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What Is Chapati?

By Andy Hill
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chapati is a form of Indian flat bread that is common across the continent where it is also referred to as chapathi or chapatti. Variations are also found across Africa and in China. A chapati is a form of roti — or bread — and it is often referred to as such. Chapatis in particular, however, differ from other flat breads encompassed by the term roti in that they must only be made from whole wheat flour.

Similar breads to chapatis exist in the form of roti variations. Some variations include missi roti, where two or more flour types are combined to form the dough, and bajira roti, which uses pearl millet in lieu of flour. The oven-baked tandoori roti is identical to a chapati with the exception of the cooking method.

The most common form of wheat consumption in regions where they are a regular part of the cultural diet, chapatis are made from a mixture of whole wheat flour and water to form a firm dough. The dough is rolled into flat circles before being cooked on a hot skillet. During the cooking process, the chapati expands through air bubbles that form between the two sides of the bread with the hot air cooking the bread from the inside.

To speed up the inflation process, chapatis are sometimes partially cooked on the skillet and finished in an exposed flame. Chapatis cooked in this way are referred to as a phulka. The term can be roughly translated as meaning inflated.

The generally accepted diameter of a chapati is around six inches (15.2 centimeters) but can vary by region. This diameter is set by the size of standard commercially available tavas — shallow metal saucepans especially well suited to the cooking of chapatis — which are designed to fit on home stoves. Due to the handmade nature of the bread, however, the size and shape of a chapati is inconsistent and can be adjusted to suit requirements.

Often an accompaniment to food, a chapati can be used as a tool for the consumption of food. They can be utilized to pick up larger pieces of food and to collect foods of a more liquid consistency by forming them into cones and using them as scoops. They are primarily a food of northern areas of Southern Asia as an alternative to the rice eaten in far southern and eastern regions of the continent.

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Discussion Comments

By discographer — On Oct 03, 2011

@turkay1-- I didn't know that chapatis are such a good option for diabetics. Thanks for that information. My aunt is a diabetic and she loves raised bread. I have to convince her to switch to chapatis as soon as possible.

Don't worry about not getting the perfect circle shape. In some parts of India, chapatis are made in the shape of a triangle. If that's easier for you, you can do it that way. I remember when I started making them, mine were kind of oval too. The flavor is the most important, the shape will become perfect with time.

I think the secret to making soft chapatis is to first mix flour and vegetable oil together and then slowly add lukewarm water to make the dough. Add some water, and mix, add some more and mix again until it is the right consistency. This should make nice and soft chapatis.

Something I also do while cooking chapatis is to take a towel and apply some light pressure with it on the chapati while it is cooking. This causes small bubbles to form on the bread and for air to circulate on the inside. It makes the bread softer and more delicious.

By candyquilt — On Oct 02, 2011

I have many Indian friends and I've had the chance to eat chapatis and rotis many times. Chapatis are such a tasty bread, I love how soft and healthy they are. Another reason why I love chapatis is because it doesn't have any yeast or other rising agents in it.

This is important for me because I'm a diabetic and yeast is not recommended for diabetics since it raises blood sugar very quickly. Chapatis are one of the best breads for diabetics like me because it doesn't need yeast and it is full of fiber. Fiber also helps slow down the release of sugar into the blood stream, so the more fiber, the better.

There is one problem though, I'm not very good at making chapatis! I have tried several times. The results were okay but nothing close to other chapatis I've had. Mine doesn't seem to come out as soft and I can never roll it out into a perfect circle.

Does anyone have any tips for me?

By sapphire12 — On Oct 02, 2011

Chapati is also a popular name for Indian restaurants, I think because of the common symbolism of this food. I love chapati and other kinds of Indian bread, such as naan and papadums. It's just so different from how we usually think of bread in western cultures.

By ysmina — On Oct 02, 2011

I grew up eating chapatis. Our dinner table always had both chapatis and rice but our breakfast was always chapatis or parathas which is the stuffed version of chapatis.

My family moved to the US when I was just a baby. But my mom never stopped cooking Indian food and she was never too lazy to wake up early in the morning and cook chapatis for us. My favorite is chapatis and mango chutney which a sort of Indian marmalade made from mango and some spices. I also love chapatis with chicken masala for lunch or dinner.

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