Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Art of Making Mataba Roti

There is something amazing about the dish that they call roti in Thailand. It can be either a sweet dish often stuffed with bananas, or a savory dish stuffed with some really interesting flavors, much of it being curry in nature. Most of the times, I've eaten the banana version of this dish. On this trip, I finally got a chance to check out a savory version. If you eat roti, generally the venders may be Muslim. It's a dish that has Malaysian roots, and it's sort of a hybridization of global food influences all rolled into a single dish. It's not a crepe. The dough is worked almost like a pizza dough, versus a crepe in which a batter is poured onto one of those pricey crepe pans. There are elements of Indian influences in this dish with the curry. Being often a favorite of Muslims here, it meets the halal requirements as well.

Good food can be found in very humble settings. Most street food chefs are specialists. They focus on one dish and one dish only. When you eat street food in Thailand, it is best to know which vender is good. A local's knowledge is key. By the way, I believe the price was about 40 baht per dish, which is just over a dollar. So this dish is about the same price as an item on the McDonalds dollar menu. Somehow, I think it looks better than a wimpy burger with one pickle.

You can go here to check out a sample of the recipe. This thing is not easy to make. Apparently, there are a lot of people who can make this, but not many people can make it well. Fortunately for me, I'm in an area where a street food stall makes the best in the area. Given the active street food universe of Ramkhanhaeng, it says alot. Competition in street food is fierce. You earn your customer base only if you make good stuff. If you suck, you get no business.

It begins with a dough. I don't know what's in the dough, but it's pretty good stuff. He has it mixed in a way that depending upon how he preps it, it can be chewy or paper thin like filo dough used for baklava. He cooks it on what appears to be a sort of crepe pan, but heated with propane. This is a street food cart, not a food truck or fancy restaurant.

When he is prepping the dough, he tosses it like a pizza man, but the dough becomes paper thin almost translucent. He is also very fast. From beginning to end, it only took a few minutes from tossing to getting it onto the pan.

He would mix the savory contents quickly and efficiently. Egg is also a part of the mix. He was so fast that I couldn't tell exactly what he was putting into the filler. It contains a blend of egg, beef, and chicken with a sort of curry based blend of spices. For a while, I had trouble figuring out what that unique flavor was. Then the little light bulb in my head said, curry powder. Perhaps it is because I'm used to seeing curry in Japanese restaurants and in bowls. Not in a roti.

Into the pan it goes. What the stuff in that pink bowl could be, I am to this day clueless. His hands were too fast for me to pick up on the contents. His wife is the sous chef, and she has all the items ready for him to dump into a mixing bowl. Dump, dump, dump and mix. He then pours the filler into the center of the crisping dough.
On the crepe pan gizmo, he would fold the filler and dough into a square and flip it regularly. Occasionally he would add oil to try to get a crisper texture. We asked for this one to be crispy, and it was great.

Once done, he gets a square parchment paper, and places the mataba on it. He then chops it into bite size pieces.

He always asks you how you want it. The tiny woman is his sous chef wife.

The wife presents the finished product. It comes with a spicy vinegar based dip with cucumbers.

The thumb of approval is declared. From beginning to end, it only took about 10 minutes.

This is how it looks. Can you see the carmelization of the dough? It's crisp, paper thin, and the filling has light hints of curry; it isn't overwhelming. Thin slices of carrot, cucumber and chili are also presented on the side.

We actually got a sweet version as well. This one is filled with bananas. As you can tell, the toppings are not the same. This one was requested as being more chewy. As you can tell, the color of the dough is light, but not crisped.

By the way, he made both of these things under 15 minutes in front of your eyes. Just watching him make this was worth the trip.