Almost all Indian dishes call for accompaniments like breads and these come in a large variety! Curry dishes are best enjoyed with Indian breads that come in various shapes, textures and taste. The best way to try and test is to order a bread basket in an Indian restaurant. The variety served is an eye-opener and then once you have sampled everything, reorder one that is your favourite of the evening. A quick run of an ideal bread basket follows:
Phulka: puffed whole wheat bread
This is the most common and is eaten daily with vegetable/meat curries and dals. Also called chapatti, but in actual terms a chapatti is generally flat and not puffed, it comes from the Hindi word ‘chapat’ which means flat. Phulka means one that is puffed as it is derived from the Hindi word ‘phulna.’ One familiar but confusing usage of the term roti baffles a few. Roti is any unleavened bread like phulka, chapatti or roomali roti.
Paratha: layered bread
‘Parat’ means layer and therefore paratha is a layered flatbread, done by folding the dough while rolling it out. Depending upon the stuffing for the filling inside, many kinds of parathas are possible. Plain parathas are usually enjoyed with various curries. The same dough as that used for the phulka may be used to prepare parathas. To make stuffed parathas, the stuffing is added before folding and layering. . The stuffing used may be boiled peas, potatoes, cauliflower, onion or radish. For non-vegetarians, a popular stuffing use is minced meat.
Naan: leavened bread
A bread which is seen more often than rotis in many Indian restaurants. Though of Persian and Afghan origins, naan is an incomparable combination of European bread and the Indian chapatti! One might think then that the recipe will be painstaking but that is not the case. In fact, the recipe works in favour of its universal appeal. Refined flour mixed with yeast and other ingredients gives a dough that can be rolled out and put to cook in a tandoor. The final touches are that of a sprinkle of onion seeds (kalonji). One sign of a good cook is that if the dough for the naan is right, it should puff up.
Bhatura: fried leavened bread
A popular Punjabi fried bread which is inseparable from masaledar chole especially in the combination of ‘chole bhature.’ It would be more appropriate to call bhatura semi leavened as the fermentation is done with yogurt and baking powder. The downside of this bread is that is quite oily. Just place it on a kitchen paper to get rid of the excess oil. Enjoy!
Puri: fried puffed bread
Oddly enough the name is derived from the Hindi word puri which means complete. Be it any major occasion like a party or marriage, puris will inevitably be gracing the tables. Called the queen of all breads, many puris can be fried at one time and when there is mass preparation this is the ultimate choice. Though, the puffiness settles as the puris cool down, the fact remains that the bread is soft enough to wipe off the gravy from a dish.
Roomali roti: handkerchief bread
Now this one is an artistic presentation. The origin lies in the Mughal days. It gets its name from its texture and size, though not its shape; for it is circular and not rectangular (handkerchiefs are!). The dough is made using refined and whole-wheat flour, kneaded well. After being put to rest for 45-60 minutes the dough is ready for further treatment. It is rolled slightly and then flicked up with the tips of the fingers so that the stretching action increases the circumference of the roti. The griddle (tawa) is to be kept the inverted, convex side up, on the heat. Once the roti is placed the cooking takes seconds to complete because the roti is very thin. Roomali roti is served folded in half and then quarter. Though best had hot, in case it is to be served later, the rotis should be steamed or the container placed in an oven on medium heat for 5-10 minutes. It is important to serve this bread moist otherwise it tends to become papery and of course, unpalatable.
Now, that you’ll are introduced to our desi breads, get down to trying them at home. Try them all!
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.