After having parked right outside Azad Hotel, I followed my husband out into the bustling streets of Trivandrum. “I bet you haven’t had this before.” A polycarbonate sheet fogged up and I watched intently at the smoking iron plate sizzling furiously. The man works his way through a pile of ingredients, pounding at them with iron spatulas producing deafening clangs. He frees up a hand and cracks a couple of eggs a little away from the turmeric stained shreds I still couldn’t identify. He quickly scrambles it and begins combining it with the rest of the ingredients. A few minutes later, he scoops it into a foil container and hands it over to a man who has been watching this spectacle as long as I have. My husband comes with two containers and we are driving back home.
This was my first tryst with Kothu Porotta. Sheer brilliance if I may say so. You’ve heard about Porotta right? I haven’t been to a wedding feast or a family gathering in all my life where Porotta wasn’t on the menu. I have mopped many a plate clean of deluding fiery red chicken curry and chunks of spice rubbed tender beef fried crispy black in coconut oil. Kothu Porotta is Porotta torn into pieces combined with what I would say is a biriyani style onion masala base, shredded meat and scrambled eggs. I’ve never had this before in my life and thought my husband’s hometown invented this dish. A little more reading reveals that it has its roots in Sri Lanka where it is called Kothu Roti and then creeped its way into Tamil Nadu. I am guessing geographically this is how it made its way into Trivandrum where it is a popular street food. Mummy, my mother in law, taught me this recipe and it has crept into my repertoire of recipes and is a favourite at our family dinners.
Making Porotta from scratch isn’t for the easily defeated.The dough itself is a simple combination of Flour, water, Eggs and copious amounts of Oil or Ghee. I would classify Porotta making as a craft that can perfected only over the years. The biggest curveball in making them is when the rested dough has to be rolled out as thin as paper. Umma tells me that her father made excellent Porottas. For a greater part of his life he resided in Malaysia where Porotta, sold by the name Roti Canai, is extremely popular. The dough would be roughly shaped into a triangle and then he would hold two sides, whip it in the air and slap the free side onto the countertop. The dough would transform into a sheer drape without a single tear before he would roll the dough and swiftly shape it into coils. I’ve attempted making Porotta once at home and it had me nearly on the brink of tears. No amount of video tutorial rehearsals and whipping and slapping would yield it into a single sheet sans holes. I no longer put myself through this ordeal and just buy my Porottas now. The ones pictured here are from Jumanah.
Over the years of making it, I’ve come up with a simple ratio of onions required to Porotta. If you have 6 Porottas at hand, you will require 8 large onions, sliced ever so thinly. Off late, I make my ginger-garlic paste from scratch just enough to last me for a couple of weeks. I prefer it to the store-bought ones which have to be preserved in oil and never let off the aroma when it is fried in oil the way fresh paste does.
The spices required are the basic one used in a curry - turmeric, coriander, chilli and garam-masala. The garam-masala I use is made from scratch too. Not by me though. My cousin's mother, who we all fondly call Ummachi, makes it freshly from whole spices that are bought from the market, washed, sun-dried and powdered at home; and, lucky me, I get a large bottle too which I use ever so stingily. Every time I open the lid, I close my eyes for a second and take a deep whiff. I cannot describe to you the redolence of this enchanting blend. If you’re ever over at my place, I’ll be happy to let you smell it too just to prove to you that I am not being overly dramatic about it. I know you will agree.
Now for the poultry. Scramble a few eggs (in butter please) and season them generously. I like to prepare my chicken the way I would for filling samosas, savoury puffs and making cutlets. I make a slurry of spices with a splash of water, rub it into the boneless chicken and cook it as-is without adding any further water in a saucepan. As the heat builds up, the water released becomes the liquid base for the spices and the chicken to cook easily. Once the water drains, I use a spatula and start shredding the chicken in the pan itself with the heat on. I prefer this to shredding it in a grinder because it becomes more like mince otherwise. This way the meat is tender and juicy with the profusion of spicy flavours.
I'm going to guide you through what I have identified as important steps that have to be proper to make sure the final result is perfect.
This is what your Onion Masala base should resemble before you start adding Porotta and Poultry. There is no going back from this step which is why it is key that your onions have caramelised on the verge of crispy, the ginger-garlic paste has cooked and the spices are balanced. Make sure you taste it, especially for salt, as it would be quite difficult to adjust the flavours once the remaining ingredients are added.
This is the final step. The more time it is kept on the stove, the more the chances of the Porotta becoming thick and dry. Once the ketchup has been added you want to take the dish off the heat as soon as everything is mixed well.
And there you have it. I like to pile up my plate with a generous serving and squeeze in a bit more sauce. Mostly it will be sweet-hot Peri-Peri, but I wouldn't mind a good squeeze of Chilli Garlic either. The beverage pictured here is my husband's choice. I like a tall glass of lemon soda. That combination is true to the street food style. Hope you enjoy this recipe.
Serves 8 people
- 250g chicken breast, washed throughly and cut into cubes
- ½ teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
- ¾ teaspoon chilli powder (Adjust to taste)
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon garam masala powder
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- Salt to taste
- 6 Fresh Porottas
- 8 large onions thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder (Adjust to taste)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- ¾ teaspoon garam masala powder
- ½ teaspoon pepper powder.
- 2 large eggs scrambled
- 250 g chicken breast cooked and shredded
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 5 tablespoons of coconut oil
- Salt to taste
- Combine all the spices in a bowl and add just enough water to make a thick paste.
- Heat coconut oil in a saucepan.
- Once oil is heated, add ginger-garlic paste and stir continuously.
- Once the aroma is released and the paste is cooked, add chicken cubes to the saucepan.
- Pour spice paste over the chicken and stir to make sure it is well coated.
- Cover saucepan and cook on low-medium heat.
- Check chicken at intervals to see whether it is cooked.
- Once the chicken is completely cooked and all the water has drained, turn heat to high.
- Using a wooden spatula, quickly pound the chicken into fine shreds.
- Cut Porotta into pieces as shown in pictures above.
- In a large non-stick cooking pot, heat coconut oil on a medium-high flame.
- Add turmeric powder into hot oil and add immediately add onions.
- Saute the onions for several minutes.
- Once the onions start turning from translucent to golden brown, add the ginger-garlic paste and cook for a few minutes.
- Once the paste is cooked and the onions have turned golden brown, turn the heat down to a low-medium flame.
- Add chilli, coriander, garam masala and pepper one by one and mix them into onions thoroughly with every addition.
- Once all the spices are added, let it cook for a few minutes.
- Check the salt level at this stage and adjust accordingly.
- Add ⅓ of cut Porotta and mix well into the onion mixture.
- Add ⅓ of the chicken and egg and mix well.
- Continue adding the remaining Porotta, chicken and egg in the same sequence till it is over.
- Add ketchup and mix well.
- Throughly combine all the ingredients.
- Remove from heat within 3 minutes.
- Transfer to serve-ware and serve immediately.
- Once the Porotta has been added, work quickly to finish the dish to ensure the Porotta remains fluffy and soft.
- For every Porotta, 2 large thinly sliced Onions are required. Use this calculation depending on how many servings you are planning to make.
Have a good food day!