Quickies: How to Turn Day-Old Bread Into the Indian Stir-Fry of Your Dreams

Floyd Cardoz shows us just how much more there is to Indian bread than naan and roti.

by Alex Swerdloff
Mar 16 2017, 6:00pm

All photos by Sydney Mondry.

In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.

Floyd Cardoz is a master of Indian-American cooking, and his mission is to prove to Americans that they don't really understand the true breadth, diversity, and sophistication of Indian cuisine. It is no surprise, then, that when Cardoz visited the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen recently, he told us that his ultimate comfort food—the stuff he craves after a long workweek or a late night out—is not something he just eats at home. Instead, it is something that he serves his guests at Paowalla, the restaurant he opened in New York this past summer: kottu roti.

Floyd Cardoz. All photos by Sydney Mondry.

Cardoz wants to educate the world about kottu roti, the Sri Lankan dish that is popular throughout India, but he's the first to admit it has a less than illustrious reputation. "Basically the only time you are supposed to eat kottu roti is when you are drunk," Cardoz says.

RECIPE: Kottu Roti

In other words, kottu roti is India's hangover remedy: an easy-to-make dish that satisfies, in a soak-up-the-alcohol-in-your-system kind of way.

As the chef added oil to a skillet and threw in some ginger, onions, and chillies, he explained, "My business partner told me about a Sri Lankan restaurant in Manhattan that served kottu roti; I had never heard of the dish before. I go to this Sri Lankan restaurant in Manhattan that serves it and I swear to God, this thing comes out looking like a piece of shit on a plate. For a minute, I was like, 'Really?' But he asked me to try it and it was the most delicious thing I'd ever eaten."

As he added cabbage to the skillet, Cardoz emphasized, "I'm not joking when I say how bad it looked. kottu roti is found all over India, especially South India. It's really a cart food that is only eaten at night. So this is my attempt to make a kottu roti that actually looks and tastes good."

Kottu roti is a staple at Paowalla's family meal—the meal shared by all the employees at the restaurant. That's mainly where Cardoz eats it now: "I try to eat family meal as much as I can because it helps you stay connected with everybody. I don't make this at home because I could just eat it at the restaurant, plus my wife normally cooks at home most of the time."

Kottu roti generally calls for leftover bread—and Paowalla has plenty of bread. "A paowalla is basically someone who sells bread in India. The word 'pao' means bread and comes from Portugal. Most people who eat Indian food just don't know what Indian bread is." The restaurant showcases the range of breads available in India: "We'll make rice and coconut flatbreads that are like a crepe. We want to show that bread is a very important part of Indian cuisine and it's not just naan and roti; there are other breads out there." For his kottu roti, Cardoz likes to use tingmo—a steamed bun that is popular throughout Tibet—but he says you can use whatever leftover bread you have, as long as it's not too dry.

To that, Cardoz added leftover oxtail, but he noted that pretty much any leftover protein you have lying around—including chicken, beef, lamb, or shrimp—would work. As Cardoz added a stock made from the oxtail's braising liquid and some mint chutney to the skillet, he explained that, for him, the quality of ingredients is key, even in a street food dish known for being eaten when blind drunk. At his restaurants—in addition to Paowalla, Cardoz is the culinary director of a restaurant in Mumbai called The Bombay Canteen—he uses local, high-quality purveyors, even though the costs are inevitably higher: "People are starting to understand now that if you want good, healthy, flavorful food, you're going to have to pay for it. If I wanted to, I could get garlic for a quarter of the price that I get my garlic from California now; It's a choice I make."

No hangover remedy is complete without a runny fried egg on top of it, right? As Cardoz slid a lightly fried egg out of a frying pan, he turned philosophical. "Here's the saddest thing: All the time I get asked where I go to eat good Indian food, and my answer is always my own home—because I care for the ingredients I put in my family's stomach, so why would I go and eat somewhere where I don't know if the ingredients are good? That's why I do the exact same thing I do at home at my restaurants. I choose my ingredients wisely. Why should we eat differently in restaurants than we do at home?"

Like everything Cardoz cooks, his kottu roti is a testament to his belief that preparing quality ingredients with care is the best way to educate the world about the depth and deliciousness of Indian cuisine.

Floyd Cardoz is a celebrated Indian-American chef with restaurants in both India and the United States. He is the chef and owner of Paowalla and the author of Flavorwalla: Big Flavor. Bold Spices. A New Way to Cook the Foods You Love.