How many times have we heard that India is a land of diverse culture? Experiencing diversity can be a very enjoyable experience, but learning about the nuances, names and the history of different foods can be pretty confusing and contradicting! Every region in India has a signature cuisine that uniquely identifies it. Each is unique in its main ingredients used, spices and cooking methods. Yet there is some common thread that ties them, hence the confusion. I am myself faced with some daunting questions about Indian foods and its terminology. Here is one question that has bothered me for a long time and I was determined to find the answer. Here is what I have gathered from various sources.
Is there a difference between a ‘roti’, ‘phulka’ and ‘chappati’?
On hind sight, all three terms seem to mean the same. Wheat flour mixture called ‘atta’, combined with a proportion of salt, oil and water to form dough. Small portions of the dough rolled out into thin discs, which are toasted on a griddle (tawa). This is the basic Indian bread, consumed in most Indian homes. So why the different names for the seemingly same things?
Roti is the universal term for all Indian breads. It might just be the most ambiguous term in the Indian cuisine terminology. Just plain roti can mean phulka roti, naan roti, double roti (bread make after double rising of dough), rumali roti, makki-di-roti, tandoori roti or any other form of desi bread.
Phulka is a thin roti, which is oil or grease free. The dough is made with just water, sometimes even omitting salt. Then portions of the dough is rolled out into thin discs about 6 inches in diameter and half roasted on a tawa, then on an open flame. The phulka puffs up into a ball due to accumulation of steam inside it. Once it puffs up, it is removed from heat and served sooka (dry) or without any added grease. This becomes a phulka (literally means swollen) roti.
Chappati can be a thin or a thick roti. It is called a chappati because it is traditionally made by patting the dough balls between the palms of the two hands and flattening it(chappat in hindi means flat). So some veterans would say that it is not a chappati if it is not flattened by hand, i.e. without the use of a rolling pin. A chappati may or may not puff up like a phulka. Some also cook it completely on a tawa, by applying slight pressure on the surface of the dough-disc thereby cooking it completely. But I have noticed that chappatis cooked this way tended to harden up quickly, atleast on my electric stove. I did get much better results on my gas stove at my previous abode. If you have an electric stove like me and are wondering how to puff up your chappati-phulkas, look no further. Thanks to my friend V, I am now cautiously satisfied with the quality of my chappati-phulkas! Here is what a chappati-phulka grill looks like (available under $5 in most Indian stores)
You need to have the tawa on one burner, and the chappati-phulka grill on the other, on high heat. Then once the rolled out disc on the tawa is half roasted on both sides, transfer it to the grill with tongs and watch it puff :).
Anyway, with all the above discussion, I think the ‘rotis’ I make at home are rolling-pin-rolled-chappati-phukas! I could just call them rotis - the generic term, but would that be misuse of terminlogy? I would love it if anyone can add more insight into the name origins.
Now that we are somewhat clear on that, what on earth is a Rotli and a Rotla?
If you ever had that question, congratulations, you are truly experiencing the diversity and getting into the regional terms. Rotli and Rotla are Gujrati terms. Rotli, I believe is Gujrati (Gujju) for roti. And Rotla is Gujju for the Marathi word Bhakri. Bhakri is term given to thick 'rotis' made from non-wheat flours like sorghum (jowar) and millet (ragi or bajra). These 'rotis' are patted by the palms of the hands on a flat surface and cooked on the tawa.
Any other questions you've had out cooking terms, bring 'em on. We will ponder on them together!
Another question that has bothered me is one about South Indian, Tamil food. What, if any, is the difference between a kozhumbu, kootu and sambar?
See how terminology can quickly get confusing? Please anybody out there care to shed light on this? If I get sufficient info on the comments, I intend to compile the answers for other obsessive people who might be wondering about the issue!