Can you imagine a typical Indian meal without bread? Whether it is the chapati, parantha, naan, puri or kulcha… no meal is ever complete without roti, a generic term for Indian bread that falls woefully short in describing the variety and richness of Indian breads.
Indian breads come in many forms — leavened or unleavened, roasted, fried or oven (tandoor) baked. Some are easy and quick to make while others require more elaborate preparation. Many, such as sheermal, naan and Yehudi roti, have found their place on Indian plates thanks to centuries of foreign influence.
Different regions in the country have their own special versions or their own favourites. Though typical to each of their locales, these versions appeal everywhere in the country, outside their specific regions as well.
In Punjab, makai ki roti (whole corn bread) eaten along with sarson ka saag is a wintertime favourite. It is also popular across India. Rotlee, a whole wheat bread similar to the chapati but lighter and thinner, is popular in parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan and is also appreciated in other states.
Baffla (dry roasted whole wheat bread) and baati are other staple Rajasthani breads. For Mumbai-wallas, it is the pav, while dosa is a staple in southern India.
Here is a lowdown on some of the most popular Indian breads.
Chapati: This soft, thin unleavened flatbread is a staple in Northern and western parts of the country. Usually topped with butter or ghee, it is paired with all kinds of vegetables and lentils. It even finds a mention in Abu’l-Fazl’s 16th century tome, the Ain-i-Akbari.
Parantha: Served piping hot with butter, pickle and curd, this pan fried bread comes in as many fillings and forms as one can think of — from boiled potatoes, cauliflower, radish, tomato and onion to cottage cheese and tomato!
Kulcha: Made from maida (refined flour), this baked flatbread is mostly eaten with chholey (chickpeas). Heavy and well flavoured, kulchas have a distinctive taste. Amritsari kulchas are known to be the most famous ones.
Naan: This delicious leavened tandoori flatbread gets its name from the Persian word for bread. It is mentioned by the 13th century poet Amir Khusrau in his notes. It is paired most often with vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries.
Roomali roti: Literally translated as the handkerchief bread, the roomali roti is a simple, unleavened flatbread made without rolling on a board. This soft, paper thin
dish is an absolutely great accompaniment to the various kababs (for kabab rolls) and mutton qorma.
Sheermal: Sheer means ‘milk’ in Persian, and no wonder, for this rich sweet bread is made using warm, sweet, saffron-flavoured milk, giving it a smooth taste. This makes for a heavenly meal just by itself. An even sweeter version of the sheermal is the baqarkhani.
Puran poli: A Maharashtrian favourite, the puran poli is a sweet, lentil-stuffed roti and is served as a dessert. Its stuffings can include coconut, jaggery and white sugar.
Puri: This is an unleavened puffed flat bread made using white or whole wheat flour. It is deep fried in vegetable oil, giving it a crunchy texture. A popular variant is the daal puri.
Khasta roti: This is a simple whole wheat bread baked in an open oven or tandoor, and can be paired with almost all vegetable dishes, numerous non-vegetarian dishes and curries.