Sometimes the temptation is there to group Singaporean dishes along communal lines, given the vast range of culinary influences. It’s harder than it sounds, though, especially for a dish like Roti John.
Roti is a Malay and Indian word for bread, but the bread in question here is Western, a baguette. As for John, every westerner must have been called John those days, runs the assumption. So was it something Malays cooked for sale to the Brits? Was it a habit passed on from the Brits (Brits eating baguette?) to the Indians, and then to Singapore?
Goodness knows. But there is firm, historical evidence for the following assertion. This is a favourite dish for hot, humid late afternoons in an open air food court, freshly off the griddle and sliced, the aroma of onions and egg and a hint of heat. The sun is finally beating a retreat, and you celebrate with a swig of freshly mashed sugar cane juice. (Or beer, because why not.)
So here’s to some pain perdu, in the style of those from the Southern Seas.
The filling for Roti John is flexible; anything goes, from chicken chunks to beef or lamb mince, or even canned tuna. Here I’m using turkey mince and some mushrooms.
(NB: That’s too much onions. Please halve that amount of onions.)
Serves: 4 of the peckish, 3 of the ravenous
2/3 of a long baguette
125g turkey mince
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large mushroom, chopped
1 chilli, chopped (optional)
Butter at discretion
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon paprika powder
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
Salt and pepper, at discretion
1. Cut the baguette in half lengthwise, then slice into 15 cm long slices. Hollow out the insides partly, then butter them. (The breadcrumbs could be dried and saved.)
2. Beat the three eggs with the dark soy sauce.
3. On a medium heat, stir fry the onions, garlic, chilli, mushrooms and turkey in a bit of butter, along with the rest of the seasonings. The turkey mince should be cooked through.
4. Take the cooked mince mixture out, let it cool, then pour the egg over it and mix well. So now you have your filling!
5. Spoon the filling into the partly hollowed bread.
6. Heat up a pan, and then fry the baguette on both sides, much like French toast, until you have sear marks on one side and an omelette on the other.
7. The question of sauce – in Singapore, ‘sweet chilli’ is the norm, but it’s not really the Thai sort of sweet chilli and I wouldn’t substitute it. Mayonnaise has become more popular of late, but I’m out of mayonnaise. The sauce is really optional.