Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chapati at any time of the day

From The Star

Photo by ONG SOON HIN / The Star


IT starts with a pinch, then a few slaps and later a trip under the rolling pin before it is tossed onto a hot griddle.

Sounds cruel but that is what this concoction of wheat flour, water, salt and a little oil or ghee goes through before it ends up before you as a hot and fluffy chapati.

Chapati is an Indian bread that is not only popular in South Asia, where it originated from, but also in in East Africa, where it is a staple food.

Made from Atta flour, which is whole grain durum wheat, the dough is rolled out into discs the size of a dinner plate or smaller and charred on both sides on a very hot dry griddle or tava.

In India, the chapati is sometimes held for about half a second over an open flame, which will cause it to puff up like a balloon, and it is called phulka.

A word of advice, never do this in a microwave as the bread would become soggy. The traditional open fire is best for a balloon-chapati or phulka.

It is an extraordinary treat to have a good chapati these days. Though most Indian food outlets have it on the menu, more often than not, you may find yourself chewing elastic bread rather than having a good chapati that is a vehicle for a great keema (minced meat cooked with cabbage or potatoes for Indian breads), or good dhal gravy or other vegetable dishes.

Chef in action: Joginder Singh rolling out a chapati in a jiffy.

Take it from one who has tasted many variations of the chapati. To me, the best is found in Punjabi restaurants or at the Gurdhwaras on weekends when prayers are conducted and the temple kitchen is also in an equal frenzy to produce as many chapatis as possible to feed the congregation and those who stop by for some charity in the form of a meal.

There are numerous tips on how to make good chapatis at home but the effort often turns many young professionals off and this traditional bread is best had at a reputable and recommended restaurant.

One such restaurant is the Santa Restaurant, located in the row behind the Tawakal Hospital in Jalan Pahang, Kuala Lumpur.

This restaurant has been here for more than a decade but Santa Restaurant is no stranger to the citizens of Kuala Lumpur as its first restaurant is still operating in the back lane of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

Joginder Singh, who has been manning the Santa Restaurant in Jalan Pahang for almost 15 years said the chapatis are made from a family recipe and every Santa Restaurant (there is another one in Lebuh Ampang) serves the same chapati, in terms of size, softness and taste!

The staple diet of Punjabis, the chapati is a healthy bread that can be prepared without a trace of oil. For luxury, a dab of ghee is spread on a cooked chapati and it can be had with almost anything.

“Take it with any vegetable curry or masala, or even with meats and fish or any spicy dish at all. It absorbs the flavours from the gravy and satisfy your hunger quickly,” said Joginder, as he expertly rolled out a chapati and had it on the hot griddle in a jiffy.

Chapati, however, is best eaten just off the griddle, as it is at its best then – soft and fluffy!

Variations of the chapati have come about in recent years, with some shops having potato fillings to make a more substantial serving.

For those who need the cholesterol fix, the same dough, when rolled out and dropped into hot oil, will turn into a deliciously puffed up puri, which is best eaten with a spicy potato masala.

For those in a hurry, the chapati can also double up as pita bread, which can be filled with a variety of fillings, and with a dollop of yoghurt, you have a complete meal.

Besides the string of Santa Restaurants in the Klang Valley, popular Jai Hind in Masjid India also serves a good chapati at any time of the day.

So, if you have a need to go vegetarian for the day, try having the chapati for a meal with an aloo – a mixture of potatoes and other vegetables or even spinach and dhal and come away feeling filled and healthy.

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