Flatbread is one of the simplest forms of bread and nearly every culture around the world has its own version. From wraps and sandwiches to sopping up soups, stews, and sauces, flatbread makes an all-purpose accompaniment to any meal. Here are some of the most common varieties of flatbread from cultures around the world.
Chepati is a whole wheat flatbread native to South Asia and parts of Africa. The term chapati is often used interchangeably with roti, another flatbread from that region, although some consider chapati to be slightly thinner. Chepati can be used to wrap around meat and vegetables, or used to sop up soups, stews, and curries. Chepati is often slathered with ghee after cooking.
Focaccia is a leavened bread from Italy that can be flavored with a variety of toppings, like olive oil, herbs, cheese, meat, or even fruit. Focaccia is often cooked on a stone hearth and has characteristic dimples that are made by pressing fingers into the dough before baking. Focaccia can be used to make sandwiches, used to soak up soups and stews, or made into a pizza-like dish with added toppings.
Frybread is a Native American flatbread that is fried in oil or lard. This is a relatively new tradition, having started in 1864 with the provisions given to the Navajo people by the United States Government. Frybread is eaten as a side dish, wrap for tacos, smothered with honey or jam, or topped with beef.
Lavash is a large unleavened Armenian flatbread that is cooked against the hot walls of a clay oven. These breads are soft and flexible when fresh but dry to a brittle state, at which point they can be stored for many months. Dried Lavash can be softened by sprinkling with water. Like other flatbreads, it can be wrapped around meat or other fillings, or used to sop up soups and stews. In the United States, lavash is often used to make wrap sandwiches.
Matzah is an unleavened flatbread eaten by Jews during the Passover holiday when traditional leavened breads are not allowed by Jewish law. Matzah is simply prepared with a flour and water dough, rolled out until thin, and then cooked at a high temperature to create a crisp texture. Matzah can then be eaten as is or crushed into Matzah meal, which can then be added to a variety of recipes.
Naan is a soft, pillowy flatbread native to India and other areas of West and South Asia. Naan is a leavened bread cooked in a special oven called a tandoor. Naan often contains milk or yogurt, which provide a unique flavor and a soft, tender texture. Naan is easily recognizable by its pillowy bubbles that form from contact with the hot oven. This bread is often used to sop up sauces and stews or to wrap around meat and other fillings.
Pita is a type of slightly leavened flatbread native to the Mediterranean region. These soft, round breads often form a large interior pocket of hot air when exposed to the high temperatures during cooking. This unique pocket is useful for stuffing the bread with fillings such as meat, falafel, or vegetables. Pita can also be wrapped around food, like kebabs or gyros, or dipped into sauces, like hummus or baba ghanoush.
Roti is another flatbread native to South Asia. Unlike naan, roti is not leavened, is made from wholemeal flour, and is traditionally cooked on a flat or concave griddle called a tawa. Items like coconut or green chiles can be added to the roti dough before cooking for added flavor.
"Tortilla" is a general term used to describe a variety of flatbreads native to the Central Americas and Spain. Tortillas made in Central America are generally made with a special type of maize flour that has been dehulled and treated with an alkaline solution. They are often referred to as "corn tortillas" in the United States and may be cooked on a griddle or fried.
Flour tortillas appeared in Central America with the arrival of Spanish explorers and the wheat grain introduced by them. Wheat or "flour tortillas" are more flexible due to the wheat gluten and can be made into larger sizes.