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Simply put, a flatbread is any kind of bread that is flat. It may be made with unleavened dough, as is the case with many varieties, or it may be made from leavened dough that is flattened out before baking. Many cultures have their own version, and it was probably one of the earliest bread products ever made. Some of the oldest extant examples of food found in tombs and archaeological sites have been flatbreads. They vary widely in size, shape, texture, and ingredients.
Unleavened flatbread has a special symbolic role for several religions, especially Judaism. Matzo is a common example, and it traditionally takes the form of a rectangular crisp cracker. Tortillas are a softer version, made with corn or flour, depending on the region and the dish. The disparity between these two dishes helps to illustrate the wide range of flatbreads eaten around the world.
Some other examples include chapati, injera, pizza, pita, lavash, puri, barbari, arepas, and naan. Many of these breads are designed to work like eating utensils for scooping up foods from a common serving platter. They can also be wrapped or rolled around foods, stuffed like sandwiches, or eaten plain. Almost every culture with access to grain has devised some kind of bread that is flat, made from ingredients like wheat, teff, corn, rye, or rice.
The most basic flatbread is made from ground grain and water. Many cooks also add salt and oil for additional flavoring. Leavened breads may be made with various yeasts, and they may also include eggs in some cases. The variants certainly do not stop with the basic recipe, however, and the dough can be mixed with herbs, spices, and vegetables, such as dill, thyme, cumin, coriander seed, onions, or garlic. In the case of pizza and focaccia, the bread may be topped with an assortment of ingredients.
Many varieties are very easy to make at home, and they make an excellent supplement to ethnic and traditionally styled meals. Many cookbooks include multiple recipes for flatbread, along with suggested variations to make them more interesting. Bakeries and grocers also usually carry multiple varieties, and they may lay in special stocks for religious holidays and special events. Travelers should also put some energy into trying out regional specialties, as unique recipes often carry a long and interesting cultural and culinary history that natives are often happy to share.