Roti means bread in Urdu, Hindi, and Malay. The term 'canai' comes from 'channa', a mixture of boiled chickpeas in a spicy gravy from Northern India which it was traditionally served with. The term 'channa' is also used in Pakistan. In English, roti canai is sometimes referred to as "flying bread," a term that evokes the process of tossing and spinning by which it is made.
The dish is composed of dough containing copious amounts of fat, egg, flour and water. The form of fat used is usually clarified butter. The entire mixture is kneaded thoroughly, flattened, oiled and folded repeatedly. It is then allowed to proof and rise and the process is repeated. The final round of preparation consists of flattening the dough ball, coating it with oil and then cooking on a flat iron skillet with a lot of oil. The ideal roti is flat, fluffy on the inside but crispy and flaky on the outside.