Flour power: Long-lasting, filling theplas or thalipith is perfect, stop-gap meal
Thalipith and thepla may not seem quite the same, but they are made similarly.
Some might call these snacks, but this amendment indicated that they were considered a meal. This will be no surprise to the many who have packed these hearty rotis for travel. After hours on a train or in a cheerless hotel room abroad, and when faced with unappetising meal options, there is real joy in opening a packet of theplas. They will be as good as when made some days ago, and tasty and filling enough to feel like a proper meal.
Conflating Maharashtrian thalipith with the Gujarati thepla seems calculated to raise regional tensions. The former is usually made from a mix of grains and dals, so is solid and you break off pieces. The latter is made from different flours (sometimes with besan) and is flexible, so you just tear off pieces to eat, ideally with pickle.
Many thepla recipes mix the flour with curds, which may preserve and keep them flexible longer. Others use milk, leftover rice, grated bottlegourd or radish. You get the sense that a range of leftovers or vegetables can be used, along with the spices and, in particular, the methi leaves that help make theplas so tasty and give it the sense of being a stop-gap meal.
Bread recipes are notoriously hard to get right. So much depends on subtle tweaks to technique that are hard to convey in print (videos are better). With theplas, the key element seems to be that they are neither fried, like puris, nor roasted, like chapatis, but somewhere in-between. They are put directly on a hot tava, but then a little oil is spread on top “so that the oil slides down on the lower side of the thepla also”, write Ruxmani and Bindu Danthi in On the Threshold of Kitchen, their excellent compendium of everyday Gujarati recipes. They absorb some oil, which makes them flexible, but not so much that they become greasy.
This is almost identical to Saee Koranne-Khandekar’s instructions for thalipith in Crumbs, her wonderful book on bread-making in India. She notes with irritation how commercial eateries ruin thalipith by deep-frying it, when it should be roasted on a seasoned tava with just a little oil “drizzled along its circumference and into the little holes that are made on is surface”.
The result is a “moreish bread, slightly chewy on the inside and crisp and caramelised around the edges”. Thalipith and thepla may not seem quite the same, but they are made similarly and give a very similar satisfaction.