Indian bread plays an important part in our Indian cuisine and is eaten as a staple food in almost all of India. Did you know that there are about 30 different types of bread in India - each different from region to region, which are either had for breakfast, as a main meal over lunch or dinner or even for tea? Our breads are an essential part of our meals; they also showcase India's diversity and multicultural history via its different varieties, such as chapathi, roti, naan, Thepla, Kulcha, and more!
History of bread
Chapathis and rotis date back to the Harappan civilisation in India. They even find mention in Tulsidas's Ram Charitamanas in the 16th century, where it is said to resemble the katori that it was served in and was known as ‘Rotika’. The ‘naan’ is believed to have originated in Central Asia and found its first mention in the notes of the renowned Persian poet Amir Khusrau in 1300 AD! And the ‘paratha’ finds mention in the 12th century Sanskrit encyclopaedia Manasollasa, compiled by the then ruler of Karnataka, Someshwar III. A flavourful past indeed!
Making of the bread
Most flatbreads in North India are unleavened and made from flour like atta or maida mixed with water. Breads in places like Maharashtra and Karnataka are made from grains like jowar, ragi and bajra and are also known as Rotla (in Gujarat) and Bhakri (in Maharashtra).
Some breads or pancakes are made from lentils like urad and rice in the Southern parts of India. Some of these varieties include dosa, appam and uthappam.
While most breads such as roti, kulcha and chapathi are baked on a tava, breads such as puri and bhatura are deep-fried, while others like the appam are steamed, and the Dosa is fried though not deep-fried like the puri.
Here is a short description of some of the different types of Indian bread from across the country:
The Naan is a leavened flatbread that is made from maida. It is usually cooked in a tandoor but can be oven-baked too. The naan is brushed with melted butter first before being served, and is popularly accompanied with dal makhani, tandoori chicken and kebabs.
Appam is a soft, round-shaped pancake-like bread prepared with fermented rice batter and coconut and is popularly eaten in the state of Kerala. It is crispy on the edges, and soft and thick in the centre, and is usually eaten with vegetable stew made from coconut milk, avial and korma.
The Bhatura is a deep-fried leavened bread made with maida and (with or without) yeast. It is traditionally relished with chole (chickpea curry) in North India.
Dosa is a rice and lentil crepe made from fermented rice and lentil batter. It can either be had plain or with a stuffing of potatoes, and is usually accompanied by sambar(lentil curry) and coconut chutney. Dosa is a staple in many South Indian households.
While rice is considered the staple in East and South India, roti is the staple bread of North India. It is unleavened, made with whole wheat flour (atta), and cooked on a tawa. The roti is usually accompanied by a wide variety vegetables and curries.
Paratha is a layered and flaky flatbread that is usually a breakfast staple in North India. Parathas can be plain or stuffed with potatoes, cauliflower, paneer or onions. This flavourful and rather substantial bread is usually served with a bowl of curd and pickle.
Eaten at breakfast in Gujarat, thepla is another delicious flatbread made with wheat flour, gram or millet flour, spices and vegetables like fenugreek leaves and bottle gourd.
Traditionally had on special occasions and festivals, the poori is a crispy and puffy deep-fried, unleavened flatbread made with whole wheat flour in North India, and with maida in East India, where it is also known as luchi. The poori is traditionally served with potato curry, chickpea curry, or Kosha Mangsho in Bengal.
Popular in Kerala, the porotta, also known as Malabar Porotta as it had originated in the coastal Malabar region. It is a layered flatbread made with maida and is similar to the laccha paratha of North India. The Malabar paratha, however, is much silkier and lighter than laccha paratha, as egg or milk is used instead of water in the kneading process. This flaky bread is usually served with meat-based curries and vegetable kormas.
Like naan, the kulcha is a leavened bread made with maida and leavened with yoghurt or baking powder. The Kulcha can be made on the tawa instead of the tandoor and is usually served with potato or chickpea curry.
Similar to pita pockets, this bread was introduced in Goa, by the Portuguese. This brown-coloured leavened and chewy bread has a crusty outer layer and a hollow cavity that is usually stuffed with Goan Chorizo sausage and is served with dishes like chicken Cafreal.
The origin of the Sheermal can be traced back to Persia. This is a sweet milk bread made with ghee, flour, milk, saffron and yeast. The Sheermal is cooked in a tandoor that is often sprinkled with milk to make the Sheermal sweet and aromatic. The Sheermal is mostly eaten in places like Lucknow, Hyderabad, Kashmir and parts of Delhi and is accompanied by kebabs and Niharis.
An important part of Maharashtrian cuisine, the bhakri is made from millets like jowar and ragi. Wheat or rice flour can also be mixed along with ghee and cumin seeds to make bhakris. This bread is traditionally served with various chutneys or with eggplant curry.
Similar to the appam, the pathiri is also popularly consumed in Kerala. This crepe-style unleavened flatbread is prepared with rice flour, oil, salt and water. This white bread is light and paper-thin and usually served with mutton/beef and fish curry.
A traditional dish from Bihar and Jharkhand, they are whole wheat balls stuffed with sattu (roasted chana dal flour) and various spices and then roasted and tossed in ghee. The litti is similar to the bati of Rajasthan and is traditionally served with spicy chokha (mashed and spiced potato).
Like the poori, the kachori is stuffed with vegetables and spices and made with wheat flour, gram flour, lentils, and spices. The kachori has a flaky and crunchy outer crust and is deep-fried. It is usually enjoyed as a breakfast item in North India, especially in Rajasthan.
The bati is a hard, unleavened bread made in places like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. It is made from wheat flour, salt, ghee and very little water and is traditionally baked over smoke from dried cow dung. Bati is traditionally served with dal, which combined gives us the famous dish dal bati.
The thalipeeth is a savoury multi-grain unleavened flatbread that is popular in Maharashtra. Thalipeeth is made from various grains like rice, wheat, bajra and jowar and with legumes and spices like cumin seeds and coriander. This version of bread is usually served with butter, ghee or curd.
How many different types of breads have you tried from the list above? Do try each type as and when you can and let us know your favourite from amongst them!