For the love of chapatis

chapatisJackson Biko talks about his favourite food and why he might need to walk away from it

Hi, my name is Jackson Biko and I’m a chapati addict. There. It’s out. They say the first step to recovery is acceptance. I have battled with this for a long time, hopefully this will set me free. For those not acquainted, chapati is like an ‘unleavened flatbread’ according to Wikipedia, but who listens to Wiki? Chapati, in short, is heaven. Cylindrical heaven. God put chapatis on earth to soften the hard hearts of men. To plant hope where doom lives. ‘Chapati’ in India means to ‘slap’, derived from the very act of its formation: the slapping and the rotation of dough between wetted palms.

I have loved chapati as long as I have chewed food. I love how it smells, when it’s fried on a pan, with fat melting on its sides, making that sizzling sound that promises a feast. I can eat it with just about anything: beans, liver, chicken, tea. I can eat it with another chapati. Like, make a chapati sandwich consisting of only two chapatis. It’s insane. I love my chapati with black burnt spots. I can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes I smell it in traffic. Sometimes when I’m invited for a fine dining shindig and the waiter bends over and says proudly “…and our main is Chicken Stroganoff, which is a julienne of chicken cooked in concasse with belle pepper garnished with gherkins and chopped parsley…” I’m there hoping, against hope, that he will get to a part where he says, “and we will serve this with some chapatis as accompaniment.” Only they never do.

At home, I eat chapatis the way Italians eat bread. It has to be part of the meal. If it’s not there I will sulk and act like nobody cares about my nutrition needs anymore when I work so hard to put dough on the table every day. But I’m not growing any younger and I realise wheat is a problem, especially for my midsection. Chapatis have gotten a bad rap. They say it’s what causes weight gain. Not good for you.

I have constantly insisted to the armchair nutritionists that I will be willing to drop off anything from the menu, eat even the disgusting egg whites that those strange yoga people (they call themselves yogis) love, but please don’t let me part with my chapatis. I will be left with nothing. Then I will be nothing.

But for now, I’m standing at the cusp of a conflicting T-junction. One side is my beloved chapati, the other side is rubbish things like brown rice and salad and things that just make you feel unloved and cold. I’m a man under siege.