I only just featured chapati in this series, I know, I know. And for millions (billions?) around the world, there’s nothing especially thrilling about this bread. But I cherish those foods that reach across continents, and infiltrate entire hemispheres, because of their practicality and facility as a template for local iterations. Think stuffed meat pockets, like empanadas, pierogis, calzones, even wontons; of course each is unique, with a bit more of this and a bit less of that, a fold and pinch here instead of a tuck there, a bath in boiling water or bubbling oil or a steam in the oven. But each is a variation on an essential culinary concept, soaked in local flavor traditions.
Chapati enjoys a similar esteem in global food trends. There are a zillion iterations of similar breads in South Asia alone, incorporating different types of wheat or cereal, or potato, or with various spices pounded in. Somehow this staple made it to Somali culture, where it retained its name, although the local variety is closer to Indian paratha, with its flaky layers and thicker stature.
En route to the office this morning, my colleague asked the driver to pull over to the side of the road in front of a small blue corner store. The proprietor sells fresh chapati starting in the early hours, stored in stacks inside clear plastic bags. Back at the office, Mohamed tucked into a hot mug of Somali tea, all cardamom and cinnamon and milk mixed with Kenyan chai, dipping each bite-to-be of chapati into the mug before enjoying.
If you have a taste for a bit more intrigue, have a look at this charming and hilarious article about the havoc wrought by the humble chapati on the British Army in the mid-19th century.
In 1857, tensions in British-occupied India were at an all-time high. Discontented Indians, sick and tired of an exploitative British rule, were quietly planning a rebellion. In February of that year, a strange thing began to occur.
Thousands of unmarked chapatis were distributed to homes and police outposts throughout India by runners at night, and the people who accepted the offerings would quietly make more batches and pass them on.
How do you do chapati? Wishing you equally thrilling weekday breakfasts!!