Making a roti is so simple, it's complicated. On paper, the steps to create this Indian flatbread seem easy: You combine flour, water and oil, roll out flat discs of the dough and cook them briefly over direct heat. In reality, it takes years of practice, patience and guidance to make perfect batches of this unleavened bread.
Enter the Rotimatic, a $1,000 countertop machine, available in the US and Singapore, that automates roti making. You add flour, water and oil to the machine, and it churns out a roti in about two and a half minutes.
The Rotimatic lives up to its promise to make roti easy, but it has too many problems for an appliance that will set you back a grand. It's a big, bulky machine that takes up a lot of counter space. It doesn't do anything with the built-in Wi-Fi -- it's just sitting there waiting for the manufacturers to beef up the corresponding app into something worthwhile. And the texture and thickness of the Rotimatic's roti pale in comparison to homemade versions of the flatbread.
If roti is a staple of your diet, skip the Rotimatic. Spring for some frozen roti if you're short on time and money.
As I mentioned earlier, roti is a type of unleavened flatbread made of flour and water (oil is optional, depending on who you talk to) that's eaten alongside a main dish. Variations of the bread (sometimes referred to by other names such as "chapati,") are found in India, Southeast Asia and the West Indies.
To learn more about roti, I talked to Floyd Cardoz, the chef/owner of Paowalla, an Indian restaurant in New York City, and culinary director of The Bombay Canteen, an Indian café and bar in Mumbai. Carboz, who also won the third season of Top Chef Masters, said the perfect roti should be made of whole-wheat flour. It should also be "round, soft, light, delicate enough to tear, but not have enough fat in it that it breaks." A good roti should also puff up as it cooks, Carboz said. However, roti preferences can vary depending on the region you're in.
A Singapore-based company called Zimplistic began taking orders for the Rotimatic in 2014. According to the company, Zimplistic has received more than $115 million worth of preorders. It started to ship out Rotimatics earlier this year (right now, it's only available in the US and Singapore).
Rotimatic is what happens when you take the concept of a bread machine and apply it to flatbread. Here's how it works:
If this is your first roti of the day, it will take between seven and eight minutes for the Rotimatic to warm up. When it's ready, the machine dispenses enough flour, water and oil for one roti. It kneads the ingredients together until it forms a ball of dough. An arm pushes the dough over to the left side of the Rotimatic where it flattens the ball. The bottom cook then bakes it into a warm disc of flatbread (the Rotimatic begins making another roti during this time). The whole process takes an average of about two and a half minutes for each roti.
Consistency is the best part of the Rotimatic. No matter what setting or flour you decide to use, each roti in a batch looks identical to one another. Second best part of the Rotimatic: The only labor required on your part is to keep the ingredient containers filled, and the machine rewards you with perfect circles of steaming-hot flatbread.
But there is a lot not to like about the Rotimatic. The unit itself is loud. It sounds like a robot vacuum that mated with a blender. The Rotimatic is nearly 45 pounds (20 kilograms) and about 16x16x18 inches (or 40x40x45 centimeters), so the machine will take up a lot of space in your kitchen.
In terms of roti quality, the roti came out with a crisp outer layer and a more doughy inner layer on every thickness setting. That can be too dense for some folks who are used to thinner, more delicate roti. And the containers that hold the ingredients need to be bigger to accommodate the maximum batch size -- I had to refill the flour container twice and the water container once while the Rotimatic made a batch of 20 roti.
I wouldn't knock the small containers as much if the Wi-Fi-connected Rotimatic could send an alert to my phone when the ingredients were low. But right now, alerts from the Rotimatic app are nonexistent. The only content on the app is an option to chat with customer service and a selection of videos that show you how to disassemble and clean different parts of the Rotimatic. Zimplistic said it will update the Rotimatic app so you can control the appliance remotely and make different types of flatbread like tortillas. I hope that notifications are a part of the upgrade.
Yes, it's neat to have fresh flatbread without having to do more than fill ingredient containers. But the Rotimatic is expensive and cumbersome, and its roti will not satisfy those who are used to the thinner, homemade variety. Roti can take up a large chunk of your meal prep time, but don't throw away $1,000 for a machine that's just so-so.