Corner of Tha Pae Road and Tha Pae Soi 4
Neither Josh nor I really have much of a sweet tooth. We’ll take something savory—salty, spicy, sour—over desert any given day. There is, however, a sweet that we make an exception for each and every time we pass by it (and you’d better believe we go out of our way to pass by it as often as possible). This sweet is Thai rotee—a street food that is ubiquitous in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The rotee stop that has won our hearts and beckoned us on many a night is Paday Rotee, a night-time stand at the intersection of Tha Phae Rd and Thapae Road Soi 4 (just east of Wat Chetawan), about a five minute walk east of the Old City.
Rotee (or roti), from the Sanskrit word for “bread,” originated in South Asia. Variations of rotee can be found all over the world and it is typically savory flat bread used to sop up something tasty. The Thai version of rotee is typically sweet. It consists of crepe-like dough, silky and tender, fried with some oil on an open flat grill. There is a variation of possible fillings, but the most common combination is a mixture of egg and banana. The filling is spilled onto the dough as it fries and the dough is gingerly wrapped around the mixture into a kind of pocket, causing the insides to melt together in a most delectable fashion. When fried all around, the rotee is cut up into bite-size pieces and drizzled with condensed milk (we order it with condensed milk and chocolate drizzle—might as well go sugar-crazy all the way!). Best to eat when it’s almost too hot to bear, the sweet gooey mess just melts in your mouth. I make Josh share a portion with me every time—this stuff is so good that if we ate a rotee each every time our heart desires, we’d be very round in no time at all!
The only thing sweeter than the rotee itself is the delightful trio who run this stand. The husband and wife team and their assistant set up their small stand at the same intersection every night of the week around 6p.m. and lovingly make one rotee after another. The wife, Paday (after whom the stand is named), is always impressive with her colorful scarves, bright red lipstick, and pearls. Her hands move with calm and loving precision as she fries the rotee. She throws an almost-shy and very genuine smile to every customer who thanks her for the treat. The husband, Abdullah, does all the slicing and finishing touches. The assistant, standing between them, confidently shapes the dough in the air, in a way that’s reminiscent of pizza chefs. All three rarely speak a word to one another, yet somehow work in perfect synchronicity. Watching them do their magic is hypnotizing and one of my favorite parts of this experience. I bet you can guess what the very favorite part is though—the rotee itself!