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Traditional Way To Make 'Roti' an Unleavened Bread : From Grain To Dish

Updated on November 20, 2015

Its Not Man Made Process, Its Divine

Roti is an Indian expression of a global phenomenon. Wheat has been the food of mankind since human existence on earth. Hindu and Jewish literatures have detailed descriptions of how to make bread out of wheat. A number of such descriptions are claimed to have been revealed to mankind from divine sources. It is the modern evolutionary beliefs which have made our children think of every process to be man made.

The Indian expression roti is not a synonym to bread; it may be in some respects considered to be a parallel of it. Roti making is a traditional art. It is an Indian heritage. It carries with it a sea of knowledge, skill and emotions.

An Appeal To Wheat Growing Countries

Wheat grains, on its plants are preserved within its corn ears. In literary expressions to let something in its ears means not to disclose the secret. Prophet Joseph while interpreted the dream, instructed the monarch to ‘let the wheat grains in ears’ so as to preserve them and use them during the seven consecutive years of drought. Should mankind take hint from this instruction that wheat grains if left within its ears are preserved from decay?

Raw Material For Roti is Not Ordinary

As is known roti is made of wheat flour. In religious literatures ‘seed of wheat’ is used to denote the first sin committed by man. A major portion of man’s dietary needs are contained within this tiny seed of wheat. In India wheat from Punjab is well known. Punjab literally means ‘five waters’ denoting the five rivers flown in that land. Thus it tells us that if other crops need a source of water wheat needs five such sources!

Wheat Grains & flour
Wheat Grains & flour
Wheat Grain Ear
Wheat Grain Ear

Extraction of Wheat Grains And Winnowing

As the wheat crop is harvested and dried in sunlight, bullocks or horses are made to crush it with their hooves. Wheat grains are thus extracted from its ears. Thus the farmers get a mixture of wheat grains and husk. Now grains are to be separated from its husk. Winnowing is the technique for it. The mixture is made to fall down in open air from a height in a windy day. Wheat grains being heavy fall straight down while husk is carried farther away by the wind. This process is used in traditional literature to denote that the substance of real value is filtered out from the fake appearance of good deeds.

Picking-up Impurities by Ladies' Fingers

The separated wheat grains are sent for grinding. Before grinding, ladies in villages and small towns spare time to see if there are any dust or pebbles left in these grains. They pick these impurities one by one with their fingers and throw them out. No yoga master or physiotherapist is so much careful for beauty of ladies’ fingers as are these traditional house hold processes!

Grinding Between Two Stones

To grind, the grains are made to pass from between two roughened millstones. In traditional societies they were put one on to the other on a raised ground; the lower one was fixed while the upper stone was rotated with the help of a wooden handle fixed vertically on it. To keep the stone in position the lower stone had a metal peg fixed in its center while the upper one had a hole in the center and the peg passed through it. The hole in the upper millstone was used to feed the mill with wheat grains. One hand rotated the upper stone while the other kept itself busy by taking a handful of grains and pouring it into the central whole.

In big houses this had to be a daily exercise. Smaller households performed it once or twice a week. Many houses did not have their own mills as such; they requested their relatives or neighbors to let them grind their grains. It had been a source of pleasure and prestige to let others benefit from the facilities installed for their own use. A sense of belongingness to ones surrounding was prevalent. Definition of ownership was then less severe. The motto was ‘roti for everyone’ and not ‘to win ones own bread’. Roti made the neighboring ladies meet one another almost daily and with smiling face.

Their exercise of grinding helped the Indian poet 'Kabir' remind mankind a hidden reality otherwise forgotten in the rush of daily chores. He says: ‘seeing a millstone 'Kabir' laments; 'between the two grinding stones nothing remains intact’. The rotating heaven around the earth grinds every thing existing between them. In another such observation a poet says: ‘in such a turmoil only those who keep themselves stuck to the center are spared!’

Trick for Making Soft Dough Out of coarse Flour

Even coarse aata (flour) if, after kneading it, kept for two hours covered under a wet piece of cloth makes as soft a dough as you have from a finer flour.

Fine & Coarse Flour

Our modern flour mills are power run and the mill stones are vertically fixed. The grain has to pass through these grinding stones or in some systems the cutting blades. The product is fine powder; in India known as aata. The fashion is to write double‘t’; but I can not understand why do they write it so!

More fine powder you want harsher you have to hit the grains and hotter powder you get. It is claimed that in so doing a number of useful nutrients are destroyed. Therefore, many more aware families like it to be coarse.

Everyone Love this Activity, But it Needs Skill To Get it Perfect

Kneading flour into dough is a skill every girl in a traditional society has to learn. It is an interesting activity and introduces to the girl ‘kinesthetic sense’ which is so much necessary in making roti. Kinesthetic sense enables us appreciate the amount of force required to perform a particular physical activity. Which muscles of your body you have to pull and in what direction and with how much force? Also, in what manner have you to position your body for the job? Our body’s muscular and nervous systems have to cooperate for every kind of physical activity we perform. How much force do you need to hold and raise an empty cup and how much of it for a filled up cup? If you do not distinguish these you may spill the liquid.

A girl of 13 to 14 years of age must know how to knead the flour and prepare dough. In homes the container having flour has a tin for measure. The lady of the house knows how many measures of flour are consumed daily. Dough is generally kneaded in a paraat, a circular dish with comparatively high walls.

Kneading in Paraat
Kneading in Paraat

A family in Madhya Pradesh was facing problem of constipation. They had taken various medicines prescribed by their doctor which brought temporary relief. When the complain of almost all the members of the family continued the doctor studied in detail their eating habits and found that the culprit was this process of filtering the flour before kneading. He suggested them not to filter their flour and instead collect such chaapar from their neighbors and add it to their flour. They followed the instructions of their doctor and their problem was solved.

Don't Filter Out 'Fibers' From Flour

Some people prefer to filter flour in a grate before kneading it. It removes the coarse particles from the flour mostly consisting of brown outer skin of wheat which contains fibers which are very much necessary for regular motions. This filtered out coarse flour is known as chaapar. This chaapar is considered to be the share of domestic animals. Those who know the importance of this brown outer skin of wheat do not filter flour and knead it without removing any coarse material.

How to Do Kneading?

After putting flour in paraat add water to it and continuously mix it with your right hand. In doing this, some flour gets stuck to your hand. This should not worry you. It is a process. Now and then sprinkle some water to the stuck flour and go on mixing and adding small amounts of water with your left hand. Gradually you will find that the flour starts collected in a single lump. As you wipe your hands on this lump you will find that the flour stuck on your hand too joins the lump!

Practice would show you how much amount of water at a time you have to add and for how long you have to continue doing this. As you become acquainted with the process you will be able to put comparatively larger amounts of water in the beginning. But remember as you come close to finish your job put a small amount of water and go on squeezing it, pressing every part of it with your knuckles and as it spreads out on paraat fold it back. Longer you do this exercise finer and uniform dough you make. In the beginning hard dough is advisable. Soft dough requires better kinesthetic sense.

Sorry we forgot one thing, one important thing while making dough. Add some salt to the flour before putting water into it! Many beginners forget this.

Stages Through Kneading
Stages Through Kneading

Bread & Roti are Different as Leavened and Unleavened Bread

As far as dough making is concerned Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures are similar. In making bread or roti they differ. What we read in bible about unleavened bread is this dough simply spread in a flat dish and put in an oven to get cooked. It may take some hours.

Leavened bread is also cooked similarly in an oven but before we put it in an oven we keep the dough covered for 24 hours or so to make it rise; that is it swells and becomes softer and porous. If you want to raise it early add some yeast to it. In good old days instead of adding yeast, the previous day’s remnant of raised dough was mixed with the fresh batch of dough to speed up the process of rising. God commanded Moses to tell his people to eat during the 'Passover' unleavened bread. The symbolism was to forget the previous days’ practices and have a new start.

Indian Traditional roti is different from leavened or unleavened bread.

Rolling Pin on The Wooden Board
Rolling Pin on The Wooden Board

After Most Interesting Now its Most Difficult Part of Making Roti

Now starts the actual process of making roti! We need two equipments for this: a rolling pin of wood and a wooden circular tablet. Put a little amount of oil in a cup and dry wheat four in a plate by your side. First dip your fingers in oil, spread oil on both of your palms and take out a small handful of dough using all five fingers of your right hand. Put it on your left palm and try to make it as spherical as you can. Now flatten it. Then gently touch it on dry wheat flour. Put it on to the wooden tablet and with the rolling pin try to spread it gently.

This is perhaps the most difficult process for a girl of forteenfourteen! It is only practice which will teach you the process. The dough tends to stick to your hands, to the tablet and on to the rolling pin. You have three helpers to fight against this: apply a bit of oil on to the surfaces where it wants to get stuck, put some more dry wheat flour between the dough and the surface on which it is moving and last and most important your kinesthetic sense. One principle is common. The surfaces which are coming in contact with the dough should touch or hit the dough as gently as possible.

Names of Entities:

There are in different regions different names for the entities we are dealing with. A handful of the dough you take and smoothen it and then flatten it is known as ‘luwwa’. Dry flour you apply on to the surface of luwwa is known as ‘ataaman’. The wooden tablet is ‘roti paatla'. The rolling pin is ‘belan’.

Technique to Make Roti Dance on Tablet Clockwise & Anticlockwise

As you hold belan with both of your hands and move it on the flattened luwwa the roti starts taking its shape. As you become acquainted with the exercise roti rotates on its own upon the paatla. If you want to make it rotate clockwise push your left side harder when you push it away from you and pull the right side harder when you are pulling it towards you. This will make it rotate clockwise. Do the opposite, and it will rotate anti-clockwise. Clockwise or anti-clockwise does not make any difference; the point is that the roti must keep rotating. Mind you. It should not only rotate, it should also spread out larger and larger.

If your roti dances between the belan and paatla and does not stick to any thing then you have mastered the process. If no one is around you to pat you on your performance then to pass an appreciative note to your performance you may shake your head and body in conformity with the dance of your roti to make it more perfect round! Try to make it as thin as possible.

Roti Blowing-up on Tawa
Roti Blowing-up on Tawa

Baking And Assembling It in Hot-pot Roti Dabba

Now comes the process of baking or roasting. Put a 'tawa', an iron plate slightly concaved on a burner. Let it become hot enough, otherwise you know the habit of roti; it sticks to whatever surface it comes in contact with! If this habit persists apply some oil to tawa as well. You will notice that as the roti is heated it changes its colour. It becomes darker. When entire roti has gone darker, turn it over to let the other side get baked. Rotate it once on the tawa so that all portions are cooked properly. Now turn it over second time and push it down upon the tawa with the help of a piece of cloth. Now remove it from the tawa and put it in a utensil specially made for it known as ‘roti dabba’. Hot roti put on one another continues to get baked more properly inside the roti dabba, therefore, do not disturb it, let it lie in it for some time. Your roti is ready.


Some families apply a little amount of butter or ghee to the surface of cooked roti while others prefer it without ghee.

Varieties Of Roti

Such rotis are known as chapatti or phulka. Phulka derives its name from fascinating phenomenon it shows on tawa, it blows like a balloon as the hot vapor is caught between the two layers of roti . There are a number of other varieties of roti. ‘Par’ is a typical variety popular among bohra families in India. Par speeds up the process of making roti. To make it take two luwwa at a time of a slightly bigger size, apply oil on them, put one on the other , seal the borders by pressing them with fingers and start belaning it. Thus two bigger rotis are rolled together and baked on the tawa together. Then when you remove them from the tawa gently separate them and put them in the utensil. Likewise paratha and khmiri roti are poplur items in hotels.

So plain & unadorned, but full of skills and talent; so thin & simple, but essential and fundamental. The roti is thus important Part of every Indian Meal and likewise every Women.


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