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Roti john
Photograph: Shutterstock

Makan Spotlight: Roti John

This loaded local snack may not be a mainstream national dish but you'll find it on many menus in Singapore

By Delfina Utomo
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While roti john is not as widely known as its iconic counterparts like chicken rice, laksa and prata, it can be found on plenty of menus in Singapore. At first glance, roti john looks like a regular sub sandwich – drenched in chilli and cheese sauce. A french loaf is sliced into half and then loaded with a topping of eggs, sliced onions and minced meat, and then fried on a hot, flat pan. 

The dish is unique to Singapore and Malaysia and takes its name from the once common term of address for Caucasians – 'John'. There are many versions of how its name came to be, and all of these accounts are equally fascinating. One version is an oral account by Pakirisamy Rajagopal found in the National Archives of Singapore which states that the roti john originated from roadside stalls at Koek Road. According to him, a hawker called Abdul would ask "Roti, John?" to British servicemen which was intended to ask the question “Do you want bread John?" The term then stuck and caught on after. 

Another story originates from the 1960s when a Malay hawker in Sembawang improvised and made a special omelette sandwich with minced meat for an Englishman who requested for a burger. The hawker apparently served her creation saying politely "Silakan makan roti, John" which translates to "Please eat this bread, John".

Whichever is the most accurate account, roti john is here to stay – and not a novelty dish served to British soldiers and Caucasians. We round up some choice spots where you can get a taste of this unique and storied dish. 

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For a classic taste

roti john
Photograph: Al Azhar

Al-Azhar

Restaurants Indian Bukit Timah

Popular late-night joint Al-Azhar might just have the most extensive menu on the island. From mee goreng to butter chicken and prata to creme brulee, the menu is a hit for those craving for a specific supper snack or just looking to feast. A highlight on the menu? Its roti john. Unlike the others on this list, the roti john buns are kept soft but the fillings are generous. Choose from chicken, mutton, beef and sardine – and go a little extra with the special. You'll get your roti john served drenched with cheese.

roti john
Photograph: Rosy & Timah

Rosy & Nora

Restaurants Hawker Geylang

Keeping in simple, Rosy & Nora's version of roti john comes in two versions – the classic with the omelette and minced meat and the loaded one which has additional cheese. All roti john is cooked fresh and on the spot upon ordering – so you might have to wait a little longer on those days with long queues. The halved baguette us dipped into egg and then fried with soft onions and spice. Presentation-wise, the loaf is kept simple – that is to say, without all the overload of cheese, mayonnaise and chilli sauce. 

 

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Spize Bedok, Sriracha and honey-glazed chicken wings
Photograph: Instagram/@spizesingapore

Spize

Restaurants Bedok

No list of supper haunts in town is completed without this popular alfresco resto. There’s every comfort food you can imagine on the menu that will keep you satisfied till the A.M. – the award-winning roti john included. The storied sandwich has received recognition as the best roti john in Singapore with its all-time favourite variations of mutton keema and chicken shawarma fillings.

Jazz it up

roti john
Photograph: Springleaf Prata Place

Springleaf Prata Place

Restaurants Indian Yishun

When it comes to Springleaf, experimentation is nothing new. Perhaps more famous for its Plaster Blaster ($5.50), an eggs Benedict-inspired prata topped with ham, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce, Springleaf also serves an elevated roti john with portobello mushroom ($4.50) along with the classic chicken and mutton. 

roti john
Photograph: Prata Alley

Prata Alley

Restaurants Singaporean Clementi

A prata shop that has all the trappings of a hipster cafe, Prata Alley serves up bold versions of the classic like The Big One (a pizza and prata fusion) and the Murtabak Maggie (prata stuffed with Maggi noodles). The roti john here is also something else. The Big John ($8.90) is a chef's special on the menu. Instead of the wider French loaf, a real baguette is used and then stuffed with mutton marinated in herbs and spices. The roti john is also served with chips and a sealed. 

Eat more

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