The Importance of Bread in India
The Importance of Bread in India

Flavors of India

All About Bread and Baked Goods > The Importance of Bread in India

An element of every meal, bread is a part of daily life in India. It's more than a food - it's an essential utensil in a country where most people eat with their fingers. 

The original Indian bread, known as roti, is flat and unleavened. However the Muslim influence also introduced a multitude of leavened breads such as naan. But then, mysterious India also offers raised roti like that found in Kashmir and Bombay.

Take some whole wheat flour, a little warm water and a few drops of ghee or oil - with just those ingredients you'll be able to make the most popular breads, whose names vary according to their shape and the way they're cooked, giving them different flavors and textures: for example, chapatis are cooked on a dry round griddle, parathas are cooked on a griddle greased with ghee, and pooris are fried.

They are often sprinkled with chopped onion and herb seeds before being baked.

Let's take a look at the most common breads:

The Importance of Bread in India 1

Naan is in particular a bread of the Sikh tribe of the Punjab. It is made with leavened dough, and the leavener is often made from buttermilk or yogurt. The dough is stretched by tossing the piece of dough quickly from one palm to the other to form a thin oval flatbread, slightly thicker around the edges than in the center.
Traditionally naan is baked on the walls of a tandoor oven, brushed with a thin coating of oil or ghee and served hot. 

Often naan is sprinkled with poppy or sesame seeds before being baked. Chopped onion or cilantro can also be added to the dough.

Naan can also be stuffed with cheese, vegetable curry or meat. In this case, the filling is placed on part of the dough which is then folded over on itself before being rolled flat with a rolling pin.

More information and recipe

The Importance of Bread in India 2

The name is related to the French word "rôtie," meaning toasted bread. It is made from:

  • whole wheat (aata) which often comes from the large fields of the Punjab
  • millet (bajra)
  • or sorghum (jowar)
Poori, Puri or fried bread
The Importance of Bread in India 3

Pooris are small breads that are usually eaten for breakfast. They accompany Thali among the Gujarati people. This bread is common to the whole Bengal region. Poori is cooked in oil, completed submerged so that it puffs up. 

There are also stuffed poori:

  • with spinach (palak poori)
  • with potato (aloo poori)
  • pani poori with tamarind juice, made small enough that they can be eaten in one bite so that the juice doesn't escape when you bite into them.

More information and recipe

The Importance of Bread in India 4

Chapatis are always made on a circular cast iron griddle known as a tawa, which is slightly concave to give the bread its distinctive shape. It is cooked without fat, over very high heat. In the Madhya Pradesh, it is made from cornmeal, but most commonly it is made from wheat. 

In the modern version, the dough is left to rise for about an hour, though traditionally it is left for 7 to 9 hours to give it a lighter texture, due to the increased number of bubbles that form. They blacken in contact with the heat, giving the chapatis their unique speckled look.

Paratha or Ghee Bread
The Importance of Bread in India 5

Paratha is a richer version of chapati, crispy and cooked in ghee on a griddle. They are very thin and are stacked up like crêpes. 

Before kneading the dough, cooks sometimes add mint leaves, a pinch of salt and some paprika.

There are also stuffed parathas:

  • filled with red lentils and spinach
  • filled with cauliflower and ginger (phool gobi paratha)
  • filled with daikon and green chilies (muli ke paratha)
  • with ground meat (kheema paratha)
  • with potatoes (aloo paratha)
  • with yogurt, etc.

More information and recipe

The Importance of Bread in India 6

Roasted bread, or handkerchief bread, which is also found in other eastern countries, is made up of numerous layers of dough like a folded handkerchief.

The Importance of Bread in India 7

Idli is a bread from the south, almost like a cake, round and thick, made with fermented rice from the Kerala and legume flour (urad or urud), shaped and then steamed (the legumes have a leavening effect).

Dosa or Dosha
The Importance of Bread in India 8

A flat bread made with flours, rice, wheat or legumes, cooked like a pancake. It may be filled with a spicy mixture.

Poppodums and pappads
The Importance of Bread in India 9

Or  hopper in southern India - Papadam, pappadam, pappodam, puppodum, poppodum, pappad, etc… all similar names referring to the pre-made and precooked flat breads that need only be immersed in hot oil to puff up instantly; they are turned with a skimmer so that they stiffen up slightly and then are drained and served while still crisp. 

Pappads can also be prepared under the broiler, thus eliminating the chore of frying.

All of them are made from legume flour (urad or urud) and rice flour. Some are plain, others are spiced with black pepper (mild) or chilies (hot) or mixtures of spices.

Other specialties

a flat bread whose dough is made from semolina instead of flour. It can be quite rich and may include onions, chilies, ginger, mustard seed, nuts, various vegetables etc., accompanied in this case by wedges of lime. 

rice cake fried and sprinkled with crushed nuts or peanuts

a bread that is something like an enormous pretzel, flavored with pepper and coconut.

a small ball made from chickpea flour.

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