The Art of making Roti

As a newlywed, I struggled to make roti, the most basic staple food of my culture. By definition, a staple food should be simple to make but roti and I were not gelling together. How complicated can this be? I’m an educated woman. How can roti relegate me to the depths of my failures? I can’t even wrap my head or hands for that matter around the dough. It’s so sticky and makes me feel trapped. I’m not able to understand the logic of it all. 

First, I kneaded the flour by hand, pulverizing it into what was expected to be a soft supple dough. Mine usually looked like curdled up milk with the remnants left behind on my hands. It took me some time to free myself of the sticky leftover dough hidden in the nooks of my hands. I let it sit for a few and then attempted to take a sticky dough ball and maneuvered and shaped it into a round soft roti that strangely looked anything but round. Who needed round rotis anyway? As long as it was edible. I then threw the un round uneven mess of a roti on top of the hot skillet. I was expecting the roti to puff up into a round ball. Instead, the roti burned from the side and remained uncooked on some edges. The roti failed to puff up into a ball to my dismay. To top it all off, my mother-in-law had entered the kitchen and took it upon herself to  teach me the art of making roti. 

“Let me show you how it’s done,” Mother-in-law smooshed me to the side and snatched the rolling pin from my hands. She placed the rolling pin to the side to call upon it when it was needed. She expertly took a palm sized dough and put it in the dry sifted flour. She formed the palm sized dough into a perfectly round ball and then threw the ball back in the dry flour. Her finger indexes pressed upon the dough ball to flatten it. The once round three dimensional dough ball was now a two dimensional circle. The circle was put on the countertop dusted with some dry flour to give it traction. Mother-in-law took the rolling pin and managed to elongate the circle evenly. Her body moved to and fro and the roti moved along with her being evened out and growing larger in the process. She was one with the roti. Once the roti was a large even circle, she picked it up in the palm of her hands and then threw it on the other palm. She did it back and forth, slapping it from one palm to the other, allowing the excess dry flour to be dusted off. The roti elongated and evened out even more. Mother-in-law was ready to place the well groomed roti on top of the hot skillet. She waited till the roti changed color, cooking one side only halfway and then quickly flipped it over so that the other side may cook. She waited even longer for the other side to cook well. She flipped it over to the half cooked side and placed the roti on the open flame. The result was a puffed up roti, even from all sides ready to be devoured. Her ego inflated further just as the roti puffed up into a round ball. 

Mother-in-law handed me the rolling pin asking me to give it another try. I had observed her every move. Unfortunately, I was still struggling. Mother-in-law did not understand how I could be so incompetent. “Your father-in-law says that a good woman knows how to make roti well. One is not really a woman if she hasn’t mastered the art of making roti,” Mother-in-law proudly proclaimed. I was left seething, not sure how to answer. I went back to the depths of making roti and for years I was not able to make a good one. I didn’t want to be that kind of woman, who made rotis and looked down upon those who couldn’t. I used this reason to let myself off the hook. 

When I had children, I gave roti-making another serious shot. My children loved eating roti and out of love for them, I decided I will let myself practice until I got it right. I watched many people make rotis in their own unique ways. It wasn’t until I watched Tan France, from the Queer Eye, make perfectly delectable round rotis on his youtube channel that I finally got it. His video was a breakthrough for me.  As I looked at my first puffed up round ball of roti, I felt proud by the fact that I learned roti making from a Pakistani gay man. I wondered what my mother and father-in-law would have to say about only “good women” being able to make round rotis when they found out how I learned to finally make delectable rotis.  

Making of Roti: 

Every culture has a flatbread and roti is Pakistan’s version of its flatbread. It’s a staple food that  accompanies almost all of the dishes. There are only two ingredients consisting of wheat flour and water. Some add in salt and oil but I prefer not to because I love to keep it simple and prefer to steer clear of high cholesterol and blood pressure. Roti is not complicated as it is made out to be. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t end up with a perfectly round soft puffy roti in the first go. With practice, the art of making roti will pay you back with an endless amount of bread whenever your heart desires. If you ever get stranded on a deserted island and happen to have just water and wheat flour, your crew will bank on you as an essential guide for survival. Who doesn’t want that? P.S: You also need a rolling pin, tongs, skillet and an open flame. If you don’t have those then foraging for berries is your best bet. 

What you will need:

  1. Whole Wheat flour
  2. Water to knead the dough
  3. Rolling pin
  4. skillet made of non-stick or cast iron material (known as Tawa)
  5. Tongs to handle the roti
  6. Dry flour in a container

Method: 

The secret to a good roti is the base, which is the kneaded dough. If the dough is not kneaded well then you will experience a very difficult time making roti. Help from the kitchen aid can be instrumental and greatly aid you in ending up with soft pliable dough perfect for making roti. If that is not available then mere hands will do. The trick is to keep adding a bit of water to the flour and keep folding in. Unfortunately, there is no set ratio of the flour to the water since it all depends on the kind of flour one is using. As you keep folding the water into the flour, a dough will take shape. For roti, a soft pliable dough is needed where when you poke it, the impressions of your fingers are left behind. If the dough is too hard, then add more water in small increments. If the dough is too soft, then add more flour. Kneading the dough is much easier with a kitchen aid but the bonus of not using one is that you get to use this time to release your pent up anger by punching the dough. Just think of anyone that brings up ill feelings and start punching or kneading that dough.

Once there is a soft pliable dough, you can refrigerate it in a covered container for later use. Freshly kneaded dough should be left to sit for at least fifteen minutes, so that there is a good handle on the dough while making roti. If it comes out of the fridge, you can start making it right away. Meanwhile, you can set up your roti making station as you wait for the dough to work its glutinous magic firming up. 

Place the skillet on high heat to let it warm up. You need a clean surface area on your countertop to roll out the dough. Take some dough smaller than your fist and roll it into a smooth round ball without any cracks. 

Place the round dough ball in some dry flour and flatten it. Dust off the excess flour and place it on the countertop. Use the rolling pin to elongate the flattened ball into a round roti. The trick is to apply even pressure and make the edges thinner. You may have to keep putting it in the dry flour if the roti starts to stick to the countertop. 

Grab the hopefully round roti and place it in the palm of your hand. Now throw the roti on the other palm. Keep doing this action back and forth. This helps to get rid of the excess dry flour and elongates the roti even more. 

Place the roti on the hot skillet. You will see the roti change color in 15-20 seconds. Once it does, flip it over to change the side. This time, keep the roti on this side for a longer period of time (about 30 seconds). Flip the roti over with the help of tongs. Set the skillet aside and cook the roti on the less cooked side on the open flame. This will help the roti puff up instantly. Once the roti is cooked with sporadic brown spots on it, take it off the open flame. Enjoy it with your favorite gravy or lentils.