Hot piping meals are one of the most delicious elements of Indian cuisine. The aromatic curries that are spiced up with flavors however need to be complemented. Though rice and pulaos do blend in with Indian curry, the real yin to this yang is the sumptuous flatbread.
Flatbread in India is as varied as one can imagine. It could be the plain and simple chapati or the ghee-laden parathas. One could devour dishes that are dipped over bajra and jowar rotlas or experience the softness of dosas and appams melt in the mouth. The regional variation in the preparation and consumption of Indian flat pieces of bread is an endearing study into how a simple staple food can have far-reaching cultural and social effects.
But to not make matters complicated let’s see things as they are. The flatbread in India comes in different sizes, shapes, and colors. They can be layered, unleavened, or just simply rounded off.
They could be stuffed or plain, sprinkled with garnishing or buttered. No matter the dough type, the batter, or all the other titbits that go into it, the fact of the matter remains – Flatbreads in India are unique and delicious. They enhance the flavors of the curries, but they can be eaten as stand-alone too. They are nutritious, healthy, and wholesome meals by themselves as well.
What are flatbreads?
Before we take a gastronomic tour of the different types of flatbreads eaten and made in India, let’s understand what flatbread means. A flatbread is made from flour mixed with water and salt. The ingredients are mixed to make a dough which is then rolled or flattened. The flatbreads could be unleavened or leavened. The thickness of the flatbread can also vary from a few millimeters to a few centimeters. Once the flatbread is given a shape it can be baked, cooked on a Tawa, fried, or even grilled.
Some of the most famous international flatbreads include pizzas, pitas, tortas, khubz, etc. Some of the most popular Indian flatbreads include roti, parathas, puri, kulchas, bhakri, bhatura, appams, and more.
Flatbreads in India
There are a whole range and variety of flatbreads that are found in India. Let’s take a look at some of these delicious delicacies.
1. Chapati/Roti/Rumali roti
Up first is the simpleton roti or chapatti. A staple food in many homes, the roti is an everyday dish eaten with different curries or snacks.
The roti is usually made from flour or atta and the dough is rolled with a rolling pin. The roti is then cooked on a pan or Tawa and sometimes sprinkled with ghee or oil. The rumali roti, on the other hand, is made from a mix of wheat and white flour and is cooked in a traditional Tawa. It is super thin as suggested by the name meaning rumaal or a handkerchief. There are, of course, umpteen variations of the roti, including tandoori roti, makkai ki roti, bajra roti, jowar roti, and so on.
The north and the south Indian version of the paratha and parotta differ only slightly. Paratha is the specialty of north India but is famous almost everywhere too.
They are soft and chewy and also have flakes coming off the surface. The word is derived from parat meaning layers and atta or flour. The parotta is southern India’s delight and is made from maida or white flour. Of course, there are many variations, such as the famous Malabar parotta from Kerala or the delicious lachha parathas, aloo parathas, gobi parathas, the list can go on.
Puri or pooris are deep-fried and usually are smaller in size when compared to rotis. These can be prepared from maida or wheat flour and are best served when hot. The unleavened flatbread is best eaten with vegetable curry or chickpeas. Luchi is another version of the puri and is popular in West Bengal. Another interesting thing about puri is that it is also eaten as a snack in many parts of the country, especially in western India. The puri, in this case, is usually flavored with a few spices and can be stored for days.
Similar to the puri but much larger the bhatoora is the better half of the lip-smacking chhole bhatoore. A popular street food, and much-loved dish at home and restaurants, the chhole bhatoore is north India, especially Delhi’s go-to food. The bhatoora is made from maida, yogurt, and yeast to help it swell up a bit. Usually accompanied by a glass of lassi the bhatoora is sure to tingle your taste buds.
The leavened flatbread called naan is the favorite for tandoor lovers. Cooked inside a tandoor, clay, or metal oven, the naan can also be prepared at home in the oven or pan. Served with curries or even dry starters, the naan has various incarnations, such as garlic naan, butter naan, and so on. When dining in an Indian restaurant be sure to check out the naan on the menu, it’s bound to be there for sure.
A flatbread that originated from Maharashtra the bhakri can be cooked on a Tawa or also puffed up. The bhakri however, finds its presence even in the humble homes of farmers who carry it with them to the fields for lunch. The bhakri is made from jowar, sorghum and even ragi. Accompanied by baigan bharta, the bhakri becomes the ultimate healthy intake. Another flatbread from Maharashtra is the thalipeeth made from a mix of different flours, such as rice, chickpea, jowar, bajra, etc.
From south India comes this light as breeze flatbread that one can gobble quickly. The appam is soft and made from rice flour and coconut milk. Dipped in gravies both vegetarian or non-vegetarian the appam spreads a warmth of satisfaction and content once popped inside the mouth.
8. Akki Rotti/Pathiri
Known as Akki Rotti in Karnataka and quite similar to pathiri in Kerala this wonderfully thin flatbread is made from rice flour. Usually, the rotis have onions and green chilies in them and are cooked on the Tawa. Sometimes many other ingredients, such as carrots, coriander, cumin, etc are also added for flavor.
Where most flatbreads are made from either wheat, white flour, rice flour or other millet flours there are a few whose main ingredients slightly differ. Theplas for example are made from gram flour and wheat flour along with spices to add flavor. Theplas are the perfect vacation or holiday snacks that can be carried for longer trips. It is, of course, the most famous in Gujarat. The chilla on the other hand to has many variations. The most popular are the besan chillas and the moong dal chillas. Chillas are quite a hit street food in West Bengal and northern India.
Who doesn’t crave a dal baati churma? The delicious recipe from Rajasthan is impossible to imagine without the baati or rounded flatbreads. Quite similar to the baati is the litti from Bihar which is stuffed with sattu and baked in clay ovens. The litti is served with a dish made from potatoes and brinjals called chokha.
The different types of flatbreads in India are many. The dosa, pesarattu, adai, Puran Poli, bakarkhani, sheermal, and many more are delightful delicacies that are so profound in their gastronomical capacity and cultural presence.
The flatbreads of India resonate with the land from where they come and the people who take a lot of care to create them. Layered inside them are traditions and cultures passed on from generations. There are tales, folklores, and secret ingredients of practicality and taste. For all of these reasons, whether it be the roti or bhakri or appam, their reach goes beyond superfluous divides of class or caste. They feed those who look for strength, pleasure, and survival with the same measure of proportion and care.