Roti, Chapati, Paratha, Naan or the Universal Flat Bread

My husband and I love streetfood, and when we lived in Islamabad we enjoyed the different varieties of Pakistani flat bread or roti. They’re like quick meals when you’re on the go. It’s interesting how what looks like the same thing has different names in other countries, like chapati, tortilla, pita, and man’ooshe, or shawarma, doner kebab, and gyro. In India and Pakistan flatbreads are generally called roti but there are different varieties and ingredients. Yet in Thailand, it’s more like crepes or pancakes.

I still think fondly of many cold evenings when we’d go out to buy fresh chapati (or tandoori roti) straight from the clay oven, then wrapped in newspaper. Our house was only 15 minutes away, but the chapati never make it that far. Even our one year old son loved it. My husband misses it so much he learned to make it from scratch when we moved to Lagos, after several experiments with the frying pan and oven. When a Syrian acquaintance gave me a bag of za’atar I also discovered how incredibly tasty freshly baked and warm chapati is when dipped in olive oil then za’atar (herb mixture with sesame seeds). I also tried the Lebanese za’atar which has thyme and sumac.

Look how fast this guy makes chapati at our favorite bakery.

When it comes to naan, I’ve seen it in various sizes and shapes in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Philippines, and yes, the US — but regardless of where they’re made, my favorite is always garlic naan, followed by the cheese naan by Yamazaki, a bakery chain found in supermarkets and the Skytrain stations in Bangkok. But what they call naan in Kenya and Nigeria looks a lot like the paratha in Pakistan. You know what’s cool about Nigerian pita bread (which looks like tortilla and chapati) is that you can bake them like chips. Many expats serve these as appetizers with humus or salsa. Our cook usually added some butter and fresh garlic, until we begged her to stop because it was ruining our diet. I’ll ask my friends to send me a photo that I can add here.

Then there’s the chicken paratha roll. This is a video of how chicken paratha roll is prepared, which I posted in 2009. It has gotten over 160,000 hits since, which continues to surprise me. Paratha is greasy, because of the ghee or butter added to it. I often see it being served with breakfast or dinner, but not lunch. When I asked my husband what the difference is between chicken paratha and chicken shawarma, he said the roti wrap for shawarma is not greasy. Meat for shawarma – whether it’s beef, lamb, or chicken – are also cooked on a spit One can also enjoy naan and shawarma in Lagos, thanks to the many shops and restaurants run by the Indians and Lebanese. Then we went to Germany and Austria and got to try doner kebab. They seem to be sold wherever we went, in the street corner in Vienna, Munich subway, and a small village in Rhineland.

Whatever their name is and plain or with meat and salad filling, we truly love them all.


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