Coming in at number 4 of the World's Most Popular Street Foods by Taste Atlas is the Indian Roti and all its stuffed variants that are lovingly called parathas here at home. Let's dive into the history and scope of this simple Indian delicacy that rules our culinary landscape.
The Indian stuffed paratha originated in the early medieval period, pre-12th century CE, initially as sweet variations. The Chalukya king in his work Manasollasa describing a flatbread filled with wheat flour, jaggery, and gram paste. This paved the way for regional variations like 'holige/obbattu' in Karnataka and 'puran poli' in Maharashtra and Gujarat. The book also mentions other stuffed wheat parathas like vestika, manda/mandaka and polika, the latter serving as a precursor to savory angarapolika. The Gujarati text Varanaka Samuchaya (1520 CE) notes spicy parathas like 'methi theplas' made from wheat-flour, enjoyed with raita.
Beyond the historical accounts, the paratha has entrenched itself as a vital component of traditional breakfasts and meals across the Indian subcontinent. A paratha often finds itself in the company of yellow salted butter, white unsalted butter (known as Makkhan in Hindi), chutney, pickles, ghee, ketchup, yogurt, or raita as condiments. The versatility of parathas extends to their pairing with various dishes, such as meat or vegetable curries, fried eggs, omelettes, keema matar, nihari, jeera aloo, and dal. Some even roll a plain paratha into a tube, savoring it with tea during tiffin, occasionally dipping the paratha in the tea for an added culinary delight.
In North India, stuffed parathas have achieved the status of a delicacy, with options like aloo (potato), paneer, or cauliflower taking centre stage. Best enjoyed with curd, pickle, or sometimes curry, these parathas have become synonymous with hearty breakfasts. Chandni Chowk in Delhi boasts the iconic Parathe wali gali, a narrow alley dedicated to parathas that has thrived since the 1870s. Punjabi and North Indian dhabas and hotels often prioritize parathas as the primary breakfast option.
Venturing south, the Kerala Porotta is crafted from gently-cooked flaky layers of maida. Also known as Malabari Porotta, it finds perfect companionship with roast beef or calamari. In Madurai, Tamil Nadu, the Porotta transforms the renowned Kothu Parotta, where it is shredded into a small pieces, infused with additional spices, and garnished to create a Salad-like dish. The egg Kothu Porotta I ate in Hyderabad is now a regular breakfast staple in my house and is the best thing that can happen to leftover parathas.
Parathas, far beyond being mere street food, have embedded themselves deeply in the cultural and personal fabric of Indian homes. Our 'Mummy ke parathe' are each unique to our families carrying the taste of heritage and have become an integral part of the subcontinent's gastronomic identity.