It takes patience to become chapati-making pro

By Melvin Durai

In many families, husbands and wives split up the household duties. Most wives handle all the cooking and cleaning, while the husbands handle almost all tasks related to beer and sports. This includes purchasing, sharing and consuming.

My family is quite different, partly because I was a stay-at-home dad for many years and partly because my wife is the primary breadwinner. Well, to be more precise, she is the primary rice-winner. She’s also the primary chapati-winner.

As far as staple foods are concerned, my wife generally prefers rice over anything else. She loves almost anything made of rice, including biryani, idli, dosa, and bisi bele bhath. Please don’t invite my wife to any wedding where rice will be thrown at the bride and groom. She’ll be picking it up off the floor.  

I enjoy eating rice too, especially biryani, but given a choice between plain rice or chapatis for dinner, I’m going for the chapatis (also known as rotis and a distant cousin of tortillas). Though I grew up in a household where rice dominated the menu, I prefer foods made from wheat. But soon after marriage, I realized that if I wanted to see chapatis at the dining table more than once a month, I needed to make them myself.

My first attempt at making chapatis didn’t go well. I couldn’t roll them properly and they were a little too crispy. But I didn’t give up: I kept trying, until I received a great compliment from my wife. “Wow,” she said one evening. “They’re almost edible.”

I’ve been practicing my chapati-making techniques for the last 20 years or so, and I’m proud to say that I’ve graduated from “almost edible” to “almost incredible.”

My chapatis aren’t quite as good as the ones you’d get at a high-quality Indian restaurant, but that’s partly because I’m not a professional chef and partly because I do not add any SECRET ingredients. My ingredients are not secret at all. All I put in my chapatis are flour, salt, water and a little oil. The oil isn’t necessary, of course, but it adds to the taste and is healthier than butter. (I prefer canola oil or vegetable oil, but you can try a number of other oils, though you might want to stay away from crude oil. Especially if it’s imported from Russia.)

Making chapatis isn’t easy, so I’d like to share a few important tips for anyone who’d like to give it a try:

1. The dough needs to be somewhat moist. This makes it much easier to roll. For two cups of flour, you need at least one cup of water. When I first started making chapatis, I didn’t add enough water. Not only was the dough hard to roll, it resisted any type of symmetry. My kids had fun with the chapatis though.

Divya: “What country does this one look like?”

Lekha: “India.”

Divya: “No, it’s more like Australia.”

Lekha: “Daddy, were you trying for Australia or India?”

Me: “Zimbabwe.”

2. If the dough seems too sticky, just spread some flour on your rolling surface or dab each ball of dough with a little flour. If you don’t do this, you might find that you’ve created the perfect chapati, but it’s stuck to your rolling board. Please do not invert your board over the stove. Just scrape it all off and try again with some flour. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. Remember: there is no such thing as an overnight chapati-making pro.   

3. Do not put your chapati on the cooking pan until the pan is extremely hot. How hot should it be? Well, it should be so hot that if you put your finger just above it, your wife will scream, “What are you doing, you idiot?” If you don’t have a wife, the next best thing is to put a few drops of water on the pan. They should sizzle and evaporate almost immediately. Having the right temperature ensures that some puffing up will occur.

Not only will your chapatis puff up, you might also puff up with pride.

Melvin Durai is an Indiana-based writer and humorist, author of the humorous novel “Bala Takes the Plunge.” A native of India, he grew up in Zambia and has lived in North America since the early 1980s. Read his humor blog at   Write to him at

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