What’s in a bread? The story of the Indian bread basket

The Indian bread basket is as diverse, rich and versatile as the country. Here’s a peek into the distinct flours and techniques

June 06, 2019 04:58 pm | Updated 06:49 pm IST

Can you imagine an Indian thali without bread of some kind? Even South of the Deccan where rice rules the roost, breads make an appearance in the form of appams , idiyappams or parottas . With a bread basket as diverse and rich as the country itself there’s plenty to choose from — phulkas , theplas , pathiri , sheermal , kulcha , luchi , rotlo . Every region boasts of its own local breads; flatbreads are the most common, but in some parts, leavened breads are popular as well.

North

North India is known for its vast array of breads, mostly made with atta or whole wheat, as it abounds in this region. The traditional paratha , a stuffed bread, is fried, and a popular breakfast item eaten with pickle and curd. The flattened dough when folded into quarters and then re-rolled, has a flaky, layered texture and turns into what we call a lachha paratha . Makki ki roti, made from maize flour, is served with a dollop of home-made white butter to brighten up cold winter days, and sarson ka saag . Bhatura , the classic Indian deep-fried bread, made with maida and sooji , is fermented with curd and eaten with chole (chickpeas).

Chef Mujeebur Rehman of Afreen Foods, explains, “Tandoori roti , khameeri roti , roomali roti , ulta tawa paratha , warqi paratha , sheermal , taftan , baqarkhani awadhi naan , gilafi kulcha , are the breads of North India, but each one requires a different skill. Roomali roti and ulta tawa paratha , are made on the reverse of an oval tawa , while tandoori and khameeri roti are cooked in a clay tandoor . Sheermal , taftan and baqarkhani , need a special iron clay-oven and are usually made by family-trained karigars .”

These rotis are paired with different curries, depending on their textures and flavours. He says, “Robust meat dishes are typically the accompaniments. Ulta tawa paratha is relished with a galouti kebab, while seekh kebab is paired with a roomali , gilafi kulcha with nihari gosht and sheermal with a rich korma .”

Further North, Kashmiri breads are a whole other story. Traditionally, the breads in Kashmir are made in a clay oven with refined flour, saffron, milk and water; yet, they vary in shape, size and texture. People usually start their day with chot , a small round bread topped with poppy and sesame seeds. Other popular breads are baqarkhani (puff pastry), lavash (unleavened bread) and the flaky tsochvoru . These breads are generally washed down with noon chai (salt tea).

Sindhis are known for their koki or unleavened bread. While in Rajasthan, the baati takes over. Baked over firewood, the baati is usually doused in ghee and served with panchkutti dal and churma .

South

With rice ruling supreme down South, it replaces wheat as the staple cereal, even when it comes to breads.

Executive Chef Ranjit Thomas, The Westin Chennai Velachery, elaborates, “The three base ingredients for breads are, rice flour, whole wheat or refined flour, and lentils such as urad dal or moong dal . The differentiating factor from other regions, is that, most of these breads are leavened naturally, like idlis and dosas .”

Locally-grown millets in Telangana are integrated into daily breads like jonna rotte , taida rotte , makka rotte and korra dossa , eaten along with koora or pulusu . Jonna rottelu , one of the most common breads, is made by mixing jowar flour with hot water to make a pliable dough, which is then rolled and cooked on a hot tawa .

In Andhra Pradesh, chappathi and puri are made from wheat, whereas neer dosa in Karnataka, appam in Kerala and dosa in Tamil Nadu, are made from rice.

Interestingly, different breads are eaten at each meal in southern India. Chef Thomas explains, “For breakfast, it is appam with stew, varieties of dosas and idli s and even puribhaji . Idiyappam or string hoppers with kadala curry, is another favourite. Parotta or Malabari paratha is usually paired with a wide range of curries; both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Akki roti and pandi curry from Coorg, oroti from Kerala, Ceylon paratha , a kind of roomali roti , and sannas with gassi from Mangaluru, are equally popular.”

East

Bengalis may be predominantly rice eaters, but their luchis are legendary. A meal of luchi-aloo dum or cholar dal , kosha mangsho , is a must-have in Kolkata. Similar to puris , luchis are made from fine maida instead of atta .

Radhaballabhi , a breakfast item, is another variant stuffed with cholar dal or chana dal , whereas koraishutir kochuri is a puri stuffed with green peas. Both of these are generally eaten with aloo dum or a similar potato preparation.

West

Gujaratis are synonymous with their thin flatbread, theplas , made with methi (fenugreek), and eaten with pickle. Equally famous is the bajra na rotlo or millet rotlo , a winter staple, which is a small thick flatbread grilled over coal. Gujarat is also known for its bhakris and dhebras .

Goa, known for paowalas , owing to its vast array of breads, offers pao , poie , kankon , and katricho , made of maida or atta , yeast, salt, sugar, oil, water, milk and bran toddy. These breads are best enjoyed with caldeen , vindaloo and xacuti .

A ubiquitous part of any meal in India, there is a bread for every palate.

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