Chapati [chuh-pah-tee] noun: Pan-grilled unleavened flatbread eaten in India, East Africa, and most of South Asia.
Chapati is ubiquitous in Kenya; big golden wedges of this flat, chewy bread were served at almost every meal. We loved it; the fried golden taste is so delicious, and it's handy for sopping up extra meat and sauce. We were already familiar, too, with chapati from Indian cuisine. But we quickly realized that what the Kenyans called chapati was something different; it's not analogous to the familiar Indian style of chapati at all.
Indian-style chapati (or chapathi) is a very, very flat sort of bread, like a tortilla. The Kenyan style of chapati is slightly thicker, with flaky layers, and in most Indian restaurants this type of flatbread would be called paratha -- not chapati.
The difference between these types of flatbread comes in how the dough is handled. Paratha recipes (as well as most of the Kenyan chapati recipes we've looked at so far) call for rolling out the dough into a long thin strand. Then the strand is coiled into a round shape and rolled until flat. This coiling process creates those flaky layers. Some do it differently: they create a cone shape of the dough and repeatedly fold it and roll it flat.
But the end result is the same: slightly thickened flatbread with flaky golden layers. Hard to argue with that, whatever you call it! It's delicious, rather easy, and a staple of homestyle Kenyan cooking. We're going to try making them soon! (Oh, and apparently they're one of President Obama's favorite foods, too.)
Have you ever made chapati?
(Image: Faith Durand)