A Stick in My Craw

Pardon for the interruption from the regular blog-a-thon, but I've got a thorn in my side that needs extracting. Or maybe it's a gallstone. Whatever it is, I've got to release the pressure.

In yesterday's blog space, I detailed my Indian bread-making adventures over the weekend, and for the most part, what I got for my efforts is a lousy t-shirt that says "Your Roti Ain't For Real." Translation: Apparently, my recipe, adapted from Indian cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey's "From Curries to Kebabs" isn't authentic enough for some readers, despite the fact that I never made such a claim.

"Those roti are nothing like the ones my mother makes. Hers are thin and papery. And definitely no yogurt," writes one reader.

"Baking soda? Yogurt? Microwave? These are not roties," declares another.

"I'm afraid these look nothing like the rotis my mother and grandmother made!!" proclaims yet another member of the so-called Authentic Roti Club. "Yours are much, much thicker, for one thing."

You're right, all of you. I'm sure these rotis are worlds apart from the roti you grew up on in India. Jaffrey herself acknowledges the adaptations, using quote marks around the word roti in the recipe name (as in, My Own Whole-Wheat "Roti"). Authenticity was not the aim of this blog post, but cross-cultural exchange of ideas and a even a wee bit of kitcheneering, yes, that was the madness behind my method.

As many of you already know, curve-ball comments from readers who like to challenge my work and express their own views is part of what makes this blog interesting and lively. Constructive criticism is an important ingredient in any kind of community forum, and I want you to continue stirring the pot and keeping me on my toes.

But the allegations in yesterday's comments area that somehow my roti aren't real enough for prime-time viewing is missing the point and the spirit of this blog called A Mighty Appetite. This is an online kitchen community, a place to share ideas, recipes, stories, cooking tips and techniques, and most of all, good will. This is not a competition or contest. A recipe is as real as the moment and the cook who has brought it to life.

Besides, who cares if my roti don't look like your momma's? Aren't you the least bit glad I touched on something other than naan, opening the window of Indian bread just a tad for some of us Westerners who don't know any better?

The most curious thing of all: None of the members of the Authentic Roti Club have yet to share a recipe to show me the errors of my ways. Why not show and teach me. As always, I'm happy to learn.

Today is chat day; Talk to me today at noon about this or any other kitchen issue on your mind.

Today's Eco-Bite: Ideal Bite is the "Daily Candy" of the green world, an e-mail subscription service that dishes up a daily dose of eco tips in your inbox. City-specific "bites" are available for Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle subscribers; the rest of us receive a generic "daily tip."


By Kim ODonnel |  April 8, 2008; 8:52 AM ET Kitchen Musings
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Comments

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Thank you, Kim, for tackling this issue. I think the commentary on this blog is, by and large, entertaining and helpful. You have done a great deal to contribute to a sense of "community," and I think many people appreciate that and try to contribute to it. But there have been a few notable instances of snappishness and sniping that I just find puzzling, to say nothing of disappointing. What value does it add to anyone's day?

From "the little people" -- thanks for all your efforts, thanks for opening our views a bit and helping all of us (well, at least most of us) think creatively and open-heartedly about food, family and culture.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 8, 2008 9:08 AM

Well said! I have made "authentic" roti with indian friends, and the dexterity (and time) to make them is not something I could ever reproduce in my home kitchen alone, simply because I don't have the time or inclination to master it -- there's just too many things I want to cook out there. So I was tickled to death to see a recipe like yours which was very do-able at home. I personally think it's a roti/chapati fusion which is fine by me :D I can make pretty authentic curries that just scream for some good indian bread -- so what if it's fusion-ish. It looks SO tasty. *adds to list*

Posted by: Valerie | April 8, 2008 9:11 AM

I just read the comments on yesterday's post, and I didn't think they were rude or overly critical at all. Also, you didn't say in the blog that Jaffrey called these "roti," in quotes -- that would have made it more clear that this was NOT an attempt to make authentic roti (or chappati, which are really the same thing). I don't blame people for pointing out that the photo did not resemble roti, since it sounded like you were trying to make an authentic roti.

Posted by: S | April 8, 2008 9:26 AM

I agree with S. I think your reaction to the comments in yesterday's post is a bit overly sensitive. I read the readers' comments as intended to be helpful and sharing about their own experiences with roti, not as condemnation of your efforts.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 8, 2008 9:54 AM

Anonymous comments posted to this blog provide some folk with a place to rant--about how they miss what their mothers made when they were kids--maybe even miss their mothers and can't tell them now. These rants are HAX material--not MA.
I am pleased that KO tries to make things from other places without the exotic, imported from there ingredients. (and I know I can't make US baked goods without US flour, so I can see how difficult it would be to make roti and chappati without local Indian flours).
Please know I value this blog and I know how difficult it is to write something every day on deadline and send it out into the ether for comment...and not know how it will be received.

Posted by: Repatriated ExPat | April 8, 2008 9:57 AM

Kim, I greatly appreciate your blog, chats and cookbook, for exactly what (I think) you hope them to be: a jumping off point. I tend to follow recipes pretty closely the first time I make a dish, but then add things, make substitutions, and tweak it to fit my tastes. It's the reason that when I make a dish of yours, and my mom makes a dish of yours, they don't taste the same.

I appreciate your insight and thoughts about food and all things surrounding it -- while each blog post may not be a new recipe, I find I learn new things and further enrich myself, which is what life is all about. I enjoy reading the comments to your blogs because, for the most part, people are helpful, and offer suggestions and answers to each other's questions. It takes more time and thought to offer a helpful suggestion than a negative criticism.

Thank you for your ideas, suggestions and cooking advice -- while I can only wish that my life could revolve around food, yours does, to all of our benefit.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 8, 2008 10:00 AM

Hi Kim,

I was one of the ones who fired off a comment on flipping the rotis too many times. I wish I could post detailed instructions, but I myself am a novice, and whenever I have a fully puffed phulka (literally roti that "blooms"), I shout with joy. My fortitude and perseverance comes from having tasted the perfect phulka and working with that memory as my goal.

I think what was disconcerting about your post, is that for those of us who know our goal, your "American roti" is not where we are headed.

Having said all of, this I can offer a few tips from my experiments:

-when you are preparing the dough to roll, press down and roll the dough into an even sized ball. While pressing down, you are creating an air pocket that will expand with steam and cause the roti to puff.

-With your rolling pin, bear down on the rolling pin more your right side than left. The roti will spin on it's own, preserving the airpocket, and saving time.

-Tofu, potato, sweet potato, or avocado kneaded into the wheat flour yields softer fluffier results with whole wheat flour available at Indian stores in the US. My friends in India buy their own wheat and have it milled to suit their preferences.

-Flip the roti, once when the top side turns dark. This means the wheat underneath has cooked.

I'm sure there are experts out there who can provide even better tips and instructions.

Also, just as a general note, roti is a generic term meaning bread. (Maybe Monica Bhide can provide a better etymology?)There is Chapathi- generally dough rolled out, folded into a triangle, and rolled out again into a circle - Phulka - daily bread that "blooms" - Parantha - means different types of roti in different parts of India, but generally, it's flaky and buttery.

check out www.nandyala.org/mahanandi, and www.aayisrecipes.com/ for detailed instructions with pictures. Hope that's better.

Posted by: lifelong | April 8, 2008 10:01 AM

Indian Roti is as easy as combining (1 tablespoon = 2 rotis) Whole Wheat Flour, salt to taste and adequate water to make a pliable dough. You can add a spritz of vegetable oil or ghee to ensure they turn out soft.

Rest the dough covered with a damp cloth for 15 minutes

Shape smaller balls from the dough

Pre-heat a tava or pan on medium heat

Roll out the roti using a rolling pin

Place on tava and cook one side until you start seeing small dark spots and then flip it

Optional step:
When both sides have sufficient spots, you can place on a open flame and let it puff up.
(This is the part which requires a little experience. You can cheat and place in the microwave for 10-15 seconds)

The last step to ensure roti's stay soft is to apply a thin coating of ghee when you get them off the flame.

Keep them in a casserole with a layer of paper towel at the bottom, as you make multiple batches so they stay warm and dry.

Posted by: Since You Asked: | April 8, 2008 10:08 AM

There is a very good, very authentic Nepali restaurant here in Madison that makes the most delicious wheat roti with, surprise surprise, yogurt in them. And they are also a little thick, like pita, and are brushed with butter or ghee before serving. They are fantastic, and I think all of the Nepali people working there know what they are doing. So despite some of the protestations from the commenters yesterday, it seems that slightly thicker roti with yogurt are entirely authentic--maybe not to India, but to Nepal. And who said there is only one way to make something? Anyway, I will try this recipe because I want to find a good approximation of that delicious roti so I can make it at home when I move away. Thank you!

Posted by: Phoebe | April 8, 2008 10:08 AM

Oh Kim! Please don't be upset. I think it was the picture confused some people. But then I saw you used white whole wheat flour, so that explained the light color. I think the texture of the bread threw some people off too... the difference between naan and roti is like the difference between San Francisco sourdough and whole wheat tortillas...and the use of those words is not really inter-changable.

Madur Jaffrey in general is not the favorite of most Indians I think...she changes too many things, and then it no longer resembles the original. But that doesn't mean it's not good.

Also all you people that said she can't use yogurt: you are wrong. Some people even use milk. They do. I have seen Biharis add dairy to their roti, so Kim is not wrong.

Kim: You are appreciated!!!!

Posted by: Oh Dear! | April 8, 2008 10:23 AM

I had the same reaction to yesterday's "your roti aren't authentic" comments but chalked it up to two things.

1) Publication on Washington Post vs a personal blog, therefore expectation of authority/expertise of a food professional vs curiosity/exploration of a home cook.

2) The Indian food blogs are full of similar catty stuff. Slights or attacks followed by indignation and hurt feelings. Catfights, completely. They can't seem to get along within their own community and only a few move outside it.

Posted by: Blog Watcher | April 8, 2008 10:26 AM

Hi Kim,

I've been reading your blogs for almost 2 years now and have successfully recreated many of your recipes, though I've to admit I've not been good about posting my feedback. But I'm delurking today to tell you 'pls don't let the comments get to you'. I made rotis this morning and was actually thinking about the not so nice comments on your blog yesterday. There are so many different kinds of rotis/paranthas out there, I doubt if anyone can claim theirs is the most authentic. As someone pointed out Madhur Jaffrey caters to the western audience and her recipes call for ingredients that are asily available in grocery stores here. I adore Jaffrey, just for the reason that she makes everything sound doable and fun!!
Get out there and give us your Chickpeas recipe, I make 3 different versions of chole, I still want to read yours!! Isn't that the fun part about cooking- experimenting, reading about others experiments, exploring and having fun along the way:-).
Oh and by the way I made your lemon cupcakes this past weekend with my almost 4 year old girl, and they were Fabulous!!
I'm making them again for her birthday next week.
Love ya...

Posted by: Gayu | April 8, 2008 11:25 AM

Wow, I'm with Kim. Waaay too much anger and frustration among the anonymous posters lurking in the blogosphere -- and don't even get me started on the tone in the political blogs elsewhere on the WaPo website. Where's the mango love, people? Keep on sharing Kim.

Posted by: glenn | April 8, 2008 11:28 AM

Dear Kim,
To quote your response back to you, "Lighten up!"
I'm one of the ones who commented yesterday, and i'll note that a number of the people who did so have provided recipes, contrary to what you said in today's post.
I'd like to point out that though it might have been clear to you that what you were presenting was not a traditional roti, that was certainly not clear from your original post which started out by saying that naan wasn't that traditional a bread, and you were going to try to make the more traditional one, roti. Given this, of course most readers would think that you were saying that you were making a traditional roti.
So, given that the point of your original post was allegedly to shed some light on real indian cuisine, was it that horrible for people to point out the traditional, most common way to make roti? And by the way, the problem with your recipe isn't that it's not like my mom's--it's that it's like no one's mom's, except maybe Ms. Jaffrey's, or apparently a nepali.
Unlike you, i don't think the comments were harsh, and i really do think your reaction to them is surprising and overly sensitive. And if they had been rough, you're a professional food writer writing for one of the top papers in the country, and you posted something that was either misleading (in its description of traditionalism) or fairly inaccurate (in its depiction of a traditional roti).

What I find rather offensive, and patronizing is your statement--"Aren't you the least bit glad I touched on something other than naan, opening the window of Indian bread just a tad for some of us Westerners who don't know any better? "
Are we south asians supposed to feel privileged or flattered that you deigned to find our food worthy of notice? Gee, thanks so much.

you say this blog is about exchange of ideas, you're happy to get constructive criticism, you like to learn, etc. but clearly you don't. What would constructive criticism have been?

Posted by: nva | April 8, 2008 11:52 AM

Kim is awesome.

Posted by: Arlington | April 8, 2008 12:58 PM

I just read your chat today, Kim, and I am really sorry but I think you are being oversensitive. Your comment about the Thais and Italians never complaining is uncalled for and rather offensive to the Indian-American community, which, as you can see from the comment above about cattiness, is definitely an object of racism in this country. A few posters who pointed out that this is not authentic roti (or anything like chappati, by the way) didn't warrant your being so offended. I only realized after reading your comments on the chat that you seem to be angry at Indians in general now, without reason!

Posted by: S | April 8, 2008 1:18 PM

First off, Kim--that was a really interesting recipe.

My mother has been working long and hard to teach me and my two sisters how to make Roti (which interestingly enough I always thought was the same thing as Chappati, go figure.) But her recipe (and mine now) is fairly simple--we just use whole wheat flower and water. Let it set and then firm it up with a tiny bit of oil.

The we roll it out and use the grill all the way through to cook. To this day though, I can't make them all the perfect size and perfect shape that she does--but the post made me feel good.

Anyway, I liked the recipe you gave, sorry that it caused so much tension.

I'd like to toss in one addendum to the poster above who talked about people not getting along within the S. Asian community.' I think its a par for the course for blogosphere. Everyone in any type of blog looses an ounce of civility when they're not speaking to someone face to face. It probably has more to do with that rather then in-fighting with the community. (Not that I've read any comments).

Posted by: PC | April 8, 2008 1:27 PM

Mmm, roti are so delicious. How can people get so angry about roti??

Kim, thanks for the variety of foods and eaters you address in your writing. I always enjoy it.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 8, 2008 1:30 PM

Hola, Kim, I was one who commented yesterday about how much I liked your recipe cause I could see from the start that things were heating up and as a fellow blogger, I empathized. One of the fantastic things about blogging *is* the community -- people you meet online who care passionately about the same things as you -- be it eco parenting, foodies, you name it. I used to be a teacher and would do what I sense you are doing now -- worrying and gnawing at the negative moments. Let it go...you clearly have a vast audience (even lurkers!) of people who love your writing and work and the ones who are snarky? It's them not you. Thank you for the yummy, thoughtful, interesting stuff you put up every single day. I for one (and it seems I am not alone) so appreciate it. Happy Tuesday!

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | April 8, 2008 1:36 PM

Personally, I love Kim's blog,online chat & recipes & helpful tips I have learned from this wonderful site. I tried to post to the chat today, & couldnt. Does anyone have a good recipe for a LIME VINAGRETTE dressing and a CONCH soup/chowder. Thank you!! Kim.... keep on blogging. You are the best: )

Posted by: EAST COAST USA | April 8, 2008 1:57 PM

This is one of the best things about our country--the incorporation and adaptation of food from everywhere. Some people are really into 'authentic' food, and will critisize pretty much every thing as not being like mom made/they ate when they were in Paris or whatever. The thing is, even if the chef from that wonderful cafe in Paris came and cooked dinner at your house, it wouldn't be the same. The ingredients are different and the environment is different. Food is a living thing that can't just be replicated. (Except at chain restaurants--haha.)

Personally, I like to judge things on their own merits--if it tastes good, that is all that matters. Maybe it's because I'm from the west coast, where restaurants don't even bother adding the fusion label and pho is a standard comfort food.

And who cares if Kim is being more sensitive than you would be. I like that this blog is written by a real person who has things that don't always work out and yes, sometimes has days where she just doesn't feel like being critisized for her efforts.

Posted by: seattlecookingmon | April 8, 2008 2:06 PM

SeattleCookingMom--

I might agree with you if not for the fact that Kim is not someone at home posting out of the goodness of her heart. People trying to help others shouldn't be subjected to undue criticism.

However, Ms. O'Donnel is a professional journalist, holds herself out as somewhat of a food expert, and writes for one of the top newspapers in the country. The standard for someone of this caliber is higher, not just "well, you get a gold star for effort."
Also, I care if she's being overly sensitive when she, because she is feeling so sensitive, negatively stereotypes an ethnic group already subject to discrimination as she did in her online chat today. Racism, or statements that feed it, are never ok. She can be offended in private all she wants, but when she crosses the line into stereotyping, or accuses readers most of whom submitted helpful non critical comments of being malicious, or makes factually incorrect statements to bolster her accusations, that's not ok, and not professional either.

Posted by: nva | April 8, 2008 2:23 PM

Ok, so I read yesterday's comments and have to say, I don't think that the tone of those pointing out that the roti they know does not in any way resemble what was described in the recipe was rude, and frankly, this new post and Kim's chat comments just come off as whiny. Actually, the comment about Thais and Italians not complaining was down right rude, implying that Indians are just overly critical. Wow. Ever think that maybe you weren't as far off in those recipes, or if you were, perhaps you more clearly explained the difference in your adaptions? Perhaps if you had posted an recipe for "carbonara" without eggs and didn't point out that they normally would be a key ingredient, you'd have had more complaints from Italians.

I know little about Indian food, and after reading the original blog post, I thought what was described would be pretty similar to roti. It simply was not clear that you were describing somthing quite different. Does a recipe need to be "authentic"? No, but if it varies quite a bit from the original, I think it's good to clearly point that out, especially if the dish is one likely unknown to many readers, and I'm grateful to those who know more about this than you do for providing good descriptions of traditional roti. I found the tips on how to cook them, like how many times to flip, very helpful.

A more professional, courteous response today would have been, "Thanks to those of you who provided more information and recipes for traditional roti. It is probably clearer now to readers that yesterday's recipe is a different take on an old favorite, but I hope it is one that you will enjoy." Far better than the defensive, insulting tone you took today.

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 8, 2008 2:28 PM

And by the way, let's look again at the full post that you drew from above:

"I'm afraid these look nothing like the rotis my mother and grandmother made!! Yours are much, much thicker, for one thing.

But that's OK -- probably just regional differences between Jaffrey's Kashmiri-Delhi family and mine, from other parts of North India. I know rotis made in the US were never the same as those in India, because of the differences in the flour. They were also cooked over open flame after initial cooking on the tava."

Doesn't sound so harsh when you look at the full comment, does it? The second part reads as quite understanding and accomodating of differences, and even includes info on why preparation often differs in the U.S. Kim's response? "Lighten up!" Way to encourage good, informative conversation here.

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 8, 2008 2:43 PM

Wow. Looks like the blog watcher who referred to the Indian food blogs was right--lotsa snippiness to be had, and now it's on not one of Kim's entries here, but two.

I think you're doing great, Kim, and I wouldn't change a thing. Anywhere. ;-)

Posted by: Heather | April 8, 2008 2:54 PM

Nobody is quibbling about whether it is OK to make a non-authentic roti -- I think the comments yesterday were based on the implication that the resulting product was a roti (or a roti/chappati hybrid, which is an odd statement because roti and chappati are pretty much interchangeable terms for the same thing). I think the bread looks tasty, but it's not roti -- now perhaps it is "roti," and it's fine to call it that, but it was very unclear from the blog yesterday that this was not intended to be the real Indian roti. I don't see the problem with people pointing that out -- frankly, I would have thought people would appreciate it!!

Posted by: S | April 8, 2008 3:17 PM

Wow, I don't know much about rotis but , get some criticism about a recipe and already people are ready to label the Indian community as catty and not able to get along with anyone else! Who's overeacting and being catty I wonder? As a poster pointed out this is supposed to be a pro who is posting in a national newspaper and she can't take some of the rather mild criticism out there? The comment about Thais and Italians and Indians is downright rude and prejudicial and uncalled for. Are we only supposed to respond to this column with praise? Ridiculous!

Posted by: fromNY | April 8, 2008 4:06 PM

Kim - I am but a casual reader of your columns, don't do much original cooking myself. However, after reading yesterday's comments and some of today's comments, if I had been you, I too would have felt the sting. Amazing how snippy people can be - bet they are a real joy to be around in person too. Just keep doing your thing Kim, because there's a lot of people out there that enjoy your columns.

Posted by: WI | April 8, 2008 4:08 PM

i do believe that kim was WAY too sensitive in her comments on yesterday's posts. there was just no attitude, but discourse, which is the whole purpose of blog comments. I mean it is food we're talking about and it is emotional. I still fondly think of my mom's worst experiments-even if i didn't like it!!!
Besides Kim being too sensitive in one day's post, the carry over to today's chat was very unprofessional and unfortunate.
Let's stay positive, professional and avoid the catty-ness there is enough of that at work, do we really need it during our leisure time?

Posted by: bethesda, md | April 8, 2008 4:56 PM

Aw, big hug, Kim. Don't let the haters getcha down.

Posted by: Sass in Arlington | April 8, 2008 5:31 PM

I still love you Kim!

I had no illusions that your "roti" was meant to be like Mom's. :)

I also think everyone needs to put down the laptop and back away slowly...too many people taking too much offense today!

Posted by: Dawn | April 8, 2008 6:13 PM

Kim, you are right to have put this on the table.

This morning, as I read your Roti post and the comment thread, I wondered if those folks had read a different post than I. By no means did you put the recipe forth as definitive. In fact, you said just the opposite.

My issue is not so much with what many of the commenters said, but how they said it.

Put in a more genteel manner, those comments could have been the basis of a great discussion (as you point out above). As they were, they put a sour taste in my mouth.

Keep doing what you do. You're great at it!

Posted by: Rose | April 8, 2008 8:09 PM

I posted this on yesterday's post, but in case you won't see it:

Kim, I think it's wonderful that you're trying to introduce Indian-inspired food to the masses. Please keep it up. But I think a few well-placed qualifiers about the "authenticity" or not of a recipe may save your hide from the purists next time -- as you know by now, people do get a bit resentful when they feel "their" food is being misrepresented, even if done with the best of intentions.

(I was just in Germany, where one of my colleagues insisted on going to a local "Mexican" place out of curiosity for dinner one night. Dreadful, dreadful food! Steamed vegetables and chicken in thin flour wrappers, drenched in white bland cream sauce, with a sprinkling of paprika over top, and called enchiladas! Forget for the moment whether it was even authentic. It was just tasteless.)

Anyway, I'm of south Indian origin and we never really ate roti/naan much at all while I was growing up (in the US). Lots of rice, dosa, idli. Quite different from the north, where the breads are more common.

As I said in the previous post I always suggest http://www.bawarchi.com as a website with lots of recipes contributed by Indians.

I believe in deliciousness, not strict authenticity. I was born and raised in America and I enjoy curries eaten with tortilla chips. But I understand that a lot of people, yes, even those quiet-and-inoffensive-and-grateful Thais and Italians, can be deeply bothered when something very close to their hearts is altered, perhaps beyond recognition, and presented as authentic.

I mean, Kim, just look at the efforts of the Japanese to have restaurants around the world certified as "truly Japanese" or not! While I think it's overkill, I understand their motives. We Americans have warped Japanese cuisine beyond recognition. Our Japanese-American food is still delicious, as anyone who has had maki (sushi rolls) containing avocado can tell you. But it has left many of us Americans with the wrong impression that Japanese actually eat tons of sushi rolls containing chili sauce, mayonnaise, avocado, and fake crab. And this is certainly not true.

All "foreign" foods in this country must go through a maturation phase. Italian, Chinese, and Mexican were our earliest common ones and as such we are only now starting to get the authentic versions (or "authentic-inspired") at some restaurants. (I note this is easier for Italian and more difficult for Chinese, where it's still not uncommon to give Chinese one menu and non-Chinese a different one, or to discourage non-Chinese from trying "real Chinese" food, as happened to me not too long ago.)

The solution is pretty easy: if authenticity is doubtful, just tack on the qualifier "-inspired" and everyone is happy. :)

I look forward to seeing your recipe for chickpea curry ("chole") later this week. I'm sure it will be delicious, whether or not it is just like mom's chole. ;)

And I tell you, I would love to see you cover some non-north, Indian food in the future. Maybe a nice coconut chutney or a Kerala-style fish or shrimp curry to get things going?

Posted by: venkat | April 8, 2008 8:15 PM

Blog Watcher: Please don't say "they" when referring to people of another race.

Need I explain why? Thanks in advance.

Posted by: Madrasy | April 9, 2008 10:04 AM

Wow. A bunch of thoughts on this, in chronological order:

1) When I read Kim's original post and saw the picture, I thought, "That is not roti! It's like an inch or inch and a half thick! In fact it looks like a dark naan and I thought she said she wasn't making naan." I didn't fixate too much on the yogurt or ingredients not being authentic. I just thought that the picture did not look remotely like roti.

2) I didn't read the comments to the original post and still haven't.

3) Then I read Kim's second post. I'm of Indian heritage and totally understand where she is coming from and I would be irritated too if I was ever subjected to criticism that my rendition of a dish was not the same as their mom's!

Unfortunately though, I think maybe the tenor of those comments made it difficult to appreciate the main point that the pictur of what she made doesn't look remotely like roti. It looks way thicker.

Normally I don't know that people would make an issue of it except that Kim's original post did make a big deal of pointing out the differences between naan vs roti, leavened vs unleavened bread. So then to see a picture of something puffy, instead of a standard roti was disconcerting.

I think "Oh Dear's" comment really hit the nail on the head, with the comparison of a tortilla vs sourdough bread:

"Oh Kim! Please don't be upset. I think it was the picture confused some people. But then I saw you used white whole wheat flour, so that explained the light color. I think the texture of the bread threw some people off too... the difference between naan and roti is like the difference between San Francisco sourdough and whole wheat tortillas...and the use of those words is not really inter-changable."

4) Finally, I will say that it's unfortunate that the tone of both the commenters and Kim has gotten to the point it has. I've been reading Kim's blog since she started it and know that no harm was meant by it...but I too did a massive double-take at the "Thais and Italians" don't complain and Kim's comment about taking heart in the fact that Westerners were now being exposed to more than just naan. That is both unfair and condescending.

Posted by: ss | April 9, 2008 10:04 AM

Kim: I think people just have come to have very high expectations from you, because you really are so great! I would expect something like this from Rachel Ray and would not say a word. I don't have high expectations of her at all. =) But you have such a good history that people just demand more.

The photos of your roti really looked liked naan...I'm sorry to say that. So why does it matter? Because your intro about how you always wanted to make roti, and how excited you were, etc. A google search of roti will pull up about a 100 semi-similar recipes...none of which resemble Jaffery's. As many people have said: mix flour, oil, water (or milk) and let rest. Roll out like a tortilla and cook in skillet. The end.

Naan is complicated and I could understand your needing baking soda, etc. Combining all of these ingredients for roti and naan together and using a microwave to create a hybrid... I don't know if you understand how ridiculous it is.

This is a new food item that doesn't exist anywhere in the world outside of one Madhur Jaffrey cookbook.

This isn't really about being authentic. This is about being completely off base. You'll hear from the Thais and Italians when you suggest scrambled eggs in the carbonara or spaghetti for Lad Na!!

Actually there are plenty of people to speak for Thais and Italians. Indian cooking on the other hand is a complete unknown for most people, hence the only people to speak up are the Indians.

Posted by: Madrasy | April 9, 2008 10:34 AM

I read the original post and enjoyed it. In truth, I'd love to get into making a few Indian breads. I'm sure a Bhel Puri is out of my league, but it would be fun to try.

I too have adapted and changed Indian cuisine. My wife, ages ago, commented that she liked saag paneer (readying myself for flames). The closest recipe in my cookbook (Art of Indian Cooking) called for a combination of methi leaves and spinach. I doubled the spinach, cut the red pepper a bit, and produced something I'd put on a restaurant menu. Even if it doesn't meet the authenticity test.

I think asofoetida is the secret ingredient that makes it so good. It smells awful, but adds something special.

Virtually every recipe calls for a large amount of ghee. I generally clarify the butter myself, cut 50/50 with vegetable oil, and use half the amount specified. I never miss the additional fat.

nva - I think you're a bit out of line. Kim didn't cross the line into stereotyping. The point is that the blog post encouraged readers to do something than pick up a jar of Indian sauce and a package of naans. You're attacking a straw man.

At the time I read the posts, there were many "That's not roti!" posts and only one very basic guide to making them. Kim has earned the right to occasionally vent. I don't think the same goes for you.

BB

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | April 9, 2008 1:12 PM

I think Kim owes the Indian community an apology for the statement on the chat referring to the non-complaining Thais and Italians (compared to the complaining Indians!).

I have been reading this blog since it started, and I also read Kim's other blogs. In light of that statement, and to a lesser extent the derogatory reference to the "Authentic Roti Club," and Kim's absolute silence thus far in terms of acknowledging the error of those statements, I will no longer be reading her blogs.

Posted by: up | April 9, 2008 4:34 PM

good lord, the indian readers who are offended about this, get over it! Kim has posted Chinese and Vietnamese recipes that certainly didn't emulate exactly what my mother and relatives made for me as a child, and I didn't whine about it being inauthentic. Oftentimes she gives a fresh perspective on ingredients and different ways of making things, which i greatly appreciate. Nor did she say she was making a perfect roti recipe. You all do realize that every family has a different way of making a particular dish from their culture?? I doubt every Indian family that made roti made them all the exact same way. And I agree that it was good of her to write about something other than naan, which is all a lot of people know of Indian breads.

Posted by: h | April 9, 2008 5:02 PM

h, I don't believe any Indians who posted here were offended by the recipe -- just thought it should be clarified a bit. Some people did put in their 2 cents on what they think makes a good roti. Isn't that part of the purpose of the comment function? If not, why blog? Just write a static column. In my opinion, those comments were helpful, not rude. At most, they were constructive criticism -- commenters made a lot of good points!

What has offended people is Kim's shrill response, and I am really surprised that Kim hasn't apologized for her overeaction to and mischaracterization of some comments (see my post above) or at least for her insensitive remarks in the chat implying that Indian readers are overly critical. Honestly, I'm bothered enough by her unprofessional behavior and lack of apology the day after, that I'll be skipping her blogs and chats from now on. She read a lot of negativity into readers' comments that just wasn't apparent and then responded childishly, using an interesting conversation as a jumping off point for a condescending, insulting rant. Very bad.

Posted by: silver spring | April 9, 2008 6:09 PM

I think both of silver spring's comments were dead on, and like up, silver spring, and others, I will no longer be reading this blog or O'Donnel's online chat.

The only other thing i have to add is to reccomend that up and silver spring contact the appropriate people at the Post-be they the online editors or food editors or whoever the appropriate people are, and let them know how you feel.

I have always had a great deal of respect for the Post (daily and weekend subscriber for 10 years!), and I would like to think that if they realized how hurtful and unprofessional O'Donnel's remarks were, they would address them, but they can't do anything unless they're notified that there's a problem.

Posted by: nva | April 9, 2008 6:25 PM

nva - You're probably gone, but I believe you are conflating a natural reaction into some kind of bias. The comment Kim made in the online chat was not that Indians are touchy. Rather, that she has posted "inauthentic" recipes from other cuisines in the past, and not received nearly the degree of opprobrium.

Who knew that roti was the third rail of Indian cuisine? Yes, I know that India has rich and varied regional cuisines. I had the opportunity to visit Mumbai for a conference and am still bitter that my supervisor denied the opportunity. Once the opportunity arises, I plan to visit and enjoy the glorious food there. Heck, when asked my favorite rice (in Japan, which takes its rice VERY seriously), I cited India.

Silver Spring - You throw around the word unprofessional easily. Kim received an undue amount of criticism for her column. Now, the reaction is how DARE you be upset. My reading is that you feel a blog writer should take whatever junk you throw her way. Are you that way off-line? Or do you leaven your criticism with a bit of understanding.

Here's what I feel to be a proper and polite response. Nice column, but it's not an authentic roti. Here's how you can make it. End of story.

BB

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | April 9, 2008 8:41 PM

Frankly, I'm shocked at the comments that Kim has received over her "roti" recipe. Kim has never claimed that all of her French inspired recipes are 100% authentic or her Vietnamese recipes are 100% authentic, she only tries to provide recipes that her readers (most of which are non-Indians) can try and copy at home. She has tried to expand the food repertoire of her readers to include Indian food that most of us aren't familiar with using ingredients that are easily available and cooking methods that aren't intimidating to cooks trying their first attempt at Indian cuisine. Please don't lash out at her just because her recipe isn't as good as your family's recipe that has been handed down for generations.

For those who don't like that Kim spoke up against the complainers, I hope that they remember that Kim has taken a lot of criticism over the years but the post on Roti received a disproportionate amount of negative criticism. She has always been gracious and encouraging when readers have offered alternative recipes, methods, or suggestions, but much of the Roti criticism had very little in the way of substance for her to use to improve.

Keep up the good work Kim!

Posted by: Centreville | April 10, 2008 11:24 AM

I agree with nva and silver spring. It wasn't the recipe or the desciption that was the problem, it was Kim's response. I'll be honest, I was offended by the Italian/Thai comment, and I'm not part of any of the ethnic groups involved. There was no reason to look down at the readers, who, as far as I could see in the original post, were just giving their opinion with some additional recipes. Not really a big deal.

I'm not sure that such a strong response as complaining to management is necessary. But I also agree that all of this would never have inflated to this level if Kim had simply apologized for the inappropriate comment.

Posted by: new york | April 10, 2008 11:31 AM

And so this discussion goes on without resolution! I think even if Kim were to address her critics or apologize, many would support her and many would say too little too late. It's amazing how the blogosphere takes on this viral quality and people become entrenched in their positions giving little to no quarter to another's point of view! Reminds me of Barack Obama and Rev. Wright but let's not digress down that path!

Personally I didn't read the initial "your roti is not authentic" as snippy but completely within the spirit of this blog. Down the line some of the posters did start sniping at each other more than at Kim. The comments reminded me of some comments on an Epicurious recipe for Ropa Vieja, which I made to great success once. Many of the non-Cubans who tried the dish spiced it up with jalapenos or hot sauce or red pepper, which wasn't part of the recipe, but they just made it according to their taste. I couldn't believe how many comments took others to task for using hot peppers to make the recipe more "Mexican" than Cuban. And apparently Ropa Vieja is often finished with a cup or so of frozen peas but not having the peas on hand I had the temerity to use a veggie combo of peas, carrots and green beans which totally grossed out one poster.

Certainly posting comments to review someone's recipe is very different from commenting in a blog space where there's a real community of posters (and lurkers) who enjoy using the space to spend time with like-minded folks. And I think it's great to learn about "authentic" recipes, ingredients, and techniques from Kim and each other. Kim deserves major kudos for making this blog and her chats a destination that I look forward to participating in every week. I would just hope that we could all give each other the benefit of the doubt rather than presume that someone's intent was malicious or whiny or unjustified and that goes for all sides!

I for one hope to move on and look forward to reading and sharing with Kim and others.

Posted by: Sean | April 10, 2008 3:58 PM

Obviously, a roti is not a roti is not a roti. I live in Denmark, land of meat balls, pig, pølser (hotdogs) & new cooking, but I grew up in Trinidad, Trinidad & Tobago, and was born eating roti. Dalpouri; and sada roti; and busupshut; and plain, see-thru roti. In fact, Trinidad is the Land of Roti, Trinidad, where it is the competing national dish. All kinds of fillings for the roti: bodi (long green peas), chana (chick peas), chicken, beef, pumpkin, ... anything to yr liking: and, in Trinidad, pepper heightens the taste & excitement of the roti, and makes it aphrodisiac: nothing like roti to sharpen the appetite for romance; or to cool the heat after the going & coming (up for air): now, u need a tawa, t-a-w-a, flat baking iron,for the roti; and there's nothing like making roti over a coal fire; but, essentially, fire is fire; what matters is the skill of making the roti, and making sure the result is not bake or bread: altho sada roti is very bread/bake like; and the think about roti, u have to use yr hands: no knife & fork etiquette: I don't think Ive said a thing. If u want to taste the best roti in the world, go to Trinidad, land of hummingbirds, too; and wash down a hot roti with the fresh water of a baby coconut; and, then, have one on me.

Posted by: LENNOX RAPHAEL, Copenhagen, Denmark | April 11, 2008 9:11 AM

Actually, with the amount of kvetching that has been accompanying every blog entry and recipe recently, I'm surprised Kim even has the energy/interest to continue. Everyone wants to substitute every single ingredient in the recipe and wants personalized instructions from Kim on how to do so. The agave nectar in the vegan cupcakes is too expensive so why did she use it (plus it may not have the low glycemic value it is touted to have, which is probably Kim's fault, too)? What are the nutritional values of every single recipe? How can every recipe be modified for high altitudes? Is there a vegan alternative for the brisket recipe? Can Kim provide a recipe RIGHT NOW for a dinner party tonite for guests including vegans, kosher Jews, and someone w/ celiac disease? Where is that recipe for fig sorbet that Kim mentioned two days ago and we'll all just die if we don't make immediately?

Less hate in the haven, please. Maybe everyone needs to step back, take a deep breath, regain some perspective, and start anew. Apologies and forgiveness all around? And let's get back to recipes, cooking, and friendship? (And quit ganging up on Kim.)

Posted by: alexandria | April 11, 2008 6:02 PM

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