As well as starting to answer one of the most asked questions on planning our trip to India [“What will the kids actually be able to EAT?!”], more so this post serves as a euphoric bucket-list of all of the breads you MUST EAT when travelling to India!
If you’ve followed us for a while you’ll know we love a good bread [see blogs from Uzbekistan and Oman to clarify that!]. India definitely did not disappoint. In fact, I think just listing our favourite 10 breads leaves mention for all the other kinds we haven’t documented, but prove that on landing in India you have basically arrived in foodie-heaven…
As soon as you land in India and get a taxi or tuk tuk, you will whizz past the busy roads and smaller streets that hum with activity no matter what time of day or night. And, as soon as you adjust to the shock of the busy and the colours and the different sounds and smells, I can bet you will start to spot the flat bread carts or dosa trolleys; the men selling chai next to roti carts, and the women sitting making chapati in stacks that are hundreds high.
Bread in India is served as an accompaniment to any meal, and becomes an important utensil in eating where there aren’t otherwise any given. And in actual fact, most bread in India isn’t actually baked in an oven; it’s cooked on a stove.
You could start by hunting out Chapati, Phulka, Puri, Roti, Bajra Rotla, Thepla, Paratha, Naan, Kulcha, Bhatoora, Appam, Dosa, Luchi, Puran Poli, Pathiri, or Parotta… BUT, to make navigating those a little easier, I am going to rank our favourites and show you what they each look like.
1. Poori ✔️ ✔️✔️ ❌
The bread of ‘happy occasions’! Poori is unleavened, made with whole-wheat dough and deep fried. How good does it sound? And how good does it look?!
2. Dosa ✔️ ✔️✔️
One of the most iconic Indian breads. Dosa is actually a specialty of South India but you can find South Indian restaurants in other parts of India. Dosa is made from a fermented rice and lentil flour batter, and cooked on a huge griddle with ghee or oil. They can be enormous! AND, they can also be stuffed with pretty much any variety of vegetable – we loved the aloo (potato) masala dosa, but did also try (more than once) the beetroot dosa…
3. Paratha ✔️ ✔️✔️ ✔️
This is another flat bread made from roti dough, and brushed with oil or ghee and folded into flaky layers. The outcome is sort of like an Indian equivalent of a croissant; with the outside layers flaky and delicate. [I am fairly sure that Gavin and I ended on some kind of Paratha pilgrimage, eating our way from South India to Varanasi and on to Jaisalmer via the most delicious breakfast breads we woke up longing for!].
4. Aloo Paratha ✔️ ✔️✔️ ✔️
Still technically the same bread, but I am awarding Aloo Paratha its own well-deserving category. You can eat Paratha plain OR, you can get yourself hooked on a breakfast of Aloo Paratha – and have this croissant-like delicacy stuffed with fried potatoes and served with a curd and relish…
5. Roti ✔️ ✔️✔️
Or chapati, is a simple soft, round flatbread this makes up a staple part of daily diet in India. Not to be underestimated, roti is not easy to make and can be delivered in a variety of thicknesses, but the best will be warm and soft and fresh from the stove [and likely your best choice with a full flavoured curry in the absence of utensils!]. This is a safe bet from most stalls or restaurants, but I can guarantee no roti will taste better than the one you help to make yourself over a campfire at night in the desert…
6. Idli ✔️ ❌ ❌
This is another type of rice bread, but is steamed to cook a little bit like a rice cake. The batter is made with fermented black lentils and rice, so is chosen both as a brilliant choice to mop up sauces, but also for gut health reasons. There’s no denying that Idli has a definite fermented kick to it, but if you’re up for trying it then its best at breakfast time – kind of like a crumpet – it absorbs sambar; a spiced vegetable soup flavoured with toasted lentils that it is most commonly served with.
7. Bathura ✔️✔️
Bathura is a deep-friend leavened bread, so its much heavier and crispier than poori.
8. Uttapam ✔️✔️
This is a bit like a smaller, thicker version of Dosa, and is traditionally made with toppings such as tomatoes, onion, chillies, capsicum and coriander – kind of like a dosa-pizza?! But the kids loved eating plain uttapam; and I’m guessing, as much for the joy of watching it be made as for the rather plain taste!
9. Vada ✔️ ❌ ❌
I’m giving this one a tick for interest, and we did try it on multiple occasions – perhaps largely because it looks like a donut! Actually a savoury snack, Vada is a deep fried bread dough mixed with onions, vegetables and spices. It’s not bad… just not quite as good as some!
10. Palak roti ✔️✔️
This is a fun-looking option to jazz up an otherwise staple meal accompaniment! I hadn’t heard of it before but found it often came with Thali – a selection of mixed dishes served together on a platter. Quite literally, a healthy roti made with spinach leaves and wheat flour/atta, most common in North India.
11. Naan. ✔️✔️ ✔️✔️
For us, this would be the most well-known of Indian breads that we could get at home. But as you can imagine, nothing compares to trying a warm Naan bread fresh from a tandoor oven while looking out at cows wandering the streets amid the colourful chaos that is Rajasthan. Traditionally Naan is baked inside a very hot clay tandoor oven, with a charcoal or wood fire, so you can just imagine the whiff of Naan cooking whilst looking out at sights like those…
12. Papadum ✔️✔️ ✔️
This is a thin crispy Indian cracker or flat bread. It is typically served as an appetizer but can also be eaten as a snack… [It can also be passed off as a pile of ‘chips’ to slightly apprehensive travelling kids who will after that first taste fall happily in love with papadum and never need to be tricked like that again!].
So there you have it – that’s twelve unique breads that made a pretty impressive bread-bucketlist for us when travelling in India this time… but I’d keenly give it a whirl to try and top this list… Maybe a roti-run eating our way across the desert… or a paratha-pilgrimage starting from the East…
How many have you tried?