From the crispy rendang controversy to the more recent Hainanese chicken rice “scandal”, there has been a lot in the news this year of how Westerners are trying and failing to meet the lofty standards of Eastern cuisine.


This got us thinking – as Malaysians, we are definitely proud of our food. But does that make East superior to West? Are our taste buds, which have been exposed to a sumptuous mix of spices, trained to a fine tenor by our lengthy experience of our mother and grandmother’s delicious cooking, truly superior? And more importantly – is the roti canai better than the croissant?


Both items share many similarities. Buttery, flaky, delicious and timeless, both pastries deserve the places they occupy in many a heart. And roti canai is as distinctively Eastern as the croissant is Western. Flavorful even when eaten plain, they are the perfect vehicles on which to build an East vs West type of argument.


And as proud Malaysians, it is tempting to write a piece about how roti canai is superior. To numerate ways in which one culture, OUR culture is better than another.


But we live today in a world where boundaries are blurred. Cultures are cross pollinating more than ever before. In a world that is already filled with unhappiness and strife, surely it is more important to focus on how we are the same, rather than how we are different? To find ways in which we can learn from each other instead of tearing each other down?


So in that spirit, let’s take a look at the things roti canai and croissant have in common.


Serious skill is required

Both pastries feature simple ingredients – water, flour and butter/ghee. The magic happens in the hands of skilled professionals. If you’ve ever seen roti canai been flipped in the air to get just the right amount of air into the dough, you’ll know that it takes serious skill to create one piece of the flaky, buttery goodness. It’s no wonder that the roti canai man is the top dollar earner in a mamak; a mamak that is known for good roti is a crowd puller. The croissant likewise needs skill and experience to produce something that tastes amazing. The baking process is a complex craft that takes up to three days and the dough has to be rolled and folded dozens of times by hand to create up to 600 layers!


Don’t be shy with the fat

Let’s be clear – neither the roti canai nor the croissant is a health food. Both employ copious amounts of fat, in the form of ghee (roti) and real butter (croissant). A piece of roti contains 10 ml of fat and 300 calories, and it only goes up from there depending on what kind of fillings you opt for. The croissant fares little better, with a large croissant featuring a similar amount of calories and about 21g(!) of fat.


Sweet and savoury

Both pastries can be enjoyed with various fillings, sweet and savory. Classic roti canai is enjoyed with dhal, and from there you’re pretty much limited only by your imagination. Add egg, onions, spicy minced mutton, tuna, sardines, chicken, kaya, bananas peanut butter, ice-cream, chocolate or even just condensed milk or sugar if you have a sweet tooth. Similarly the croissant is amazing with eggs and ham, fresh fruit and whipped cream, chocolate, cheese, bacon and honey.


Foreign beginnings

While the roti canai was made famous by Malaysian and Singaporean mamaks, they are actually a modification of a recipe from Southern India. The croissant may be synonymous with the French, but it was actually created in Vienna, Austria. One frequently told origin story is that the pastry was created by Austrian bakers to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish army at the Battle of Vienna in 1686. Because the crescent features on the flag of the Ottoman Empire, eating a croissant means you’re symbolically biting on the enemy!


How we choose to take something is really all a matter of perspective – do you choose to view the world as an “us vs them” kind of situation, or more like “we’re all in this together”?


Which do you think works better in our world today?


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