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Far West in the Far East: Eating banana roti

You'll find banana roti all across the banana pancake trail in Asia. A backpacker favorite, banana roti is a cheap, almost-Western treat - the Asian version of a sweet crepe. I don't know much about the migration of the banana roti to Thailand, Laos, and Southwest China, but I'm assuming that because it's a roti, it originated in the Indian subcontinent.

Now, however, you can find a banana roti stand in almost any town in Southeast Asia that you might find a backpacker.

Last week I traveled to Xishuangbanna (loosely pronounced "shee-shwan-bah-nah") in southern Yunnan province. My first stop was Jinghong, a slow-paced tropical town along the Mekong river. I was thrilled to discover a banana roti stand; it felt in tune with the Southeast Asian vibe of the town.

To make the roti, the vendor takes a small lump of dough that he slaps onto the counter repeatedly, until the dough is paper thin and stretchy. Then he dumps a frightening amount of oil onto a large, flat wok, and sets the dough to sizzle on it. Some vendors add sliced banana at this point; the vendor in Jinghong (who was from Burma) tossed the sliced banana as well as chocolate and sweetened condensed milk into a cup and mashed it up before pouring it onto the dough.
Once the filling is added, he folds the dough into a square and flips it, topping it with margarine or butter. When the pancake is lightly browned and crispy on the outside, he flips it onto the counter and slices it into bite-sized pieces. Then he scoops it into a to-go container, drizzles it with more sweetened condensed milk and chocolate and sticks it with toothpicks so you can share with your friends.

Filed under: Food and Drink, Asia, China, India, Laos, Thailand

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