Mama Chapati


If you have ever traveled through India, you may be familiar with chapati: the doughy, tortilla-like flatbread staple, coated with a light film of oil and toast-fried on a flat skillet. Floury on the outside and tacky and doughy in the middle. The chapati is just one of many elements of South Asian cuisine that has become a staple in Tanzania. Here, it is enjoyed mostly at breakfast time, or as they say in Swahili, when they ‘drink their tea’, or kunywa chai, alongside a grilled plantain, fried egg, or hot dog sausage, and of course a cup of tea with plenty of milk and dollops of sugar (not a contender for the lightest, healthiest breakfast in the world).



Along with the oily, flour-y smell of the Chapati, those familiar with the staple usually recall the pat-pat-pat-pat-smack! sounds of the chapati maker, the sound of a tiny ball of unleavened dough thrown between well-greased palms. If purchased on the side of the road, where many of the chapati mamas set up, they are wrapped in old newspaper and thrown in a small plastic bag to go.

mama chapati collage

These photos were from a trip to Morogoro, a few hours’ drive west of Dar es Salaam. The region has this beautiful chain of mountains, and when my sister came to visit, I used her as an excuse to get out and explore the area. Morogoro has a ton of hiking trails, so we picked one suitable for a half-day hike. Midway up the mountain, just outside a small village, was the chapati mama pictured above, churning out chapatis for the residents dropping off children at the primary school down the road. They were tucked, piping hot, into a backpack, saved for consumption at the top of the mountain. Chapati as reward; not bad at all.



One thought on “Mama Chapati

  1. Not sure what it is… the colors of your photos, your retelling of this outing, memories of the chapati making sounds, the smells and tastes of the food, the nostalgia of something unavailable to me now….. maybe all of that….but it brought a smile to my face this morning.
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