Pakistani Roti Part 1: Introduction

Flour, water, salt, olive oil—the ingredients are entirely uncomplicated. Despite the simplicity of the ingredient list, though, the Pakistani flat bread eaten at three meals a day—roti or chappati—has won itself a reputation of being anything but simple to master. Take this introduction to a roti recipe as an example:

    “Many a newly married wife has suffered anguish while trying to make chappatis as they do need a bit of practice. Don’t be disheartened if your initial attempts appear to be failures. Practice certainly makes perfect in the delicate art of chappati-making.” ¹

When I showed Sam these few sentences declaring the difficulties of roti-making, he confirmed its legendary complexity. Apparently a not uncommon scene in Bollywood movies involves a newly married, anguished roti-making wife fleeing from the kitchen in tears because she cannot make roti the way her in-laws expect her to make it.

In its simplest form, roti is made by mixing 2 parts flour, 1 part water and a little salt. Knead this for ten minutes, let it rest, pull off a chunk of dough, roll it into a circle and cook it on a griddle. There you have it—fresh bread three times a day. Once I began making roti, it didn’t take long to realize what a truly delicate art roti-making is. Furthermore, I took the art of roti-making as a bit of a personal challenge. Let me explain a few things about myself: (1) I like to cook (2) I am a newly married wife and (3) I am married to a Pakistani man who grew up eating homemade roti three times a day. Put all these factors together and you can see why I was determined to learn how to make a decent roti and maintain my dignity. No tears about misshapen roti were to be shed in our kitchen.

With that, I began my roti-making ventures. Armed with an ancient Good Housekeeping Pakistani Cookery cookbook and three You-Tube videos, I dug my hands into the flour, grabbed my rolling pin and began rolling out sorry excuses for rotis. A few setbacks were obvious from the beginning: we did not have the proper griddle on which rotis are traditionally cooked (the Tava); we did not have the proper flour (Atta) with which they are made; and I had never eaten a truly good roti—I had only eaten halfway-decent restaurant fare. After many misshapen, tough rotis and plenty of tweaking, Sam and I have finally come up with a recipe and method for making roti that we are pleased to share with you. I had originally planned to make one post on roti, but realizing what an intricate process it is, I have divided it into 4 parts:

    Part 1: Introduction to Roti
    Part 2: Making the Roti Dough
    Part 3: Shaping and Cooking the Roti
    Part 4: What to Eat the Roti With

I’ll be back next week with detailed instructions and photos on how to make roti dough. Enjoy the long weekend and get ready to get your hands dusty with flour next week!

¹ Taneja, Meera. Pakistani Cookery. London: Good Housekeeping, 1985 (p 53).

7 Thoughts on “Pakistani Roti Part 1: Introduction

  1. Faraz on May 28, 2010 at 5:50 PM said:

    Wow! these look really good!

    How did you used Olive oil? I usually don’t put oil on the griddle. If the griddle is hot enough and you are quick enough you can make the roti blow up like a balloon (the moisture trapped inside would separate the top and bottom layer) making the roti very delicate.

    • andrealein on May 29, 2010 at 7:41 PM said:

      Thank you, Faraz! We use the olive oil to lightly coat the ball of roti dough before we put it into the fridge to rest overnight. We also lightly coat our cast iron pan with olive oil before we cook the roti. Hopefully we’ll get a Tava soon and can try cooking them on that. And yes, we have experienced the roti puffing up–it’s so much fun! Hope you are well!

  2. kelsey on June 1, 2010 at 8:16 PM said:

    Wooot! You go, Andrea! I’m excited for this. I’ve always wanted to make proper roti… or at least have an excellent foundation to begin trying :)

    • andrealein on June 2, 2010 at 9:58 AM said:

      Hey Kelsey! If you do make the roti, let me know how they turn out or if you found any adjustments made them more authentic…after all, you’ve probably eaten more/better roti that I have! :)

  3. Erica on June 1, 2010 at 10:59 PM said:

    I want to come over and make them with you!! I’m excited to see the process! :)

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