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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