|Sheermals fesh out of a underground oven in Old Delhi!|
At the beginning of this month one of my favourite food writers, Micheal Ruhlman, announced bread baking month on his blog (Ruhlman.com). So many elements of Indian cuisine are celebrated; spices, curries, kebabs and yet, the most we overlook quintessential food intrinsic to our cuisine is overlooked, our breads. So I decided to compile a showcase of popular Indian breads for Micheal’s bread month and to celebrate today – 26th Jan India’s republic day. And almost as if the food Gods approved Vir Sanghvi’s column in Brunch last week asked the question, why don’t we celebrate our breads and our bakers. He meant the bakers in professional kitchens. But I extend that to home cook as well.
In India, we make fresh bread EVERY SINGLE DAY. I am myself, fanatic about giving my kids home-made rotis over anything else. Rotis are also very versatile; a drizzle of ghee, a smear of Jaggery, roll up and serve fresh and warm in minutes, spoon over a little subzi (vegetables), drizzle a little mayo and roll up for tiffins or layer something between two leftover rotis into an impromptu parantha somewhat like the Mexican quesadilla. Granted these are usually unleavened flat breads or crepes made of fermented batter towards the south, but they require us to knead dough or grind a batter daily. And although a lot of people in the cities are switching to buying ready flour, the majority of India still buys a fortnights worth of whole wheat, gets it ground at the local mill, and makes their dough fresh daily (sometimes twice a day).
From the poorest man who eats his roti thick and substantial, with a little chilli chutney and an onion to, the most affluent one who will have his roti light and airy with an array of accompaniments, the fact is that it is central to the Indian diet. The way they are served and combinations they are served in may change as you travel through the country, but they are the predominant carbohydrate component that fuels India. Through most of India, rice and wheat (from which rotis are made) are staple cereal grains that form the base of the Indian food pyramid supplemented by various grain and cereal flours.
Below is an overview of whatever came to mind in terms of information on breads, supplemented below by pictures of breads I have eaten and photographed in my travels around the country (more so around Mumbai). This is just the tip of the iceberg, extremely brief and lacking in proper information in many areas, but it is a start. And I have put it together based on what I had so please bear with me.
In fact I would like to invite YOU, dear reader to share your experiences of local Indian breads, their types, your memories attached to them in the comments section of this post. If you would like to share pictures, please email me at a(dot)perfect(dot)bite(at)gmail(dot)com. I will compile all of that information into another follow up post.
GYAN and LINKS
Micheal Ruhlman's (@Ruhlman on twitter) announcement of bread baking month on Rulhlman.com. (Be sure to read later posts for some great bread recipes by awesome bakers and bread makers! Vir Sanghvi's article Indian Bread . A very interesting column by Vikram Doctor in which he explore the curious history of Kenya, colonialism and chapattis.
|A Tandoor or cla oven with a Naan being pulled out.|
|A Tandoori Naan fresh out of the oven, soon to be slathered with butter.|
|Tandoori stuffed Parantha with a mandatory stick of butter on top at a Dhaba in North India! The Tandoor gives this homestyle favourite that special oven baked flavour.|
|Rumali rotis (thin breads cooked in the tandoor that come in many layers resemblin the layers oand thinness of a rumal or handkerchief.|
EAST AND WEST INDIA
As you head towards the east rice becomes more prevalent. The north eastern states are the least discovered part of India rotis are eaten here but rice is the staple. Bengali cuisine is also rice centric, but they do also eat flat breads such as airy Luchis and Parathas, all made of refined flour.
In the western part of India both wheat and rice are consumed, with griddle baked breads such as rotlis (thinner more delicate versions of rotis prevalent in Gujarat), theplas, dhebras, bhakris, and even parathas called bharela rotla, being eaten regularly. Some of these breads are made of wheat, but can also be made of millet flours. Maharashtra also has a host of rice based griddle roasted flat breads such as the ghavne, amboli and bhakris made not just of rice but also of other millet flours. The East Indian community indigenous to the area of greater Mumbai also makes Fritads, and Fugias, and shares a liking for sannas the steamed hand breads that goans also like with their Vindalhoo.
The Portugese in Goa, and the Parsis, Iranis and Bohri muslims in general have also contributed their share of breads to the basket, as well as kept the bakery traditions started by the Portugese Dutch and English alive. It is to these communities that we owe all of the breads we bring in from outside. Our Double roti or sliced breads, the Paos that partner a million delicious things to make cheap addictive street foods such as pav bhajji, vada pao and dabeli, and the lesser know paos such as the Brun Paos and Sheermals that are used to soak up slow cooked meat curries.
|A Gujerati Thali at the Friends Union Joshi club a favourite option for the Gujarati Thali. This one features, a thin wheat chapati / rot/ rotli or phulka on the left, a spiced, Thepla with fresh fenugreek kneaded into the dough on the right and a little biscuit bhakri in the middle.|
|The above series shows Theplas being made in large quantities at my mothers house by our Maharaj Chandrashekharji. for one of the lunches running up to my sisters wedding. Most Gujarati homes emply Maharajs, who are cooks of Brahmin decent and cook traditional Indian food. (Maharaj literally translates to 'king' but is the respectful way of addressing them) The dough is brocken ing little lumps, then rolled quickly into thin disks that are griddle or pan roasted and served with a smear of ghee. I love them with spicy Chunda (a hot sweet mango pickle) and hot Chai at any time of day!|
|The Maharashtrian trencherman's meal of Bhakri (made of rice flour ) served with a spicy chikpea flour dish called Pitla a raw onion and a Theencha which is a chutney of chillies pounded with salt.|
|Bhakri being cooked along with our order of masala bangda fry (makarel fried in a spice paste) at a Seafood festival in Mumbai.|
|Til Polis made by the Maharashtrian community from a millet flour mix and studded with sesame seeds. This is served with Sankranti chi bhogi on Sankrant.|
|A Ghavna being cooked at the same stall. THis is a crepe of rice flour that resembles the south Indian Dosa.|
|The Ambolis above are similar to the Fritads eaten by the East Indain Community that is indiginous to Mumba and its ouskirts.|
|SOUTH INDIAN BREADS|
Move South and wheat
is almost non existent although there is a huge prevalence of breads, none of them are made with wheat. Instead you will find breads made of rice and rice and lentil combinations such as idlis, vadas, dosas, addais, appams, that are eaten with a variety of sambhars, chutneys and podis.
A variety of South Indian batter breads.