The diversity of India isn’t limited to its demography or geography, you’ll find that reflected in its basket of breads too. Flat and puffy, fried or tandoor-baked, breads play an important part in Indian cuisine. It is consumed as a staple in many places. There are over 30 types of breads in India which are had for breakfast or tea, or as a main meal. Each differs from region to region due to influences from different cultures.
One of the most common Indian breads, this unleavened flatbread is made from atta (whole wheat), rolled into small circles and stretched into thin discs using a rolling pin. In some parts of India, a pinch of salt along with ghee is added while kneading the dough with water, enhancing its mild, nutty flavour. The flattened dough is eventually transferred to a flat pan or tava. This soft and easy-to-tear bread is a staple in much of north and central India and is commonly paired with gravies and stews. Brush it with some ghee and you are good to go!
The soft and chewy naan is one of the most popular (and well-known) Indian breads. Prepared in a tandoor (clay oven), a naan is often dabbed with melted butter and is a perfect accompaniment to popular dishes like tandoori chicken and kebabs.
Crisp, puffy and deeply-fried in copious amounts of ghee or oil until golden, these greasy discs are among our favourite guilty pleasures. It is a common breakfast staple and snack served along with bhaji or some sort of curry throughout India. One of the most common north-Indian food combos is puri-chholey. In Bengal, the puri takes on a softer, thinner version, called luchi. It's paired with a simple potato curry or kosha mangsho (sauteed mutton). In winters, the luchi gets another avatar, the much-loved koraishutir kochuri (stuffed with a paste of green peas).
The Malabar parotta is a layered, flaky flatbread originating from the coastal Malabar region. It is similar to the north Indian lachchha paratha due to its crisp and flaky layers. The difference between the two is that the former is silkier and lighter as it is made with maida (processed flour). While kneading, water is replaced with egg and milk for a richer and softer output. Authentic Malabar parotta can be found in the streets of Kerala towns, and even in some parts of Tamil Nadu.
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Quite similar to pita pockets, the Portuguese-influenced poi is one of the most-loved breads in Goa. Brown, slightly husked and round, this chewy bread has a crusty outer layer and a hollow cavity that's ideal for stuffing with delicious Goan foods (we love the chorizo sausage). The leavened dough cakes take two minutes in a scorching hot oven to fluff and can be found in every local Goan bakery. The fluffiness of these breads makes it perfect for mopping up gravies and curry items. A combination that locals and tourists swear by is the coriander-laced chicken cafreal and poi.
Native to God's Own Country, Kerala's appams are one of the tastiest flatbreads to come out of India. Made with rice flour, an appam needs a little preparation beforehand. The batter is made with rice and coconut fermented overnight. The fermentation gives a dose of sour and sweet to the white, lacy pancakes. Crisp on one side and with an airy soft centre, appam is gluten-free and is often served along with a range of dishes like chicken or vegetable stews, egg curry, avial, korma, egg roast and kadala curry.
This saffron-laced, sweet milkbread has Persian origins. It is made with ghee, flour, saffron and yeast, and is kneaded using milk (or sheer). The baking process happens in a loha (iron) tandoor which, quite often, is sprinkled with milk. The result is the chewy, faintly aromatic and slightly sweet sheermal. It is amazing with kebabs and niharis, and also with a cup of tea. You will find sheermal in most Indian cities, but the best ones are found in Lucknow, Hyderabad, and Old Delhi and in many different versions, from nut encrusted to those filled with khoya.
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An important part of Maharashtrian cuisine, bhakri is made with flour from millets like jowar and sorghum, and ragi. Sometimes a bit of wheat or rice flour is mixed with it as well, making it high in dietary fibre. Ghee and cumin seeds are added to enhance the flavour. The bread is traditionally served with a variety of chutneys, or with a side of baingan bharta (made with eggplants), or a curry of some sort. It is popular in states where millets are favoured due to local soils, geography and climate (e.g., Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and some parts of central India).
Although you’ll find it served across southern India, pathiri actually originated among the Mappila community of Kerala. This crepe-style unleavened flatbread is prepared with rice flour, oil, salt and water, and carefully kneaded to a smooth dough. The spotless white flatbread is light and paper-thin and is irresistible when served along with spicy chicken/mutton/beef or even fish curry.
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A famous accompaniment with some spicy chokha (mashed and spiced potato), litti is a traditional dish in Bihar and Jharkhand. These whole-wheat balls are stuffed with sattu or roasted chana dal flour along with other spices before being roasted and tossed in ghee. Litti shares a resemblance with Rajasthan’s bati bread.
Denser than puris and often stuffed with vegetables and spices, kachoris rule when it comes to street food. Although there are different variations to the ingredients, the traditional kachori is made with wheat flour, gram flour, lentils and some spices. It has a flaky, crunchy outer crust created by deep-frying on low heat for almost half an hour. It is the Marwaris who are credited with creating the piping hot kachoris as snacks for traders in Rajasthan. Nowadays, kachoris can be found across India.
Jewish Challa Bread
This Jewish braided bread can be found in a few cities which have had a Jewish influence, like Kolkata and Kochi. It made its way to India through the Baghdadi Jews who settled in these places. This delicious bread is kneaded with egg and braided or twisted before baking. It is traditionally eaten by Jews on holidays.