Food Story: How Naan and Kulcha became India’s much-loved breads


The beauty about Indian cuisine is that each and every dish that is a part of its
culinary dictionary is addictive. Flatbreads for instance. Though they are the perfect (and necessary)
accompaniment to any dish, they have their very own unique identity and fan-base. We Indians are perfectly
adept at turning any of our flatbreads, by which I mean roti, chapatti, paratha, naan or kulcha, into a roll
or taco or burrito in an instant with as little a filling as a generous layer of ghee (clarified butter), cream,
sugar et al.Yet, if there is one single flatbread that has been the front runner in terms of addictiveness across
India is the Naan. Developed around 2,500 years ago, Naan originated by virtue of an experiment, after the arrival
of yeast in India from Egypt (where the yeast was being used to brew beer and make leavened breads since 187 BC).
However, in India, the breads were mostly chapattis and thick rotis that could survive for at least a week and were
developed during the Harappan culture, when wheat was also cultivated. But it took the civilization another 100 odd years
to come up with a tandoor-based fermented bread variation. Due to its pairing with Mughlai and North Frontier cuisine, many
believe Naan, like kebabs that came from Persia, was developed by the Persians and the Mughals. However, the first recorded
history of Naan found in the notes of the Indo-Persian poet Amir Kushrau, dates this unleavened bread to 1300 AD. Then Naan
was cooked at the Imperial Court in Delhi as naan-e-tunuk (light bread) and naan-e-tanuri (cooked in a tandoor oven). During
the Mughal era in India from around 1526, Naan accompanied by keema or kebab was a popular breakfast food of the royals.
For most part of the glorious independent India, Naan, due to its kneading technique and use of yeast, which at that time was
limited to the richer section of the society, remained a delicacy that was made in royal households and those of nobles. And
though there are sparing mentions of the naan reaching the common man by the end of the 1700s, Naan did remain, and still does,
a specialised art that only a few were privy to, and fewer mastered it. What however the naan did was help develop yet another
common yet lovable flatbread on the culinary table – the tandoori roti made of the dough of maida and atta in the common tandoor.
And while it didn’t have that softness of the naan, it came out as a crunchy flatbread that complimented the succulence of a meat
or vegetarian dishes.Another invention that naan initiated was that of a kulcha. Made using self raising flour with raising agents
like baking soda, it almost replicated naan in its chewiness and soft bite. Plus it was easy to cook on a tawa or a brick kiln,
which made it easily continued…

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