It may not look as if the slightly sweet, mildly bitter “milo” powder was incorporated into this delightful concoction, but inside that fluffy exterior is a surprising, subtle addition to an otherwise standard-fare snack in Malaysia.
The man running this particular stall explained to me as I was preparing to leave that he had just given a training session to the boy standing there with him – whom I presume to be, his son.
It appeared he had, gathering from the little that I could understand as I watched him explain the steps to the boy while whipping the roti (generally, an Indian unleavened bread) onto the table, spreading dollops of butter across the flat dough, and finally, sprinkling milo powder evenly around.
“Milo”, by the way, is a chocolate and malt powder typically served mixed in with hot or cold water, and sometimes sugar, for extra sweetening. It holds a particularly special place in my own childhood as my chocolate drink of choice, growing up in the Philippines.
The man laughed when the boy seemed unsure of how much milo to put in, as if he were doing so too sparingly. Even I know that you can never use enough milo.
He then folded the roti to create a pocket that kept the butter and milo altogether before placing it carefully on the well-oiled, rounded skillet that looks like the kind you would use for a crepe.
Each side of the square piece of roti was perfectly cooked to a flaky crisp, while maintaining a slight fluffiness to the dough inside.
It was worth the wait – watching this man and this boy, carefully make this roti for me. Perhaps he was preparing the boy to the run the business for him in the future. After all, he did refer to this morning as a training.
Which leads me to wonder how many of these makeshift establishments here in Penang will survive another generation growing older, and perhaps, further removed from carrying on this kind of family business. While roti would, on average, cost the customer no more than two ringgit a piece (around 60 cents), the labor cost is significant.
From the preparation of the dough ahead of time, to the cooking of various sauces (in my experience, typically a curry and a tamarind “daal” for dipping), to the kneading, slapping, and frying creation of the ordered roti, all in all it is a labor-intensive process. Not to mention, the man working this particular roti stall said he’s open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.
After preparing mine, the boy immediately took a piece of dough and started pushing his palms into it, getting ready for the next customer’s order. As I was leaving, I told the man, the next time I come by, perhaps I’ll be buying my roti from his son, and not him. But after saying so, I realized that I wasn’t so sure.