For the love of roti: The flatbread connection

Published: April 22, 2013
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It’s about time we treat our roti with the respect it deserves. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL

Water, flour and salt, simple ingredients? In fact, they are, but magic takes place once you mix them together. Growing up in a Pakistani home, it was natural for me to see dough being kneaded everyday to make roti. I never paid much attention to it. I didn’t particularly like eating it either; it had a strong taste because of the whole-wheat flour. Once the dough was kneaded, it was portioned and rolled out with a rolling pin into large discs. Flour was applied while rolling out to avoid the roti from sticking.

While all of this was happening, I was preoccupied eating rice. Most kids my age at that time preferred rice, at least I did. Rice is great, there are several kinds of rice which I’ve grown to adore, but today, it’s about roti, our beloved flatbread.

After joining culinary school, a portal into the world of food opened before my eyes. I began to appreciate all kinds of food. There are a lot of things that we don’t know about food. You can never know enough about food. That’s why I love it, there is always something new to learn.

Since the discovery of flatbread, mankind has innovated and added their own twists to it- a healthy sign of a creative population. I see flatbread as a piece of history. Rich or poor, young or old, you will all eat the same staple food one time or another. The simplicity of the flatbread reaches a social equilibrium in Pakistan.

So what happens when you mix flour with water and salt? I know it combines the ingredients, but something more is happening inside.

The flour contains proteins, two kinds of proteins to be exact: Glutenin and Gliadin. When water is added to the equation, it allows these proteins in the flour to activate which form gluten structures. This requires for the dough to be kneaded for a certain period of time. Gluten structures give the dough its elasticity. It won’t simply fall apart when you stretch it. The reason why roti inflates like a balloon while cooking is because the gluten structures are well developed. For some flatbreads, well-developed gluten structures aren’t necessary.

The salt provides flavour and it strengthens the gluten structure.

Your humble everyday staple is way more interesting than you think. That’s why I keep looking around the kitchen to find something that I can learn from.

Writing or talking about bread always makes me hungry. I usually roll myself a fresh roti and have it with condensed milk for breakfast. It’s a better combination with paratha though. Instead of cooking my roti on a dry pan, I can put oil on the pan and guess what? It becomes a paratha.

In Pakistan a girl is expected to know the art of making roti. It’s about time we encourage the boys to take over the art and let the ladies relax. I live alone and refuse to buy industrialised bread (unless the time calls for desperate measures). My parents have gone past the phase in which they think I’m bonkers; they take pride in my roti making skills. It’s a great achievement for a Pakistani household.

I started seeing flatbread differently; more than just something we eat. It’s about time we treat our roti with the respect it deserves.

Follow Asad on Twitter @asadaamir1

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Asad Aamir

Is currently pursuing a Bachelors degree in Culinary Arts. He is discovering Pakistani cuisine and thinking of innovative ways to bring Pakistani food on the world map. He tweets @asadaamir1

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