How butter chicken roti became a Toronto classic
The butter chicken roti is a package of perfection. The large flat bread is heated on a griddle till it is crisp and slightly charred but still pliable. Then it is filled with a generous serving of velvety, slightly sweet but tart and fiery butter chicken, tightly folded into a wrap the size of a small iPad that is as heavy as a brick. It could serve two, but usually everyone gets their own to either eat in one sitting or save the other half for the next day because that’s when the spices intensify and the roti absorbs the flavours of the sauce.
It is believed to have been created about 20 years ago when a Toronto restaurateur decided to serve his East Indian curry in a West Indian way.
Despite its popularity here, you’d be hard pressed to find it outside the GTA. But that could soon change as the dish grows in popularity, and local chains specializing in the butter chicken roti make plans to expand to other cities.
A number of local restaurateurs point to Avtar Singh of Gandhi Indian Cuisine, a narrow Indian roti shop on Queen St. W., just before Bathurst St. as the creator of the dish. Singh had worked for 10 years at his family’s fine-dining restaurant, the now-closed Babur, when he decided to branch out on his own. He was opening his own restaurant and was looking for a dish that would stand out from the Indian buffets and his fine-dining past.
“The concept came from adding fine-dining dishes like the butter chicken to the roti,” he says.
Singh recalls tasting his first West Indies roti wrap in 1983 at the now-closed Ram’s Roti Shop in the Bathurst and Bloor Sts. area. He loved it and tried to make his own version.
“They’re making a West Indian roti (wrap), why don’t I make an East Indian one?”
Singh swapped out the jerk chicken and curry goat for butter chicken. The West Indian roti contains split peas, but Singh made the East Indian version, which just contains plain flour. He describes the East Indian roti being similar to a naan, but much thinner and cooked on a griddle rather than in a tandoor oven.