Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Roti-ing in Hell

And speaking of topical feminist issues, will someone please explain to me why we, as a society, continue to indulge in the intensely masochistic activity of making chappatis? I mean seriously, if you took all the time that is spent in the average North Indian household making these damn things and put it all together back to back, you'd get a workforce the size of Taiwan. Why can't we mass produce the stuff? Or switch to eating bread? Or cake? [1]

Thus far, my own experience with 'making' chappatis has usually consisted of cutting open a packet from the local Patel store and popping it into the microwave - so I can't say I'd ever spent time thinking about the mystical process by which chappatis actually get made. Then yesterday, driven by some atavistic homemaking impulse, I decided it was time I learnt how to make chappatis from first principles. How hard could it be? Surely making something as ubiquitous as chappatis would be a roti-walk compared to, say, doing complicated long-division sums.

Little did I know. It turns out that making chappatis is an intricate, multi-stage process that resembles nothing so much as one of those video games where, just as you think you've kicked some serious alien butt, you find yourself bumped up to the next level where the action is quicker, the leaps more difficult and the opposition more deadly. And at the end of all this will you at least get to rescue a princess or be declared champion star-fighter? No. All you'll get, if everything goes to plan, is a fairly boring, flat mildly charred piece of cooked wheat. And then you'll have to start the whole thing all over again to get another one.

The process starts, it seems [2], with making the dough. This involves taking exactly one andaaz se measure [3] of flour (aka atta) and one andaaz se measure of water and then kneading the mixture till it acquires the consistency of playdough (not to be confused with the consistency of dog puke which is what you get if, like me, you mix one andaaz se measure of flour with one and a half andaaz se measure of water). This sounds easy (well, kind of) but it isn't. It turns out that the actual kneading, far from being a fun activity for children under 5 is actual a feat of arms of Birbal-esque proportions, requiring levels of strength and stamina that the hands of sensitive poet-types like me simply do not possess. I was on my third rest break and had just about managed to get the flour-water mixture to resemble some sort of lumpy custard, when my mother took over and finished the job for me.

Right then, on to the actual chappati making. No strength required here - just skill and dexterity. The kind of stuff I'm good at. The first step is to take a lump of dough and, dabbing it with powdered flour, roll it into a thin, flat circle. Piece of cake, or well, dough. But wait, you want me to do this with what is, at best, a glorified rod? I try to explain to my mother why, based on simple Euclidean logic, a lump of putty like substance rolled in one direction cannot acquire a circular shape. She doesn't agree. I then proceed to prove her wrong empirically.

If the desired shape for this chappati had been a square I could have made it in a heartbeat. If it had been an oval I would have managed. If chappatis were supposed to be shaped like Spain, or Poland, or Italy or the erstwhile GDR I would have been an expert roti-maker. But this circle business was beyond me. How the hell do you get an even diameter on these things? No matter which direction I rolled in, some other radius would be left too short and I would have to roll along that line, and then that would get too long and I would have to roll in a third direction, and so on.

Plus it turns out that after a while the powdered flour you've applied to the lump wears off and you have to apply more flour to keep the dough from sticking. My mother's advice was - "when you feel the dough starting to stick, stop and put more flour". The trouble is, if you're a novice, the first time you realise that the dough is sticking is when a) you try to pry it off the surface you were rolling on and find it can't be done without a chisel and / or a blowtorch or b) a large strip of dough comes clean off on your roller. By the time I managed to get one flat, ready to cook piece of dough (not quite round, but at least respectably elliptical) I'd managed to get flour on my fingers, arms, clothes, hair, every handle in the kitchen, the phone, the newspaper, the car keys and even a little spot on the ceiling. And that doesn't include the 20% of dough that had to be thrown away because I'd rolled it beyond redemption.

The next stage consists of putting this thin circle of dough on a tavaa and then cooking it. This is actually fairly simple, except that a) flipping the damn chappati with your fingers (to make sure it cooks on both sides) is advisable only if you're an experienced chappati maker (or a Jedi knight) and can do this without actually touching the tavaa. Typing a long post with badly singed finger-tips is NOT fun. b) If the chappati doesn't seem to be cooking properly and remains damp it's because you didn't roll it thin enough in stage 1 above. Isn't it a good thing you found this out now instead of when you were actually rolling the damn thing because if you'd known this earlier you would have got disheartened? Isn't it a good thing that your mother is a considerate, encouraging person and didn't tell you this before? Don't worry about it. Just make sure that the next chappati you roll is exactly 3.25 microns thick and you'll be fine. c) trying to do a cryptic crossword while you've got the chappati on the tavaa is a bad idea - before you know it you've got a house full of smoke and you're making very wide, very flat atta doughnuts.

Finally, you're ready to add the finishing touch to your chappati. This consists of roasting it by tossing it onto an open flame. Again, sounds simple enough. The trouble is, if you leave it on the flame too long it catches fire and continues to burn even after you lift it off the flame. So you're left holding this burning piece of flatbread, wondering whether you should try to save its life yourself by throwing a blanket over it and snuffing out the flames, or you should just wait for the fire engines to arrive (NOTE: Waving it up and down wildly the way you would with a marshmallow DOES NOT work. Not unless your original intention was to set fire to the wall calendar).

So, to summarise. I set out to make six chappatis. The first one got stuck to the roller and had to be washed off with detergent. The second one disintegrated mid-air while I was trying to transfer it to the tavaa. The third one made it to the tavaa but was too thick. The fourth one got burnt on the tavaa itself. The fifth one caught fire and turned to cinders.

The sixth one, however, turned out perfectly. It was round. It cooked. It swelled on the flame like a good chappati should. Now I was (literally) cooking. My heart singing with confidence, I gave it one last flourish on the flame. The chappati landed on the floor.

I actually think subzi tastes so much better with toast, don't you?

[1] Yes, yes, or rice.

[2] I don't actually know how to make chappatis yet, so I'm probably getting this all wrong.

[3] The andaaz se system, known to all Indian housewives, is, of course, the true measurement system used in India. Efforts by the Indian Government to replace it with the metric system have failed miserably, the chief reason for which is the intricate complexities of the metric system, compared to the simplicity of the single unit that the andaaz se system uses for everything.

38 comments:

Abhilasha said...

Hi,
I'm a first-time commenter and very happy to be writing the first comment to this post.
Totally agree with you, I make do with rice or toast. Making chapatis is just not worth the effort.
But prey, how did you get the dough on your ceiling?

confused said...

Hilarious!

Your mom has not thrown you out of the house yet? :)

Mint Chutney said...

LOL!

My dough always sticks so I keep sprinkling flour until my chappati is like 6 inches thick. Unfortunately when I cook it the outside is burned and the inside remains doughy.

My freezer always has at least one box of frozen idali at any given time.

Anonymous said...

Delhi fire engines now arrive at the behest of chappati making would-be arsonists?

NOTE: Replacing footnotes with NOTES is NOT cool.

-Cat.

Anonymous said...

Your Mom's a brave lady to let you into her kitchen and thereby risk having fire hazards, interior redecoration, mountains of laundry and worst of all, a possibly life-threatening shock for the taste buds! :D

Cooking is an art. May be she'll manage to make an artist out of you yet.

[psst..a cookie cutter thingie could work wonders.]

A funny, yet warm, post.

~N.

Brown Magic said...

ahh yes, the oppressive practice of making a decent phulka.

Terribly widespead, especially in northern india. In fact in some especially backward parts, some of us are packed off to training camps run by otherwise kind and loving grandmothers, who turn vicious about lumpy dough and reprimand us on our lack of upper body strength when kneading dough.

However after passing this trial by fire (hee), our nimble finegrs can knead and roll and flip with an ease that a decade outside the kitchen hasn't diminished.

-Mahjabeen said...

haha!

this post was hilarious- it took me a while to master the art too-
esp. the rolling in one direction in the middle to get a perfectly round chapati- the dynamics behind that are still a connundrum!

Neela said...

My piano teacher actually told me that kneading dough is a great way to gain finger strength. so who knows, you might be able to play the Rach 3 after this. And if that is not incentive enough think about it as the man-with-baby-in-the-park thing - he suddenly looks a lot cuter.

n!

Priti said...

Hi Falstaff,
Writing is good but yr font and background sucks! It's so diificlut to read it. I don;t know why people choose to have black background? Comments page is so much better.

Supremus said...

LOL.

I have tried making chapatis exactly twice (yeah, why didnt I give up after one?), and each time it has produced black residue and high carbon monoxide content in air.

Now I dont want the EPA visiting me, so I'll stick to "golden temple".

Suyog

PK said...

LOL!
But learn to make Poories. Dough need not b perfect,Roll it to USA size and get 2-3 perfectlly round Poories with katori.Deep fry in oil-piece of cake-and take it out with Jhara.Yummi to taste.Dont bother about calories!!.Incidentlly you forgot to add oil, no wonder endresult was bad---PK

Tanuj said...

very interestingly put, but surely you exaggerate, sir.

a couple of thoughts, though, to aid you in your next attempt:

1. a circle is nothing but a polygon of infinite number of sides. if you can make a square with the atta, you could, potentially, give the octagon a shot. believe me, if you aim for an octagon you'll get a perfect circle as far as a chappati is concerned. (the key principle being - if you want to draw a straight line with a free-hand, you'll probably get a curve, etc.) try it.

2. after a couple of trial runs, you can become reasonably adept, o good adept, at flipping chappatis without touching them. the critical success factor here is but a light tawa and the right amount of dry flour. so, you hold the tawa and give it an appropriate flick, the roti flies up and lands on the other side. given your propensity to drop rotis on the floor, a couple more lost in the same fashion wouldn't be an enormous loss, would it? but imagine the efficiency and fun thereafter.

3. you can easily skip the 'put it on the fire' step if you're patient enough. keeping it long enough on the tawa usually has the same impact. again, i would encourage you to try this.

now, all you need is a wife/ husband/ partner who plays the piano.

Ink Spill said...

Hi,

The first step to making chapatis is to know that despite what everyone says, andaaz se means in style/with panache and andaazey se means as per some estimate.

You'll be surprised how well unsupervised practice works for chapati-making: it does wonders for both your andaaza and your andaaz!

Thanu said...

this is so funny and true. I have mastered the art of making atta and now teaching my husband.

I take the flour, add salt and andaz se water and gives it to him to knead.

He will knead till I check it and say it is done. If I get caught in something else he will keep kneading till I come by and say its enuf.

drifting leaf said...

oh fal... and all those jokes you and the rest used to make about my stack of frozen rotis! ah...sweet revenge...!
oh i was not in a very happy state this morning and you just made me real happy... thanks!

Anonymous said...

:) Nice one. Even before I learnt how to make roti, I used to see it as harder thing than say getting a girlfriend. Now I can make good, I mean very good, I mean as good as my mom's, roti. But I'm still single.

So keep tryin, don't get disheartened.

~nku

Patrix said...

Thus far, my own experience with 'making' chappatis has usually consisted of cutting open a packet from the local Patel store and popping it into the microwave

Such travesty doesn't suit a roti lover. At least use a tava.

30in2005 said...

Oh Falstaff, to me chapati's are the reason god (or some guy) invented the food processor WITH a dough hook. Add atta by andaaz and then dribble water in by andaaz while the dough ring works its magic and you get a perfect round of dough. Make enough and you can split it up into portions of how much you need at one time and freeze each portion in cling film to thaw the day of use.

As for round fluffy chapati's thats just practice...makes perfect etc....

And if women can do it I see no reason why men can't... or in exchange for all the cleaning, laundry, ironing find someone who will make them.

Fresh chapati's taste best with subji. Toast can't beat that!

Rohini said...

Absolutely hilarious.

I absolutely cannot cook anything by andaaz/ andaazey. I need to know how many ml/ teaspoons/ tablespoons/ cups to add of every damn thing. You should see my vast collection of measuring and weighing stuff - its quite enviable.

Swathi said...

seems to be a season for posts on cooking , can proudly say been there n done that, check this

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

'Sensitive poet type'? You put a naked man in a metal box last week! You should have given him your rotis - they might have finished him off quicker :P

Salil said...

Stick with rice, Falstaff. It's much easier, and nowhere near as stressful.

And of course, time wise, so much better. All that time spent on kneading the atta, then rolling out each chapatti and then cooking each one on the tawa can be used in a much better way.
Rice, on the other hand, can just be dumped into a rice cooker (ideally one of those smaller microwaveable ones) with some water and perhaps a few spices. Ten or fifteen minutes for something that doesn't involve fingers being burnt or curses of anguish, and the food's ready.

Just Mohit said...

Your mom IS a brave woman. And i do hope she doesn't read your blog!!
Toast is good for a change, but a well-done roti is perfection embodied!
BTW, a food processor with a dough hook attachment would do wonders. I bought one the moment i landed in uk, and believe me it's the best £35 i ever spent.

Falstaff said...

abhilasha: Welcome. I agree about the effort not being worth it. As for getting dough on the ceiling - let's just say it involved an analogy to pizza making that didn't quite work it, possibly because I don't know how to make pizza either.

confused: Thanks. No, but my days are definitely numbered.

mint chutney: Ah, so it happens to other people too. Good to know.

Cat: Hmmm. Wasn't trying to replace one with the other - just naturally ended up putting a note instead of a footnote. Don't know why, really.

N: Yes, she is isn't she. But then, she acknowledges that I'm her son, which is a fairly courageous feat to begin with

brown magic: hmmm...I'm not sure how diligent said grandmothers would be in training their grandsons though - the few times I've tried to learn anything from my grandmother her attitude has been more along the "why do you want to know this anyway" lines.

mahjabeen: I don't want to understand the dynamics, I just want to be able to do it. Ah, well, trial and burnt wheat is clearly the way to go.

neela: Wonderful. So you're telling me that once I've learnt how to make chappatis I then have to go out and learn how to play the piano in order to make it worthwhile? I don't think so. A badly made chappati I can live with. If I murdered Rach 3 I would have to kill myself afterwards (DO NOT rub hands in glee)

priti: Thanks. And yes, I keep thinking I should fix that, but I never seem to.

supremus: I think I'll try a few more times. All in the interests of science.

pk: Ah, but if you live in a house as cardiac-ly challenged as mine, you don't put oil in rotis and you certainly don't make puris. In fact, you don't even mention the word oil in mixed company.

tanuj: Thanks for the tips. And for the heartening assurance that eventually one learns how to do this. You wouldn't have any helpful tips on finding the piano playing wife now, would you?

ink spill: Ah, the finer nuances of approximate cooking. Shall be taken to heart.

thanu: Thanks. Now go and tell the poor man to stop.

leaf: :-). Yes, things do come full circle, don't they. Quite unlike my rotis. For the record, I unhesitatingly withdraw all my jokes / criticisms of your frozen rotis. Thou art the doyenne of making chappatis and putting them in the freezer. I bow to thee.

nku: Thanks. That was heartening, despite the sting in the tail.

patrix: Yes, I tried putting a tavaa in the microwave. But it wouldn't fit.

30in2005: Ah, technology. Yes, yes. Agree with you on the men being able to do it entirely. Less sanguine about finding someone to make trade-offs with though.

rohini: thanks

swathi: thanks, but the link doesn't seem to work.

shoe-fiend: well, you have to admit it was a poetic death.

salil: yes, I think that's definitely where I'm headed.

mohit: she is. and she does. and as i said above, I shall look into the technology option.

n said...

I made the mistake of reading this in office. Do you have any idea what people think when they see someone staring at the computer screen and laffing away. Someone in the office got fired for doing the same thing a while ago...of course in his case it was ablank screen and he's been having way too much dope.
You know, this roti thing isn't gender-specific. When I tried to learn making rotis, I discovered I too could make all sorts of shapes: anything but round ones. It wasn't long before i switched to the buy in shop and pop in microwave variety. :)

Just Mohit said...

Well, if she reads your blog then she is one brave lady indeed! ;-)
Do note that the tech option would only work for the dough-making part. For the rest you could try learning to make bhaturas, esp. b'cos they do not involve rolling-pins and/or tavas, etc.

sambar42 said...

Falstaff,
Can't add much to all this, since better chapati experts have spoken. One thing I can help you with though is the flipping thing. See, what novice flippers often do is to try and flip the tawa *up*, which naturally tends to send the chapati rocketing up or worse backwards towards you.
The trick is to use the lip of the tawa as a guide and let the chapathi sliding along the lip, up and then over. Sort of like a wave curling upon itself. It's a much gentler forward and up motion, when compared to a flip. It's much easier to start with deeper tawas till you get the feel for it.
Of course, the real trick is being able to do this with an omelet heavy with fillings. I am still working on that :-)

Anonymous said...

[But then, she acknowledges that I'm her son, which is a fairly courageous feat to begin with]

heh..that sure does put the "kitchen-under-attack" scenario into a more-easy-to-handle perspective. ;-)

Just kidding! Am sure that all the laughter your mad sense of humour provides her makes her risks worth taking.

~N.

Swapna said...

:) ... That was hilarious!

Have had many a cooking session like that myself with .... unpalatable... results.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

yaaaaaaaawn ... n predictable !!

jaygee said...

Dont you know? making chapattis is the famous punishment for being a woman! :) i promised my self nevah to make them and of course am suffering but No i still wont! bravo to u .. at make them.. :D

Kingsley said...

Idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli idli


Sorry, couldn't help myself, they're so easy to mass produce :)

Vivified Visage said...

lol. My first few experiences were similar, but I'm much better now. =D

Dosas are pretty easy to make, too, but I agreey with King, IDLIS rule.

lantana said...

Maids2Clean can do house cleaning for you, house cleaning

Anonymous said...

Very cool design! Useful information. Go on! »

Anonymous said...

Where did you find it? Interesting read Thai teen nude cellulite groningen Paris hilton loving klonopin dosage increased best cheapest cialis price articles incorporation non profit corporation Gmc envoy price Cash advance payday advance news onset action xanax xr

Anonymous said...

You have an outstanding good and well structured site. I enjoyed browsing through it »

Anonymous said...

Very nice site! » » »