What is Roti?
We keep receiving emails asking us about the different types of Indian breads (by “Indian” we mean the whole sub-continent of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). We wrote a blog about roti and other types of Indian breads way back in 2012 but the questions keep coming.
So this article expands on our original blog and answers more of your questions.
Firstly, what is roti? Well, in its broadest meaning, “roti” simply means “bread”.
In the UK, the word “bread” covers dozens of different types of breads such as white bread, brown bread, ciabatta, rye bread, sourdough, bread rolls and many, many more.
Similarly, there are dozens of different types of Indian breads and the word “roti” is regularly used to group unleavened breads, with the main unleavened Indian breads being roti, chapatti (chapati) and paratha – and, just to confuse matters a little, there is a type of unleavened bread called roti.
The other more well-known Indian breads are naan, puri (or poori), papadum (papad or poppadum), bhatura and dosa. And, just as you get different varieties of bread type in the UK by adding extras (such as sesame seeds, flour, etc.), you get different varieties of Indian bread by adding extras. The most well-known of these different varieties would be garlic naan and peshwari naan (these two types of naan are often seen on curry house menus).
Why is bread so popular? It must be popular to have so many types. Well, bread is readily available, cheap to buy and easy to make. The basic recipe for bread is flour and water, cooked with heat – you really cannot get a recipe easier than that. Roti/bread has been eaten throughout recorded history and is known as a staple food, where a staple food is one that is readily available and widely eaten.
As well as using wheat flour (maida, wholewheat, wholemeal, etc.), types of Indian breads can be made from rice flour (appam), maize, and dal (lentils). And all sorts of different combinations of these ingredients.
Unleavened and Leavened Bread
Unleavened bread is bread that does not rise and is usually known as a flatbread. All you need to do to make a flatbread is to mix the ingredients and apply heat.
A leavened bread is one that uses an extra ingredient, usually yeast of some kind, which makes the bread rise. A dough is made and this is allowed to rise before the cooking takes place.
Most Indian bread recipes tell you to cook the ingredients on a tava or in a tandoor.
A tava is basically a type of frying pan that can be flat, concave (the middle of the pan is lower than the outside) or convex (the middle of the pan is higher than the outside).
Most Indian homes would have a tava but you can usually substitute a heavy-bottomed frying pan to do the same. You could also use a griddle with success. You just heat the tava, frying pan or griddle on your kitchen cooker (or stove) – or you could use a barbecue or old-fashioned fire.
A tandoor is a cylindrical oven that reaches very high temperatures. Most curry houses have a tandoor which is used to cook kebabs and tandoori foods as well as breads. The traditional heat sources for a tandoor are wood or charcoal and nowadays there are electric tandoor ovens. Not many homes have a tandoor oven and it is rare to find a bread recipe that needs a tandoor oven.
Some recipes have you making breads in your oven but a tava or frying pan are usually all you need.
Roti and Chapatti
The words Roti and Chapatti quite often refer to the same unleavened bread where flour and water are mixed to make a dough and then the dough is heated to produce the end product. The roti and chappati are used to scoop up the curry.
There are different roti variations where other ingredients are used. Chicken roti is a roti wrap and missi roti is a roti that has spices and other ingredients mixed into the dough before cooking takes place.
A chapatti (or chapati) tends to be made from a straightforward flour and water dough with salt and oil sometimes added.
A paratha is a type of layered roti that is lightly fried in oil, butter or ghee. The dough is folded, usually several times, while it is being rolled and then cooked.
Just like roti, a paratha can have extra ingredients such as paneer and spices to make a different type.
A dosa is made from a type of batter which is then cooked, just like a pancake. The batter is usually made from crushed dal and/or rice and, like a roti, can be flat or be a wrap around a filling.
Puri (or poori) is another popular unleavened bread. Like most breads, there can be lots of different ingredients and spices mixed in with the flour. Once the dough is made, the puri (poori) is then deep-fried.
Probably the most well-known curry house bread is naan. Naan is a leavened bread that a curry house usually cooks in a tandoor.
Curry house naan breads are traditionally shaped like a big tear (they are not round). The most popular varities of naan bread are plain, garlic, peshwari (stuffed with nuts and raisins) and kheema (stuffed with minced, or ground, lamb).
A bhatura is a deep-fried leavened bread. A bhatura eaten with spicy chickpeas is called bhature.
Believe it or not, a poppadom (poppadum or papad) is a type of unleavened bread that is rolled out to be very thin and then the rolled out dough is then baked or fried to produce the finished poppadom. Like most bread doughs, the dough for poppadoms can contain lots of different ingredients and spices and there is a big range of available poppadum varieties.
Almost everyone who has eaten a curry in a curry house will have eaten a poppadom and most curry houses give poppadoms to arriving diners.
Indian Bread Recipes
There is a wide range of Indian bread recipes on the Curry Focus website. Most of the recipes are really easy to follow and more recipes are added as they are submitted to Curry Focus.