Fans of Indian food may already be familiar with roti, a wholewheat flatbread eaten with curries and other popular Indian dishes. Also known as chapati, these tasty flatbreads are made with stone-ground wholewheat flour, called atta, and have a rounded shape.
Roti are a staple food across the Indian subcontinent. Unlike their more famous cousin, the naan bread, roti are unleavened, with a smooth, flat texture that can easily be distinguished from the thicker, puffier naan. They are rolled out on a circular, flat board called a roti board, and can be cooked on an iron griddle called a tawa, or by sticking the dough to the inside wall of a tandoor oven.
History and origins
Roti is most commonly associated with the Indian subcontinent, but there is some disagreement as to where it came from originally. Some people believe that the first roti were made by the Indus Valley civilisation, a Bronze Age culture from modern-day Pakistan who are known to have had farms and grown wheat. Others say they were brought over from East Africa by travellers, who used them to scoop up their food, thus negating the need to carry utensils.
Wherever they came from originally, roti have a long history with the countries of the Indian subcontinent. They have been a staple food for hundreds of years, and have become a much-loved symbol of cultural identity. During the British occupation, freedom fighters sent roti to one another as a call to arms, in what became known as the Chapati Movement.
These days, roti can be found in countries all around the world, especially places with a large Indian or Pakistani immigrant population. They are particularly popular in the Caribbean, where they are eaten as wraps with savoury fillings like chicken, conch, goat, beef, or shrimp.
The main ingredients of roti are wholewheat atta flour, and very little else. You will need a little water to make the flour into a dough, but no seasoning is required. Roti are typically made without salt or other flavourings, giving them a neutral flavour that won’t compete with the spicy food that usually accompanies them.
A final, optional ingredient is ghee, a clarified butter that is traditionally brushed onto the roti once they’re cooked, adding a delicious, hot-buttered taste. Ghee makes roti extra-tasty, but you can leave it out if you’re trying to cut down on your calorie intake, or if you want your rotis to be vegan.
How to make soft roti
Roti may be simple in terms of ingredients, but making them just right requires some technical know how. We love this roti recipe from Cook With Manali, which takes you through the process of making roti in clear, easy to follow steps, with plenty of tips and tricks to help you keep the bread soft and tasty.
For more insider knowledge on how to make Indian bread watch this video from our Secrets of Indian Cooking series, featuring chef and cookery teacher Monica Haldar, founder of the Spice Club cooking school.
How to eat roti
Roti is versatile as well as tasty, and can be eaten in many different ways. Here are some of our favourite ways to get your roti fix.
Use it to scoop up your food
Tear pieces from the roti and use them to scoop up your food. If you’re eating curry, scoop up the meat and veggies, and dip it all in the sauce, or surwa, at the bottom of the dish.
With a knife and fork
Roti can be eaten with lots of tasty fillings, with curries or potatoes being popular choices. If you don’t want to spill any precious filling out of the sides, or you’d rather keep your hands clean, just use a knife and fork.
A popular choice in the Caribbean, roti can be filled and folded like a wrap, so you can eat them on the go without spilling anything.
Some thicker rotis can be opened up like a pocket and filled that way. These are also a great option for eating on the go.
Use them to soak up dal or surwa
Roti are great for soaking up dal, or that last bit of surwa at the bottom of your curry. Simply tear off a few pieces of roti and soak them in the sauce for a few seconds, then enjoy.
Fried in butter and salt
Sometimes the simple things are the best. No fillings are required for this popular breakfast dish, just a roti and a little butter and salt.
Fried in butter and sugar
Turn your roti into a sweet treat with a little sugar. Simple and delicious.
Roti are easy to store, and can be reheated in a microwave in as little as a minute. To store in the fridge, simply wrap in aluminium foil and put them in an airtight container, then refrigerate and eat within 1 to 2 days.
If you want to keep them for longer, roti do freeze well, but make sure you separate them into portions beforehand, as you’ll find it impossible to peel what you need from a frozen pile of roti. Spread the roti with a thin layer of butter, and place parchment paper in between each one, then take several freezer bags, place a single portion in each, and freeze them until you need them. Stored in this way they should last for up to 2 months.