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.