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What is Roti?

Roti is a round, flatbread originating from the Indian subcontinent, a staple that transcends borders. Made from stoneground wholemeal flour, its simplicity belies a rich cultural heritage. Each bite offers a taste of tradition, often enjoyed with flavorful curries and vegetables. Discover how this culinary cornerstone has woven its way into the fabric of countless cuisines. What's your favorite way to enjoy roti?
Dorothy Bland
Dorothy Bland

Roti is an unleavened flatbread with Indian origins that may resemble a tortilla in appearance. Roti can be thought of as a traditional part of Indian cuisine and is often consumed as a daily staple. In general, different versions of rotis are available in various parts of the world where people of Indian descent have settled. Due to the wide variety of people who consume rotis, the flatbread goes by a number of different names. Pakistanis who speak the Sindhi language, for example, know it as maani.

For traditional rotis, the flour used is likely atta flour. Atta flour is a type of whole-wheat flour made from grinding hard wheats. The hard wheat can have a high fiber and gluten content, resulting in a stiff dough that holds up well when rolling out. When cooked, the dough characteristically cooks up soft, light, and fluffy.

Ghee, which is often spread over roti.
Ghee, which is often spread over roti.

Although different roti recipes can be found, traditional recipes usually include very few ingredients. Some versions use a very simple preparation of atta flour mixed with water. Salt and oil might also be added to the mixture while kneading the dough but are optional. Once the dough is smooth and elastic, it will probably be allowed to rest before being formed into small balls.

Flour made from whole-wheat is needed to make traditional roti.
Flour made from whole-wheat is needed to make traditional roti.

To cook roti is usually a two-step process. First, a dough ball is sprinkled with flour and then rolled out to the desired thinness before being placed in a smoking hot pan. The type of pan used is generally considered to be very important to the finished product. Rotis can be fried in a small amount of oil or may be dry fried, meaning the dough is cooked in a sizzling hot pot without oil. The pan typically used is a cast-iron or aluminum griddle or skillet, as these heavy bottomed pans are able to evenly distribute heat.

As a rule, rotis are usually flipped over once the edges begin to brown and soft bubbles begin to form. Once the other side is also cooked, the roti may then be placed over an open flame for a few seconds until it puffs up. Before serving, ghee, or Indian clarified butter, may be spread over the flatbread. Even though rotis are normally cooked and eaten when fresh, the uncooked dough can also be stored in the refrigerator for several days. The bread can be served to complement many dishes but is regularly served wrapped around savory fillings like curry or on the side of vegetables to act as a scoop.

Variations of rotis are also enjoyed in other areas of the world where Indian culture and cuisine has left its mark. In Sri Lanka, for instance, pol roti, or coconut roti, is a common breakfast dish. To make coconut roti, wheat flour may be mixed with shredded coconut, green chilies, and other ingredients to create a thicker flatbread that can be served alongside spicy dishes. West Indian nations such as Trinidad and Tobago also cook several versions of the flatbread. One of the most popular is a wrap roti, a plate-sized roti filled up with some type of meat stew; items typically included are curried vegetables and chicken or shrimp.

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    • Ghee, which is often spread over roti.
      By: Jehangir Hanafi
      Ghee, which is often spread over roti.
    • Flour made from whole-wheat is needed to make traditional roti.
      By: womue
      Flour made from whole-wheat is needed to make traditional roti.