Bread Tales from India

Update for Month ended 31 March 2010
An Indian meal is mostly incomplete without its staple bread. Although most of you would recognise the humble chapati, the flat wheat griddle bread, which is now served in homes across the country, sometimes dabbed in ghee and sometimes dry; it is not the national bread, if there was such a tag. Let us start in the north where wheat rules the roost and the humble chapati is joined by its robust country cousin from Punjab, the paratha. Parathas are made of the same dough as chapati, but handled rather roughly which results in a stronger and more fullish version; always cooked in ghee and served with dollops of white butter. This robustness is also tempered at times by stuffing soft, mashed vegetables into it, like the potato, radish, cauliflower or even paneer, Indian cottage cheese. For doubting Thomases from non-North India – paneer is considered the ultimate “vegetable” in Punjabi homes; at times the only vegetable, when served on a table with butter chicken. The Indian fasts are always observed with Es. (no spelling mistake here). The fasts almost always become feasts; as the chapati gets smaller and rounder and is deep-fried, preferably in ghee; and served to the devouts as puris. These little puffy rounds sometimes get a whiter tinge in Eastern India as wholewheat flour is replaced with the whiter refined flour, and also gets a luscious name – Luchi. In the gusty “wild” west where coarse grain is cultivated, the wheat is replaced with sorghum or other millets to make the evening bread – bhakri. These are often darker in colour, at times greyish, and till recently considered slightly uncouth to serve to guests; but ask any visitor to Rajasthan, and she or he will want to taste these delicacies served with desert beans, ker – sangri. The desert folks of Rajasthan at times make hardier bread for their caravan trips across the dry landscape where everyday cooking may just not be possible – so they roll up the dough into little balls and bake them in pot ovens, usually buried under the ground, to ensure that the ovens burn in the windy climes. The rolls are hard and normally softened after soaking them in cups of ghee and crumbled gently with their fingers – the baati is at times eaten with savoury dal or mixed with a sweet jaggery flour crumble pastry, choorma. Travel with the Gujaratis, and you won’t miss the theplas or khakhras. These all time, all weather travel companions are fenugreek leaf laden, spiced chapatis, sometimes cooked soft (theplas) or sometimes crack dry (khakhras) giving eaters a choice. At times, the humble bread also attains center-stage position in Marathi households – when it is stuffed with a mixture of jaggery, split gram flour, cardamom and served on auspicious occasions. This puran poli, also finds its way into Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada homes with different names and at times slightly different cooking procedures – but with essentially the same sweetness at its heart. The South Indian palate prefers rice to wheat and at times, the humble chapati or roti becomes rice white and eaten with chicken in coastal Karnataka – kori roti; or aided with onions and some spices and served up as akki roti in other parts of Karnataka. Purists may bah at my contention that the world famous dosai, griddle rice and lentil pancake, is also another bread served up in Tamil, Telugu, Malayali and Kannada homes – read on as I explain why it is a kind of a bread. Akin to the bakery loaf that we generically call bread, the dosai is most often fermented or proofed before being griddled. The Malayalis add toddy, the fermenting agent to their version of the dosai – the paalappam or appam, just like the Punjabis add curd to their wheat dough – to make their bhaturas, fried wheat bread. 
Talking of flat breads, largely – I could not resist comparing it to the antics of the D Boyz on D Street. It has been days, weeks, since I met with them and was quite surprised to note that they have mixed and kneaded their favourite staple – the SENSEX, but finally ended flat after 2 weeks of action – quite like the humble Chapati. So if I last noticed that it was 17578 on March 19, it was 17527 at end of business day today! And for those who want to know what the Boyz did in the past two weeks – then there was a lot of spice and all things nice, at times, to serve up the robust paratha style, thick bread on heady days – like the 134 point jump on 25 March – the F&O expiry date. Or it was the crispy flat khakhra type crunch – the 180 odd point drop on 20 March. 
If mouths are watering with these delicacies, I am not surprised. It is getting close to dinner time and many of you would have some breads to break. So enjoy it and do share your bread tales with me, if possible.
Have a nice time – Cheers….

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