All hail the Roti King

The Roti King (aka Kalpana Sugendran Sugendran) does not have a food truck. He does not have an Instagram account or a twitter feed. Despite this, anyone who’s been to his small restaurant in Euston would be fast to agree that he makes some of the most authentic Malaysian food you’ll find outside Malaysia proper, that talent trumps trendy and that the hipsters are missing something big here. He does have a Facebook page.

In fact, when I first set out on this adventure, a good friend of mine (conveniently, Malaysian) was quick to suggest an excursion to the Roti King – I couldn’t believe I had twelve letters to eat through first.

At first glance it might look like a bit of a dive – don’t let the somewhat unbecoming exterior put you off. Once you get down the stairs and past the sign above the door that reads “Euston Chinese” you will not be disappointed – unless, of course, you’re looking for Chinese food. Inside the decor is clean and basic. If you are lucky enough to not have to wait for one of maybe ten or twelve tables, you’re in luck. If you’re really impatient, they also do takeaway.

When Stella and I arrived for dinner on a Wednesday night the restaurant was already full. We didn’t have to wait long, but as we did, a robust queue built up behind us, growing long and out the door into the bitter winter night. (I’m a bit late writing this post). Joining us in line were two of Stella’s friends from Malaysia – one of them here visiting the other for a short holiday. We arrived at the same time by chance – seems like much in the same way as Canadians in London wear plaid and say eh, Malaysians go for roti canai at the same spot. Seems like I’m not the only one reinforcing stereotypes, although plaid is my favourite colour.

Roti canai is the buttery, stretchy, delicious flatbread  born of Malaysia and sold in mamak stalls throughout; also known as the roti prata in Singapore, it is one of the top reasons why I gained so much weight when I lived there. Calling it my roti baby doesn’t even make it sound cute.

As we waited, we watched as the dough was masterfully kneaded, stretched, flipped and folded. I’d fasted all day in anticipation of my Roti King flatbread, and apparently I’d come to the right place.*

Although I came for the bread, which comes served with a small bowl of curry, there are a number of other traditional Malaysian dishes on the menu. We went for the nasi goreng, not because we needed it really, but because we’re [a little bit] greedy. To drink, the signature cincau, or grass jelly – a drink considered “immortal” and popular among women trying to conceive (don’t get excited mom). Made from a herb plant called mesona chinensis, it does not actually contain any gelatin. In Malaysia they sometimes add soy milk, and call it a Michael Jackson – a reference to his changing colour and/or the song “Black & White.”

Our food came quickly and I was delighted that I had ordered a meal and a half all to myself. The roti canai is generous, but the curry portions are small.

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At £6 a head, one could be forgiven for wanting to eat here every day. And in fact, I must confess, between my first visit and the time of writing I actually went back to “scabby old Euston” for lunch. The first time I visited Kuala Lumpur, I was unable to locate real proper local phayre – the street food of KL which is almost legendary. I don’t know how this happened – total amateur fail. Doesn’t matter now though – because the Roti King, or Euston Chinese – now that is a real find.

*That’s a lie, I didn’t. I thought about it though.

Need to know:

Roti King

40 Doric Way, NW1 1LH

07966 093467

Nearest Tube: Euston

Closed Sundays

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Banga, Galore!

One of my favourite things about London is how much curry I eat. Curry was not something that featured much in my life pre-Singapore, and I didn’t think life could get much better than living above a shop house in the heart of Singapore’s thriving Little India neighbourhood.

And then I moved to London.

My favourite curry house in Singa was without question Gayatri on Racecourse Road, which was, lest you expect anything more from me, also the road I lived on. I stopped by recently, on my way back from New Zealand, and ordered my meal off an iPad. It was confusing, but the food was still top dog.

In London, my go-to is Maharani on Clapham High Street. It is close, delicious, and Pierce Brosnan once dined there.

But that is Indian. We are on the letter B. What gives?

I’m not sure, at this point, what distinguishes Indian cuisine, from Bangladeshi. So last night I headed up to Banglatown, aka Brick Lane, to find out.

English: Street logo sign of Brick Lane in Eng...

Armed with a list of possibilities compiled from extensive Internet research (I read one article on TimeOut) I met my friend Heather by the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. In my two and a half years in London, I’d never been for a curry on Brick Lane. In fact, I’d only been to Shoreditch a handful of times, and not once did I give the curry houses for which the road is so notorious more than a passing glance.

Brick Lane, or Regular Lane, as it should really be called – where are the bricks? – seems to be comprised of a litter of Indian restaurants passing for Bangladeshi curry houses. We walked up and down the street, dodging curry touts, and making a “polite scale” – rating the restaurants according to how annoyed they made us feel. Brick Lane is world famous, not just for its food but also for the competing food vendors who try to lure visitors into their shops with offers they claim can’t be beat.

Technically, touting has been illegal in the borough of Tower Hamlets since 2008, but most of these places seem not to have gotten the memo. There was only one restaurant, Cafe Bangla, that didn’t try their darndest to get us inside – in fact, we asked them what they had on offer that night (20% off all food). We should have gone there. The Mills & Boon-esque murals on the walls inside alone probably would have made my night.

English: The streets of Brick Lane at night in...

We asked a selection of the touters the important question of the night: what is the difference between Indian and Bangladeshi food? The answers varied from “nothing” to something about less coconut milk, and more spices. Not answers which satisfied me, frankly. We met Naz, from the Brick Lane Clipper, who at least put some effort in; he started by telling us that most of the restaurants on Brick Lane serve 90% Indian food, because Indian food is much nicer, and then went out of his way to try to convince me that his family was from Bangladesh, after I told him I was more interested in Bangladeshi cuisine. He was blatantly not from Bangladesh at all, but he seemed up for a good chat.

So we settled on the Clipper – because I hadn’t eaten anything other than a continental breakfast at 8 am at Le Balcon – and because Naz assured me that the cook would sort me out with whatever I wanted. At £12 a head for a starter, a main, rice, naan, and a bottle of wine, we were sold. Wouldn’t you be?

As soon as the wine had been poured and we opened up the menus, I knew we’d made the wrong choice. There was nothing on the menu I’d never seen before. I eat Indian food a lot. Jalfrezi, shish kebab, biryani, dopiaza. It was all the same. I was, at first glance, very disappointed. We were the only ones in the restaurant, but not for long.

I explained to the waiter (there was only one) that I wanted to try the “most Bangladeshi” dishes on the menu; he recommended either the korma, the bhuna or the dhansalak. Humph. We ended up with some samosas and some bhaji to start – served with a weird orange sauce that I thought might be Kraft french dressing but which was in fact mighty tasty – some chicken tikka masala, and chicken bhuna, because I like chicken bhuna, and although this was not the new and exciting experience I had in mind, it was, admittedly, good food, for cheap. The bottle of wine, also, helped.

Lessons learned? 1 ) Not all food is going to be new and exciting. Sometimes, food is just good. 2) Next time, I won’t let myself be sweet talked;  I’ll go with my gut – however empty it might be at the time.

I’ll need to revisit this one later – stay tuned for Bangladesh, round 2!