Roti John: omelet bread from Singapore

Roti John is a savory French toast – baguette slices soaked with a meat, onion, egg, and sambal (chili paste) mixture.

Pickles and Tea
Roti John, one of Singapore’s fun foods, is a nod to the nation's colonial past.

Roti John could be considered the bánh mì, aka the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich, of Singapore (or Malaysia, or Brunei). Its components are similar – bread, protein – and is a blend of East and West and just as delicious.

Basically, roti John is a savory French toast – baguette slices soaked with a meat, onion, egg, and sambal (chili paste) mixture to form what some people term “omelet bread.” As with bánh mì, there are endless variations. Sardines, anchovies (ikan bilis), lamb, all show up sometime, somewhere.

So what does roti John actually mean? Roti means “bread” in Malay with “John” being the catchall name given to all Western men during post-colonial times. Think of it as a term like “gringo” or “haole,” except it could actually be someone’s name.

Rumor has it that in 1960s Singapore, an Englishman asked a street vendor for a hamburger. Of course, street vendors at that time did not sell hamburgers, let alone know what they were, but this ingenious man came up with his own version, frying minced mutton and onions with eggs onto a bread loaf. The street vendor gave the sandwich to the Englishman and said “Silahkan makan roti, John,” which translates to “Please eat this bread, John.” The name roti John stuck.

Depending on who you ask and where you are, roti John has many different ingredients and just as many ways of cooking it. Some cooks fry the egg mixture in the pan first like an omelet before placing a halved baguette on top. Once cooked, the “omelet bread” is sliced and served. Others like my mom slice the baguette before scooping the egg mixture on top. She deftly flips it over so the baguette slice goes egg first onto the frying pan. Either way, roti John makes a fantastic breakfast or snack!

Coincidentally, roti John happens to be one of my American born- and-bred husband’s favorite foods. Whenever my mom is within cooking distance, she knows to make some for him. This is her version using ham and green onions, which may or may not be authentic but it sure is tasty.

Roti John
Serves 6

1 small white or yellow onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
2 stalks green onions, green and white parts chopped
4 large eggs
4 ounces ham, chopped
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 (16 ounce) loaf baguette or ciabatta cut into 1/2-inch slices

1. Mix together the onions, green onions, eggs and ham in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a 10-inch cast iron or heavy metal skillet over medium heat and melt 1/2 teaspoon butter. Scoop 2 tablespoon filling onto a bread slice and quickly turn face down on the pan. Repeat until pan is full.

3. Press down with a spatula and cook for 3 to 3 -1/2 minutes until the egg is cooked and turns golden brown. Flip and cook the other side for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes until toasted to your liking.

4. Keep warm in a low oven and repeat until all the filling and bread is done. Eat immediately, or refrigerate and heat in a 325 degree F oven for 5 to 6 minutes.Notes: Roti John can be frozen and heated in a 325 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Related post on Pickles and Tea: Sweet Potato Chinese Dumplings (Jiaozi)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Roti John: omelet bread from Singapore
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today