Roti Shapes and the Brain

So the question asked is this “Do round rotis taste better than non-round ones?”.

And that is an interesting, very interesting, question. It brings to the fore many concepts that we possibly take for granted, but perhaps should review more often. So let’s take a look at the question and break it down.

First, we consider the definition of “roti”. Does this includeΒ  chapatis, parathas ( including paranthas and paronthis ), naans and kulchas? What about puris and luchis? ( Bongs don’t differentiate between the two, but there is a difference. Trust me, I’m a Punjabi … ) What about double-roti (pau-roti, if Bong)? Double roti aka bread has many sub-varieties, which for your sake I shall not get into. You’re welcome.

Second, why are rotis round? Is a round shape mandated by some decree or law? I don’t think so. Or is it merely a physical limitation imposed on the roti by the act of rolling it out? Possibly, this is true, if you are an experienced roti roller-outer. However, if you’ve never rolled out a roti before, chances are you’re more likely to end with a non-round roti. If you do get the mix of dusted flour, kneaded atta and the right aerobic method going in your arms, you are more likely than not going to produce a round roti. In other words, expert roti rollers almost always end up with round rotis.

Next, we consider the possible shape varieties. These fall into 3 main varieties, as follows:

  1. Map of India or polygonal
  2. Square ( 4 sided )
  3. Triangle( 3-sided )

For simplicity’s sake we shall ignore rectangles ( which we club into “square” ) and sub-varieties of triangles, such right-angled triangles, isosceles, equilateral, scalene, oblique or obtuse. No, I’m not calling you names, there is such a thing as an obtuse triangle, trust me, I’m a Punjabi….

It is very likely that the square and the triangle are deliberate and consciously produced shapes. Paronthis are usually triangular as opposed to paronthas which are more likely to be round or square. If we discount, then, the square and triangles forms, we’re left with the shapeless roti. Or rather the polygonal roti aka map-of-India roti.

Now consider the emotional and psychological impact of a deliberate shape versus an indeterminate shape. Since the human brain likes order and brings what it thinks is order to everything, it is more likely to trigger a positive response when it sees a strongly determined shape and rejects the shapeless roti.

Chefs have told us for years that the look and feel of the food is as important, if not more important, than the taste of the food. I can vouch for that. You won’t be getting me to eat an oyster any time soon. Or octopus, which reminds me of 8 varieties of pus.

This is more than likely to bring us to the conclusion that the positive impact of the strongly defined shape will make us believe that the round roti tastes better. In reality, though, it is more than likely a question of trust. We trust the cook who can produce a deliberate shape and we mistrust the one who can’t. We believe the good cook’s food will taste better and the rotten cook’s will not. The human brain is a crazy place and we don’t fully understand it. Hell, I do have a brain, at least that’s what I’m told I’m supposed to have in the cranial cavity encapsulated between my ears on the East/West axis and eyes / occiput on a North/South axis, and I don’t even understand that. ( Yes, that’s how the spell “back of the head”, it is pronounced “oxyput”, trust me, I’m a Punjabi… )

Having said all that, what have we proved? Let us recap:

Q: Do round rotis taste better than non-round rotis?

The verdict isn’t so simple.

If we accept the rigmarole about the brain as true, then a roti of a strongly defined, deliberately derived shape will taste better. Or rather, we believe it tastes better, because we believe the cook is a well-seasoned cook and we expect his/her output will be well-seasoned too. Our brain, taking giant leaps of faith, tells us “this is good!” and we say out loud “These are lovely rotis, so fresh and round, what is your secret?” and the cook blushes prettily, humms and haws and refuses to divulge the real secret. Which, as we have just gathered, is all in your own head and has very little to do with the cook’s expertise.

Seeing the question as it is framed, therefore, it would appear that round rotis do not taste better than non-round rotis, since triangles and squares are non-round, but deliberately made that way and thus, are likely to taste on par with round rotis.

If we do not believe the theory that a deliberate shape equals culinary expertise equals tastier food then then round rotis, triangles and squares are likely to taste just as good as polygonal rotis.

Defining test: Blindfold, cut rotis into pieces so original shape cannot be identified. Ask eater to state which tastes better. Couldn’t be simpler if you really wanted to know.

How silly is this question, really?

No sillier than this blog post. They don’t get sillier than this, trust me, I’m a <ducks, weaves and leaves>

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This Post Has 39 Comments

  1. Uday

    Haha! Great post! I can make round rotis but only if I really try very hard and use my complete sense of geometry and symmetry! πŸ˜› But most of the times, who gives a damn! If it’s rolled out and cooked, it’s just as good!

    1. TheLastWord

      It’s all in the wrists and elbows, I’m told… and the brain, of course. πŸ™‚ Thanks for dropping by!

  2. ladyofthecakes

    I love octopus… maybe we could wrap one in an octagonal roti???

    1. TheLastWord

      Maybe if I can’t see it and it comes with spicy okra on the side…

        1. TheLastWord

          I will need a blindfold too, I think. And no one yell “octopus!!”

  3. Rooh M

    How about round Idly πŸ˜›

    1. TheLastWord

      Now that requires a completely different discussion. πŸ™‚

  4. NancyTex

    Roti: get in my belly! (Regardless of your shape)

    1. TheLastWord

      So you’re not buying into that brainy malarkey then? πŸ™‚

      1. NancyTex

        I’m an equal opportunity roti eater.

  5. sonnell

    In my entire life I’ve only had one roti. I think it was round, because I didn’t know it came any other way. Thanks for the education! I just didn’t know enough to ask a Punjabi, and if I had, I probably wouldn’t have listened to his convoluted thinking as I would be starving.

    1. TheLastWord

      Hahaha ! This was just a fun way to play around with words, Ellen!

      1. sonnell

        I knew that!!! I enjoyed it even though you totally lost me!

  6. Sonia Lal

    Very silly! But round ones look better.

    1. TheLastWord

      And looks are everything in today’s world!!

      It is silly, very silly! πŸ™‚

  7. marriagebooklin

    I had read of a tribe in Africa which eats fruit closing their eyes and getting the feel of the fruit on the head, cheeks , and body slowly and then slowly consuming it. It sure tastes better. I have tried the fruit. You can try the roti similarly. Though my take is it’s really more psychological because I do remember an incidence where a person is eating the tasty food in restaurant and enjoying the delicious meal snd starts vomiting the moment he sees a fried cockroach in it.
    Enjoyed the marvelous read.

    1. TheLastWord

      yup – we eat with our eyes, apprently! Thanks

  8. Rachna

    hehehe I guess we are all morons and the world is round.

    1. TheLastWord

      Oh no, we all have brains.. it’s just that the brain likes order, but like Clippy, the Microsoft “helper”, it gets in our way… πŸ™‚ thanks for coming by!

  9. Ankit

    It reminded me of the time when i was a small kid. My mum used to make me rotis of various shapes like square, triangle, semicircle, rectangle etc. πŸ˜‰

    1. TheLastWord

      Aha! And it didn’t bother your taste, did it? Proves my theory, then! It’s all in the head!

  10. Ankit

    As a kid i was delighted to eat something not everyone ate…. πŸ™‚

    1. TheLastWord

      yes – you were special. I know the feeling. I get it when I visit someone for a meal and get served okra / bhindi. πŸ™‚

  11. Ankit

    hehehe πŸ˜›

  12. pixie

    Thank you for the much needed laughter! I was so annoyed!! πŸ˜€
    I’ve linked you up to my post as well! πŸ˜€

    Octopus – eight types of pus. Really?! πŸ˜› I will never look at another Octopus in the same light again. Not that I would eat it. looking itself will remind me of pus. *shudder*

    1. TheLastWord

      It’s the suckers that get me and the rubbery texture. Oysters look like snot and My Beloved Bangalan ( who has tried them ) says they do taste like snot. The question how well does she remember the taste of snot? And what am i not being told?

      1. pixie

        You do make a valid point. Oysters do look like snot, don’t they?!
        I’m glad that I will never get the urge to taste such food. πŸ˜›

        1. TheLastWord

          I generally stay away from most seafood. I do have shrimp, salmon and the Bong fish in Calcutta, but I’m not crazy about fish of any kind. I can easily do without..