Carb-Loading: Indian Breads
Bread, It’s such an integral part of our diets that most of us don’t give it a second thought. In Indian cuisine different breads give us an insight into the character of the country and its many regions. Researchers have dated the first types of bread to around 30,000 years ago, with traces found in Paleolithic European diets.
These early loaves were made from a simple blend of water and grains, but bread has come a long way since then. Much of this bready evolution can be attributed to the discovery of yeast in 1857, which transformed the humble loaf from being heavy and dense into lighter and fluffier versions.
Bread forms an important part of the Indian diet – especially in Northern regions. One of the earliest varieties of Indian bread is naan. Traditionally cooked in a clay tandoor oven, naan bread is generally baked in a regular oven today. It was the arrival of the Moghuls and Persians in India that signalled a change in the size and shape of bread. They also introduced the concept of stuffing bread. Fillings range from vegetables or meat to dried fruits and spices – the latter creating the flamboyant Peshawari naan.
Another popular bread is the roti. Prepared using a combination of gram flour and whole wheat flour, it is a favourite on many restaurant menus. Perfect for scooping up the remnants of a dal or curry, roti is a flatbread that is smaller in diameter and depth than naan.
Move from the north to the east of the country and here we find a population that loves its rice. However, there is a variety of puri known as luchi that is often found on the menu. This deep-fried flatbread is made from wheat flour, water and a spoonful of ghee.
Move westwards and there are several breads that are eaten including gakhar and bhakri. The former is a Mughlai bread which substitutes water for oil, and the latter is a smaller biscuit-like bread. Coarser than a roti, bhakri has more bite to it (thus the biscuit reference).
In the south, bread takes on a whole new dimension. Moving away from more conventional dough, we find batters made from rice flour, lentil flour and semolina. In the southern states you will find dosas, appams and uttapams. But it is arguably the dosa that is the signature of southern cuisine. They are served plain or stuffed with vegetables and served with chutneys. The batter is made froma mix of rice and lentils and the varieties know no limits. The masala dosa even featured on a list of top ten foods to eat before you die.
Finally we come to parathas. Popular in northern states, they have become popular in the South as well. Southerners have put their own twist on the paratha and given it a distinct texture.
If reading this has left you wondering when your next Indian meal will be, set a date and make it a truly memorable experience. London is home to the UK’s oldest Indian restaurant and is well worth a visit.