Chapati: A snack turning into a popular meal in Dar es Salaam streets

Once a humble side dish, chapati has quickly become a popular food trend for countless people in Dar es Salaam. PHOTO I FILE

What you need to know:

  • Gone are the days when the streets were filled with the aroma of frying chips, as the scent of freshly cooked chapatis tantalises passersby.

Dar es Salaam. As the sun sets on a bustling day in Dar es Salaam, the aroma of freshly cooked chapatis fills the air, signalling the start of another evening of gastronomic delight.

Flatbread, or call it chapati, is an overlooked hero in Dar es Salaam's bustling food scene, where time is valuable and everyone is always in a rush.

Once a humble side dish, costing about Sh300, depending on the location, chapati has quickly become a popular food trend for countless individuals, evolving from a simple snack.

Gone are the days when the streets were filled with the aroma of frying chips, as the scent of freshly cooked chapatis tantalises passersby.

Whether standing at a bus stop, walking through busy streets, or shopping at nearby stores, skilled individuals, especially young men, are commonly seen rolling up their sleeves and expertly shaping dough for a pile of chapatis, ready to satisfy hungry customers.

The adaptability of chapati, along with the expertise in making it—mixing the dough, giving it a round shape, and observing as it turns golden-brown—has made the delicacy popular among both the taste buds and bellies of numerous people.

Certain individuals enjoy it alongside tasty stews and beans, while others prefer to pair it with tea or a cold soda.

Because of its popularity, this flatbread holds such high esteem that it is used as a measure for evaluating if a person’s partner is deemed to have the desirable “wife material” quality.

“While others might be busy examining character traits, I will be scrutinising the ability to cook chapatis in my future wife, because the beauty of chapatis is something I cannot put into words,” says Saidi Ibada, a resident at Tabata.

According to the locals, chapati is a tale of convenience, accessibility, and affordability, especially for singles.

"Chapati has become my ride-or-die meal," shares Baraka Khatibu, highlighting its unmatched satisfaction at a pocket-friendly price.

On the other hand, John Jackson indicates that even with just three chapatis and a side of beans, one can feel more satisfied and have a better experience than with a plate of chips.

“If you give me one plate of chips costing Sh2000, I won't feel as satisfied as with three chapatis for Sh1500, and an additional Sh500 bowl of beans,” he shares.

Makongo resident Rajabu Suleiman says he is unaware of the transition, but it just happened, and he is happy that he likes chapati. 

“I generally don't cook, but I prefer to purchase food instead. At first, I primarily ate chips, but then I unexpectedly switched to chapati. I rely on chapati as my main food, be it in the morning, afternoon, or evening. I simply switch up the accompanying dish,” he says. Rajabu likes his chapatis with beans, roasted liver, or lentils.

Conversely, Sinza resident Pascal Gibson explains how affordable the food is for single individuals.

“As a single man, I truly see this food as a way to cut costs and improve my life," he reveals.

Similarly, Yassin Kange shares that it doesn’t matter whether it’s for family or just bachelors. Everyone likes chapatis.

“A chapati meal doesn't usually involve a lot of processes. Even within the family, you can order chapatis to relieve your wife or the housemaid of cooking duties when she's tired,” he shares.

The adaptability of chapati has made the delicacy popular among many. PHOTO I FILE

The flatbread's versatility and the skill involved in its preparation have earned it a special place in the hearts of Dar es Salaam food enthusiasts.

Each chapati experience can be customised to meet individual preferences, from the portion size to the side dishes chosen. Some chefs’ craft is large, while others prefer to keep things light and snack-sized.

Kawe resident Mama Khaiya, a chef who masters the art of preparing chapati, shares that since starting the business, her life has changed.

"In 2020, when I launched this business, chapati was already in existence, but it wasn't as trendy as it is today,” she shares.

Today she sells more than 100 chapatis in a day for Sh500 each. Mama Khaiya says that the chapati trend is not a bachelor’s only thing anymore.

“Family people also order chapatis. It doesn’t matter if it's in the morning or the evening. I sell more chapatis in the evening, which is why I decided to sell my chapatis in the evenings only,” she shares. 

Nevertheless, Mama Khaiya mentions her pleasure in observing numerous young men joining the industry in significant quantities, indicating the determination and dedication of youth towards entering a highly profitable business where there is a steady demand from daily chapati consumers.

Sharing his experience, former second-hand clothes seller turned chapati seller, Jumanne Mussa reveals that the business has had a transformative impact on his life. 

Jumanne says he used to frequent a certain joint to eat chapatis during his clothes-selling trips. The woman selling chapati there was so skilled that Jumanne could not help but ask her how she made them.

“She was kind enough to teach me how to make chapatis, and eventually, I decided to gather capital and start making chapatis myself. They turned out tasty, but the challenge was in shaping them,” says the resident of Kijitonyama.

Jumanne says he started with just two kilogrammes of wheat flour, but now he can sell up to 200 chapatis, which earns him more than he used to make through his second-hand clothes business. He sells one chapati for Sh500.

“The secret of this business is cleanliness and making them delicious and soft. The profits are substantial because customers recommend each other. And, during this fasting period, I have been selling more than ever,” he shares.

Explaining why he thinks the people are more into chapatti now than any other food, Jumanne believes it’s all about the people’s liking at a particular time.

“Last year, for example, people enjoyed eating cassava more; I think this is time for chapati,” he says.

Tabata resident, Ms Rachel Daniel, shares that the chapati business is currently profitable and has the potential to change lives within a short period.

“There are times when people get tired of cooking, and the go-to option is chapati because once you've bought them, you don't need to prepare them anymore. All you have to do is serve them,” she shares.