The cuisine of the Indian sub-continent consists of a wide variety of unleavened flatbreads and the Thepla is one of them. Theplas are thin flatbreads from the western Indian state of Gujarat which is famous for its vegetarian food. I have never been to Gujarat and it has long been a dream of mine to travel through Gujarat and sample the local fare!
Though I’ve not been to Gujarat I have eaten a lot of good home cooked Gujarati food in my time. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a very good friend when at University who is Gujarati. I used live in the student accommodation on campus and let’s just say I was lucky in two ways being a vegetarian in a predominantly non-vegetarian country where vegetarianism was something most people weren’t aware of.
One was that my parents lived pretty close by and I used make it home most weekends.
The other was that my friend’s father taught at the University and they lived in faculty accommodation on campus. That meant that her home was walking distance from my hostel and you would find me there often feasting on the Gujarati food cooked her mother made. She was an excellent cook, by the way.
Getting back to Theplas, this flatbread is one of my favourites. Gujrathis traditionally like to carry their food with them while setting out on journeys which is not a bad thing at all considering that a large percentage of them are pure vegetarians and some of them do not even eat onions or garlic. By carrying their food with them, they’re always prepared in a situation where food they eat is otherwise not available.
Traditionally, the Thepla is also an extremely popular travel food item and not just because it tastes so good, but because it keeps well for a couple of days easily. I have plenty of memories of travelling both by train and plane, and having fellow Gujarati travellers opening their bags at meal times, digging out a variety of food and being very generous at sharing it with their fellow passengers.
Theplas can be made plain or with flavour additions. Plain Theplas or “Sada” Theplas are the most basic kind of Theplas and are usually made using only whole wheat flour, a little yogurt and flavoured with a little salt, turmeric powder, asafetida and chilli powder. The variations in Theplas come from the addition of spices like cumin or garam masala, or vegetables like bottle gourd (lauki) or grated carrot or Daikon radish (mooli), fenugreek greens (methi) or coriander leaves (dhania), etc. Theplas are cooked on high heat with a little bit of oil, so they’re cooked quickly but remain soft without becoming crisp.
I personally love the taste of chickpea flour (known as “besan” in Hindi) and so tend to add a little bit of it to the wheat flour when I make my Theplas with it. Fresh fenugreek greens/ leaves are available in India aplenty so I make my Theplas with them more often than with any other vegetable.
Hot Theplas, fresh off the griddle served wih Chundo/ Chunda (a spicy and sweet mango pickle), Kachumber (a simple salad) and some yogurt makes for a simple, satisfying and complete meal. It’s such a versatile dish that on a regular day it can be served for breakfast, eaten as a snack or be packed for lunch with lentils and vegetables on the side.