Beyond Rotis & Parathas – A Guide To The Different Breads Of India

Beyond Rotis & Parathas – A Guide To The Different Breads Of India
Soumyajit Chakladar

“Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,

A Flask of Wine, A Book of Verse - and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness -

And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”

- Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

When it comes to bread, we immediately tend to imagine French bakeries or a Persian Makhbiz with hot loaves baking in the oven. Yes, French and Persian breads are famous and have featured in the diet of many people for thousands of years. In fact, no meal is considered complete without a few loaves of bread to go with your meal. If we would like to understand the origin of bread in India, then we must travel back a few thousand years to the Vedic age. There are mentions of popular “Paratha” which loosely translates to stuffed bread offered to the Devas (Indian Gods) during religious rituals. One of the most famous Hindu epics written by Tulsidas in the 16th century the Ramayana, mentions the word “Roti” in quite a few verses. Even the literature of South India has mentions in various texts. In fact, bread has been mentioned in some form or the other across Indian history and has become an intrinsic part of our culture albeit in different forms.

Bread in India even created new vocations with the Naanbais and Bhatiyaars, where the former ran proper shops to sell bread in bulk and the latter would prepare rotis for households and operated on a smaller scale. Recently, I was lucky enough to try a variety of Indian breads which where different from anything I had before. It peaked my curiosity to such an extent that I decided to study about these breads. Through the next few images I will try to take you with me through their origins so you may know a bit more about them and maybe try them if you get a chance !


Sheermal has its origins in in Persia. It comes from two words, “sheer” meaning milk and “mal” meaning an expensive ingredient like dry fruit. This particular variety of bread is sweet to the taste and no meal is considered complete without it in a Awadhi Dastarkhwan. Sheermals are generally baked in tandoors made of iron and is widely consumed across the Middle East and Pakistan. Centuries ago, the Parsis brought it to India during their migration and the bread soon found a place in the Awadhi and Hyderabadi palate, especially with the royalty. The royals soon integrated the sheermal into their daily diet of kebabs, met dishes, dal and a mouth- watering dessert called Muzzafar (made from vermicelli strands).

Pairing: Goes well with Kakori Kebabs

Soumyajit Chakladar


The Mughal era was a period which saw numerous gastronomic innovations by the Khansamas, and bread was no different. The Bhakarkhani is one of the least explored and least known of the breads made during that time. The art of making this requires a lot of skill and finesse which is why it is quite rare to see this version nowadays. But all is not lost as you can still find the flaky and puffy bread if you visit the last few surviving naanbias of Old Delhi, Lucknow and its place of origin of Hyderabad. Some might argue that the bread didn’t originate in Hyderabad which is maybe why it is difficult to find Bhakarkhani bakers in the city.

The bread itself has quite an interesting story behind it, checkered with jealousy and love. According to the legend, a highly acclaimed general, in Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah’s army, Aga Bakar fell in love with a courtesan called Khani begum. The lady was only privy to the affections of a rival general and was eventually murdered to the feuding men. It is said that a distraught Bakar was so heartbroken that he inspired his khansamas to name his favourite baked bread as an ode to his timeless love. Thus, was born the “Bakar- Khani” which later evolved into Bakarkhani. The bread looks quite different from region to region with the Kashmiri version resembling a large flatbread or naan while the Pakistani versions are more like phyllo pastries of different shapes. You can find this type of bread in Bangladesh as well!

Soumyajit Chakladar


The Khameeri was another popular bread during the Mughal era in addition to the Bakharkhani and Naan. The word means “Yeast” in Urdu and is a leavened flatbread which was a favourite among the common people. This particular type of Indian bread is soft, spongy and has a slight tangy taste to it which is highly unique and special. In the early 17th and 18th centuries instead of yeast, people used to leave the dough overnight to ferment and rise, similar to the European sourdough bread.

Pairing: Khameeri rotis go well with Nalli Nihari

Soumyajit Chakladar


Having its origins in Persia, the Taftaan also called taftoon hails from the Persian word for heating which is “tafan”. According to the Iranian national epic Shahnameh, the word taftaan had been in use for several centuries across Persia. Although the bread could only be made in a tandoor or clay oven, nowadays the use of rotary ovens and baking machines has gained popularity. What’s unique about this bread is that it uses little to no salt and was commonly eaten by merchants along the Grand Turk road, which has been recognized as one of the history’s oldest trade routes. It encompasses Kabul, Pakistan and India with it finally ending in Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Pairing: Goes well with honey.

Soumyajit Chakladar

Warqi (Tandoor)

With its roots in Lucknowi Kitchens, the Warqi paratha has been a part of Awadhi cuisine for centuries now. The word warqi literally means “layers” and the warqi paratha looks very similar to the layered lachcha paratha but has very different ways of preparation. Mostly prepared from maida, sometimes sugar or kesar is also integrated into the recipe giving a sweet ans sour taste which is quite pleasant. The paratha is folded multiple times to create the required layers and then flattened out before baking. The recipe, however, requires the dough to be cooled for sometime before being rolled into a paratha.

Pairing: Goes beautifully with Galouti Kebabs.

Soumyajit Chakladar

About the author: Soumyajit Chakladar is an Art Director based out of New Delhi- currently working on a series called the “Breads of India” to highlight the wide variety of breads that are eaten across the country. Be it the Sheermal from the north to Mangalore Buns of the south, Puran Polis of the west to Pithas of the east. Through this documentation series on the different varieties and the sub-varieties of India’s breads, or (even to say) what counts as bread in India, he wants to highlight the staggering diversity of India’s breads that reflect a long history of trade and invasion leading to cultural and culinary syncretism. In the first of a 4 part series, he has very briefly covered some of the breads more common in the North, their rich history and pairings.

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