Ever stared at a menu and been a bit perplexed? In any Indian restaurant, you'll see a list of sundries… Naan, paratha, puri, dosa, chapati and roti… No wonder it is confusing. What is the difference between roti and chapati? Probably less than you'd think. Today I'll take you through both, tell you what is in them and how they are made so you'll have a really great idea of the differences and which you would like to order.
The Quick Answer | What is the Difference Between Roti and Chapati?
The truth is that there are, in fact, very few differences between roti and chapati. They both have the same cultural origins and are prepared in a very similar way. Roti is a thin unleavened flatbread made from wheat flour. Chapatis are slightly different in that they are traditionally made using whole-wheat flour (also known as atta). How they are cooked can also be slightly different, but the end result is a really similar bread.
To learn more about the differences between roti and chapati, read on…
Chapatis and Rotis. What are They?
Alright, folks, let's dive straight in. That thick curry sauce isn't going to mop up itself!
Here's a brief description of each type of Indian flatbread and how it is prepared.
Roti is made from very few ingredients. In fact, you could consider it one of the oldest forms of bread in the world. The word roti actually has its origins in an ancient Asian language called Sanskrit. The work rotika translates loosely and simply as 'bread'.
Here's what is in a roti: -
- Wheat Flour
Yes! That is all that you'll find in a roti recipe. Sometimes you'll see a recipe calling for oil, but this isn't really necessary (and isn't how they make authentic roti).
Once the dough is mixed, it is kneaded until smooth. Then it is rolled until balls before being pressed into a thin disc with a rolling pin.
How is Roti Cooked?
Roti can be cooked in a couple of ways. The traditional way used by most Indian households is to give them a quick dry-fry in a special Indian frying pan called a Tawa. This is sort of a cross between a normal frying pan and a wok.
You may occasionally see roti referred to as tandoori roti. This means that the roti is cooked by slapping them onto the walls of a hot tandoor oven. This causes them to cook really quickly, turning slightly crispy on the bottom and all bubbly on the top.
Now, let's take a look at a chapati, see if you can spot the difference?
You'll often see chapatis and rotis side by side on the menu in an Indian restaurant. Just like the roti, chapati is made from very few ingredients. Here's what you'll find in a chapati: -
- Atta (wholemeal wheat flour)
- A little oil
- A little salt
Looks kind of similar to roti, right?
The word chapati is also of Asian origin. In Hindi, the word chapat means 'to slap' or 'press flat'. This should give you an idea of how chapati is traditionally formed. Instead of being rolled, they formed into a rough disc and slapped from hand to hand, kind of similar to how Italian chefs make pizza dough into a disc.
Want to see someone making a giant Indian flatbread using this technique? Check this video out!
Once the dough has been mixed, it is left to stand for a few minutes so that the water is absorbed by the gluten. Along with the oil, this makes chapati dough really pliable and stretchy. The chef will pinch small balls and use the slapping technique described above, but you'll likely see them using a rolling pin for a more consistent result.
How is Chapati Cooked?
Here is where you'll find the main difference between chapati and roti.
Remember how I said that roti is sometimes cooked in a tandoor? Not so with chapati. Traditionally they are only ever cooked in a Tawa. This doesn't produce quite the same result as it is almost impossible to heat a Tawa to the same temperature as a tandoor.
So, What is the Difference between Roti and Chapati?
Ok, let's break it down for you simply.
There are three general differences between roti and chapati.
- Roti can be cooked in a pan called a Tawa or a tandoor oven. Chapati is only ever cooked in a Tawa.
- Roti is traditionally made with wheat flour, whereas chapati uses wholemeal atta flour. So, the taste is slightly different. Chapati is a little chewier (if made traditionally).
- Roti is made using only flour and water. Chapati also contains oil and salt. This makes the dough slightly more pliable.
Why do people get confused? Well, consider that the root word for roti translates as 'bread', and chapati is also bread. Also, when you consider that both can be cooked in a Tawa, it can be hard to see the difference. Chapati is traditionally made, as the translation suggests, by slapping the dough between each hand. In contrast, roti is rolled flat using a rolling pin… Except chefs nowadays also use a rolling pin for chapati, adding to the confusion.
And finally… The naming conventions from each are often confused by Indian restaurants who seem to confuse the two! I've had a chapati delivered when I ordered a roti and vice versa!
What is the Difference Between Naan and Roti?
Ah man, as if it wasn't confusing enough, you throw another Indian flatbread into the mix. Naan is very similar to roti, but there are a few more obvious and key differences. Here's a quick at a glance guide as to how naan differs from roti: -
- Naan bread is much bigger than roti. You could share a naan. You wouldn't want to share a roti.
- Naan is thicker and fluffier than roti.
- Naan bread is leavened. This means it contains yeast or a raising agent, just like regular white bread.
- Naan bread uses white wheat flour. It is rare you'll see a whole meal naan.
- Naan can be served topped or stuffed with things like spiced meat, cheese or garlic. Roti isn't normally served stuffed or topped.
- Naan is nearly always cooked in a tandoor oven and never in a Tawa.
- In an Indian restaurant, naan is nearly always more expensive than roti.
Which is Better Chapati or Roti?
It all depends on what you are after.
If you fancy a naan but don't have the appetite to eat a full one, then a roti can make for a great substitute. It is slightly smaller, but you'll still get all of the flavours as it should be cooked on the wall of a tandoor.
Because roti is made with regular white wheat flour, some people find it a little easier to eat. They are the best for mopping up stray curry sauce too.
Chapati tends to be a little chewier and slightly denser than roti. Because they are made with wholemeal or atta flour, they can also be darker in colour. Think of the difference between roti and chapati a little like the difference between white and wholemeal bread, and you'll be on the right lines.
Chapati is good because they are fairly thin. You can order a pile and not feel too full. In India, they often serve chapati in place of cutlery and use this floppy flatbread as a sort of scoop to serve with curries such as daal tadka.
Whichever you decide is best, they are both delicious and make an excellent side for chicken curry.
What Do You Eat with Rotis or Chapatis?
Literally, any curry on the menu will go with a nice roti or chapati. They work particularly well with curries that have a fair bit of sauce. They also work to absorb some of that chilli and spices if you've ordered a curry that is too hot. Chapati or roti also make a nice alternative to white rice for curry. They are fairly calorie sparse, too, making them great if you are looking for a healthy curry.
Here's a list of a few Indian recipes and dishes you could try with rotis or chapatis: -
- Daal Tadka (lentil curry)
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- Chicken Madras
- King Prawn Pathia
- Chicken Dhansak
- Raita Dip
In fact… any curry dish. There are lots, and you can find more curry guides and ideas right here.
What is the difference between roti and chapati? In truth, not much. They use slightly different flour and are sometimes cooked in a slightly different way, but apart from that, there isn't much in it. They are both Indian flatbreads, and they are both great to serve with curry dishes. What do you prefer, roti or chapati? And what do you normally eat either with? Let me know in the comments below!