Chapati is perhaps one of India’s most popular flatbreads, made with just three ingredients: whole wheat flour, warm water and salt. Chapati is particularly popular in the North of India, where wheat is the staple (unlike in the South of India where rice is the main food).
Chapati’s primary ingredient is Indian whole wheat flour known as “gehoon ke atta” गेहूँ का आटा or just shortened to “atta” आटा (“gehoon” गेहूँ means “wheat” and “atta” आटा means “flour” in Hindi) and commonly known in the English-speaking world as “atta flour” or “chapati flour”.
Whole wheat kernels are comprised of three main parts: the germ, the endosperm and the bran.
Chapati flour is produced by finely grinding the entire wheat berry (germ, endosperm, bran and all). Traditionally this was done using a stone mill called an “atta chakki” आटा चक्की in Hindi or simply “chakki” चक्की which literally means “flour mill” (“atta” आटा means “flour” and “chakki” चक्की means “mill”). In the olden days, Indian households would feature a chakki which would be used daily to grind whole wheat kernels into freshly ground chapati flour.
Indians roll out the chapatis using a circular wooden board known as a “chakla” चकला in Hindi, which is paired with a wooden rolling pin known as a “belan” बेलन.
Traditionally, chapatis are cooked in a slightly concave cooking vessel known as a “tavaa” तवा which means “pan” in Hindi. The “tavaa” is often made of clay or cast iron. The clay tavaa is known as a “mitti tavaa” मिट्टी तवा or “mitti ka tavaa” मिट्टी का तवा which literally means “clay pan” (“mitti” means मिट्टी “clay” and “tavaa” तवा means “pan”).
Cooking over this clay “tavaa”, especially over a traditional firewood fire, lends a distinct smoky flavor, aroma and texture to the chapatis which modern day cooking vessels and heating fuels cannot replicate.
It is generally accepted among Indians that apart from producing superior-tasting traditional Indian fare, these unglazed, organic earthen cooking vessels are healthier options for cooking food.
Like its clay counterpart, the cast iron tavaa also produces a superior chapati owing to its uniform heating and heat retention characteristics. Additionally, it is believed to increase the iron content in food and is hence favored over modern day cooking utensils such as aluminum and non-stick pans.
Yield: 7-8 chapatis
- 2 cups stone ground atta flour
- Warm spring water as required
- Salt as desired
In a roomy bowl, combine atta flour and salt.
Add warm water bit by bit until a dough begins to form.
Using hands, push forward and press down the dough with your knuckles, until it is smooth, pliable and longer sticky. Don’t overwork it as it would lead to tough, leathery chapatis.
Form a cylinder with about a 2 inch diameter.
Lightly flour a a chakla or a wooden surface if a chakla is unavailable.
Heat up a clay or cast iron tavaa over medium high heat over firewood if available for a more authentic chapati.
While the tavaa heats up, pull out a lemon-sized piece of dough and using hands, roll it into a ball, then flatten it into a neat disc about 1/2 an inch thick and 3-4 inches in diameter.
Use the belan or a wooden rolling pin to roll out this disc into a chapati approximately 6-8 inches in diameter and about 1/8 – 1/9 of an inch thick.
Place the chapati onto the heated tavaa. Cook until dark brown spots appear on the bottom surface of the chapati.
Flip and cook the other side, until brown spots appear. The chapati may puff up in which case just press it down.
Serve hot with ghee and curries.