LIFE BY LOUIS: No Christmas without chapati!

Friday December 22 2017

As you went around homesteads asking for a frying pan, you would be given one chapati to tone down the nagging sounds from your rumbling belly.

As you went around homesteads asking for a frying pan, you would be given one chapati to tone down the nagging sounds from your rumbling belly.  ILLUSTRATION | IGAH

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Christmas no longer comes once in a year. We make chapatis at home regularly and eat them with either tea or beans.

Your local mama mboga probably also makes chapatis by the roadside and stores them in a big yellow bucket to be retrieved when customers pass by. Even major supermarkets are selling chapatis these days.

But when I was growing up, these were a delicacy only associated with Christmas Day. You would be extremely lucky to come across them any other time of the year.


Unlike today's chapatis that are symmetrical and as thin as photocopy paper, the chapatis of my days were thick, heavy and seldom circular in shape.

Advance preparations were always intense; demand for wheat flour would spike in the wake of the Christmas festivities. Sometimes that meant our parents had to walk miles to the nearest shopping centre for adequate supplies.

Shops would be so overwhelmed that they would limit the number of packets per household to just one or two. This was tricky because there would be a whole clan to be fed and you had to factor in the fact that each child was expected to eat no less than five chapatis for the full impact of the festivities.

Christmas day was special; chapatis were not just fried using any cooking fat. A certain brand called Cowboy in a yellow tin was the favourite, and it was believed to make the rounded delicacies so soft that you could could peel off layer after layer from one piece.

To avoid the inconvenience of going without these major ingredients, which would have been unforgivable, households stocked them well in advance. Luckily for us, the end of year tea farmers' bonus was paid just a month before Christmas. Parents would take advantage of this monetary boom to stock supplies.

The food supplies would be locked in an inner room, mostly the parents' bedroom, and no amount of starvation would make them retrieve the flour and cooking fat from safekeeping until Christmas eve.

They would also buy new clothes and shoes for everyone in the family, sometimes made from the same material such that you resembled a choir in uniform. They would not be worn until church time on Christmas Day.

Sometimes in a strange twist of fate, the new shoes that seemed to fit well when they came from the shop would suddenly be a size smaller. This would mean wearing new clothes but diluting the effect them with an old pair of shoes. You also had the option of borrowing a pair from your visiting cousins, but it was highly likely to be three sizes bigger. You would have to drag your feet the whole day and walk like a tired duck.


The whole village prided itself with no more than three frying pans that were freely shared across all the homesteads. This meant that each homestead had to synchronise their chapati-making activity. Subject to the law of demand and supply, some homesteads would be forced to make their chapatis on Christmas eve because that was the only slot available.

In this case, the chapatis would also be stored in the confines of the parents' bedroom until the following day. If the queue of the frying pan users was too long, your homestead would end up getting their slot well past 5pm. The good thing is that as you went around homesteads asking for a frying pan, you would be given one chapati to tone down the nagging sounds from your rumbling belly. By the time you completed your rounds, you would have eaten no less than four of the round delicacies.

However, there was a chance that tasting that many chapatis alongside half-roasted meat, plums, heavily-diluted Treetop juice and biscuits, would result in a bloated stomach and by lunchtime, you'd be too ill to eat a proper meal. Still, the prospect of missing out on the Christmas feast was unthinkable so we would stuff ourselves with food.

Fathers meanwhile had other major plans for this day, a visit to the local bar. By mid-afternoon, most of the bars would begin running low on stock as patrons flock the outlets, singing merrily to Christmas tunes.

My parting shot: As you enjoy this year's festivities, remember you are lucky to live in a generation where every day is Christmas. Enjoy your food and drinks responsibly. Don’t drink and drive. Grab a taxi or have a friend drop you home if you've had too much to drink.

Space out your favourite drinks with food and take a lot of water. Take care of your loved ones. We all need each other in 2018. Do have a Merry Christmas!