Sweet roti seller a chip off the old block

Roti seller Bun Thach at work.
Roti seller Bun Thach at work. Charlotte Pert

Sweet roti seller a chip off the old block

When thinking about roti what normally springs to mind is the Indian wholemeal flatbread used to scoop up curries. A fried form of the bread is popular in Myanmar, and other variations are consumed in countries across south Asia such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. One of Sri Lanka’s national dishes is kottu roti – roti bread finely cut and mixed with egg, vegetables or meat.

Because of these associations, I’ve always thought of roti as a savoury dish. So it was with surprise that I stumbled upon Cambodian Bun Thach’s roti stall – specialising in a fried, sweet version – outside Cambodia International University on Street 136 earlier this week.

The 35-year-old roti seller wheels his cart around the universities of Phnom Penh, having memorised the break times of each institution, when students are likely to feel peckish. He’s been doing this for three years – before that, he was a car mechanic.

“I changed jobs because it was hard work and I was too weak and couldn’t lift heavy things. I had to find another job that was easier,” he said as he poured cooking oil onto his cart’s sizzling hot plate.

The crispy sweet roti is served.
The crispy sweet roti is served. Charlotte Pert

Although roti is a traditionally Indian fare, Thach said that the recipe has been in his family for generations.

Long ago, he said – he couldn’t remember exactly when – one of his relatives worked in an Indian restaurant in Phnom Penh and became friendly with the chef, who showed him the tricks of the trade.

He makes the roti by pouring cooking oil, flour and a small amount of water onto a circular hot plate, flipping it from side to side as he fries it and shaping it into a square. Despite its name, the way it’s made is more similar to the friend Indian paratha bread than its roti cousin.

Customers can ask for a plain roti (1000 riel), with egg, or a sweet roti (2000 riel) on which he spreads globules of condensed milk and sprinkles cocoa powder. He carefully wraps both in a cylindrical shape and serves in old newspaper, made so greasy that it is almost transparent.

The sweet roti is perfect for an afternoon’s guilty pleasure. By the time Thach has served you, the cocoa powder has melted into the oily dough, to produce a Nutella-like flavour.

The roti dough is tougher than a crepe: more of a challenge to chew, but far more satisfying. The snack was a pleasant surprise, and one that’ll make me keep an eye out for a roti stall when I’m craving something sweet.

Locations vary but the stall is outside Cambodia International University on #5 to 15, Street 136 at around 2pm.

MOST VIEWED

  • Government hits back at threats to pull EBA, suspend UN seat

    The spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has said the government is in no way concerned after the European Parliament gave it three months to reverse what it called the “systematic repression of the political opposition”. Ignoring the ultimatum could mean facing

  • Chinese influx pushing locals, Westerners out of Preah Sihanouk

    Some within the Kingdom’s tourism industry have speculated that the recent influx of Chinese visitors may hinder domestic tourism as the price of accommodations in the coastal city of Sihanoukville continues to rise. Preah Sihanouk province, which has become a hotbed for Chinese investment

  • Sar Kheng: Sokha requested security

    Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Sunday revealed the story behind the transfer of former opposition party leader Kem Sokha from Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province to his house in the capital. Speaking at the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) headquarters in Prey

  • ‘Dire consequences’ from sanctions, warns AmCham

    American businesspeople in Cambodia have warned that any sanction against the Kingdom would have “dire consequences” that could push Cambodia even further into the arms of China. In a letter to US senators and representatives dated Monday, the American Chamber of Commerce Cambodia (AmCham) said