Mama Chapati in Morogoro, Tanzania

By Mark Wiens 45 Comments

It’s a version of flat-bread that originated in the Indian Subcontinent and was brought to East Africa by trade.  The African-ized version of chapatis are special, a treat that’s different from the normal ugali cornmeal staple eaten at most meals.  A chapati is often accompanied by beans, cooked green vegetables, or else just wadded up plain with a cup of chai (tea).

making-chapati

Driving through Morogoro, Tanzania, I stopped for a quick break to grab a cup of chai.  Mama Chapati was sitting at the base of a pharmacy cooking her chapatis, a giant syringe painted on the wall behind her.

The aroma of the sizzling chapatis on the skillet was irresistible (fresh things like this are meant to be eaten immediately).

chapati-in-tanzania

East African chapatis are made with a flour dough that is delicately coiled into a ball.  When the chapati is rolled out, the coil makes the chapati flaky from within.  It is then fried on a heavy iron pan, roasting slowly over a light bed of charcoal.

When the chapati is nearly finished cooking, a ladle of of oil is sprinkled around the edges of the pan, crispy-fying the outer layer and giving it that truly African touch.

mama-chapati

If cooked right, the result of an African chapati is characterized by a flaky moist interior and a crispy browned outer shell.

Mama Chapati made them flawlessly.

tanzania-chapati

Throughout the mid-morning, people came to the pharmacy, not to buy drugs, but to get a famous chapati for takeaway.

chapati-tanzania

I bid farewell, expressed my gratitude for the deliciousness, and returned back to the road heading towards Dar es Salaam.



45 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Patricia Bland

    3 months ago

    Traveled for 20 days across Kenya and Tanzania and chapatis was one of my favorites. Will make it at home.

  • ylfriends

    3 years ago

    This post answered my question about the presence of readily available Indian food in Africa. It didn’t seem like a specialty foreign food, but something that is integrated into the culture and eaten everyday by the local people. And yes the syringe needle pointing at her was scary!

  • Twentynine Palms Hotels

    6 years ago

    I ate Chapati when I was in Iraq and I like it. Tasting some local food is good.

    • Al

      5 years ago

      I am in Morogoro. How do I find this mama chapatti?

      • Mark Wiens

        5 years ago

        Hey Al, sorry, I’m really not sure exactly where it is, we just kind of stopped on the side of the road. But I’m sure there are a few women around town making chapatis, hope you can find some!

  • Kagai Macharia

    6 years ago

    Totally awesome chapatis. I love the picture

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      @Kagai: Thanks so much! I’m sure you make some great chapatis too!

  • Mark Wiens

    6 years ago

    @Dave and Deb: Awesome, I also love Tanzania and little things like enjoying the chapati’s are what makes it such a lovely place!

  • Dave and Deb

    6 years ago

    You are bringing back memories of Africa just at the right time too. It was 3 years ago this month that we first stepped foot on the continent. We are itching to go back and Tanzania was one of our favourite countries there. The Chapatis look delicious, but the experience looked even better.

  • Mark Wiens

    6 years ago

    @Steph: Yes, definitely keep an eye out for freshly made chapatis when you visit!

  • Mark Wiens

    6 years ago

    @Joshy: Thanks! They do some great mural paintings on walls in Africa!

  • Steph

    6 years ago

    What a funny picture that is, well, I’m referring to the 1st picture. That syringe really ended right up on Mama Chapati’s head. And those look like hotcakes. I will definitely be looking for those when I go to that place.

  • joshywashington

    6 years ago

    The syringe on the wall kept tripping me out! Great photos and you have a wonderful way with words as well.

  • Mark Wiens

    6 years ago

    @Norbert: Yes, Thai roti is a bit thinner and usually sweet, but same sort of thing!

    @David: Definitely similar dough and flavor to a roti canai, but this chapati is thicker, more filling, and because it is thicker it has a bigger contrast between inner gooeyness and outer flaky cruchiness (hope this makes sense!). I do loooove the curry sauce served with roti canai!

    @Jeremy: It’s a rather ordinary bread, but cooked by an extraordinary lady, who cooked it very very well!

    @John: Great! Enjoy!

  • John in France

    6 years ago

    We’ve just bought an electric crepe/chapati maker – basically a type of frypan but perfect for making chapatis, rotis and crepes. The easiest things to make, and needless to say the machine is getting used regularly! Bon appetit!

  • Jeremy B

    6 years ago

    So is this just a regular bread or does it have more of a unique taste and flavor? It looks really good (granted it’s lunch time for me as well!) 🙂

  • David @ Malaysia Asia

    6 years ago

    Mark, nice one here! Seriously, it looks like a Malaysian Chapati or Roti Canai. You didn’t mention how it tasted like. Was it the same as here in Malaysia?

    David

  • Norbert

    6 years ago

    Love the syringe photo! For some reason the chapati reminded me of Thai rotis… they have certain similarities, but rotis are more for dessert.

  • Mark Wiens

    6 years ago

    @Robin: Hehe, Thanks! Yah, I’ve tried and failed too… I think it’s the oil and shortening they use!

    @Jamie: Thanks, yes just a random lucky situation!

    @Glen: Thanks Glen!

  • Glen

    6 years ago

    Mark, the syringe photo is a classic. Beautiful photo.

  • jamie – cloud people adventures

    6 years ago

    love chapati. but that photo with the syringe is one of the greats. i dont think i could have held the camera still enough to get a shot if i was taking it.

  • robin

    6 years ago

    You’re scoring all kinds of points with me at the moment Mark. First the Ethiopian food and now good African chapatis. We regualrly try to make these at home but we don’t seem to quite get them as good as in East Africa. Indian ones just aren’t the same. We won’t give up trying though…

    One of my favourite foods.

  • Mark Wiens

    6 years ago

    @Inka: I wish I could!

  • Mark Wiens

    6 years ago

    @Allison: Yes, chapati’s are so delicious, and you don’t have to worry about biting a rock!

    @Andrew: Thanks Andrew!

    @Kim: Thanks!

    @Siddhartha: Actually the poster is an ad for a mobile phone company! Hoping to get the Indian paratha’s in a few months!

    @EatLaughLoveAnon: Yes, definitely many kinds of bread that are made with so many different methods. The beans are normal pinto beans, cooked with a few spices, and usually tomatoes and onions. They go together wonderfully!

  • inka

    6 years ago

    You couldn’t possibly send one over, could you? Crispy outside, flaky and moist on the inside, I understand why you need nothing else but a tea to enjoy that treat.

  • eat-laugh-love-anon

    6 years ago

    Bread is such a staple of life, isn’t it? And there are just so many different types of bread.
    I definitely want to try this one. I loved all the rotis and naans and chappatis in India. I’d love to see a picture of the beans that go with this African version of chapati.

  • Siddhartha Joshi

    6 years ago

    I love the first pic 🙂 What does the poster in the background say?

    And chapati certainly an Indian food, though the one we see here actually goes by the name ‘paratha’ in India. The ones here look delicious 🙂

  • Kim

    6 years ago

    Looks great! What a unique experience. Love it!

  • Chris Day

    6 years ago

    When you travel to countries , whose money is devalued so much. How do you keep track of it, I know when i was in Vietnam Having 2-3 million in my pockets was normal . but try walking around the USA with 2-3 million.

  • Andrew Murray

    6 years ago

    Hey Mark! Those Chapati’s sound and look amazing.
    The huge picture of a hyperdermic needle that arrived in my inbox certainly caught my attention lol
    Glad your enjoying Tanzania!!!

  • Allison Suter

    6 years ago

    My most delicious food memory from East Africa is bean and chapati. So delicious, filling, and cheap. And so, so much better than gritty rice.