooms and melted cheese.
Where Can I get It?
Roti john is mainly known as a food prepared by hawkers and is usually found at the hawker stalls in Singapore. It can also be found across the Malay Peninsula (it is harder to find in some places than others).
But you don’t always need to go out to get a roti john, it can be brought straight to your event by a caterer in Singapore who knows how to prepare this dish. Roti john makes an excellent canapé that is not too difficult to prepare and thus makes an easy addition to an expansive buffet. Who would have thought that a burger-like dish like roti john may be considered to be a part of Malay or Southeast Asian cuisine?! So make sure you show your guests the variety of interesting dishes that have come out of Southeast Asia by ordering some roti john from your caterer fot your next event (don’t forget it also comes with a very interesting story of origin!).