When Adam complained to God that man can’t live by bread and butter alone, God should’ve just given him a new oven and a recipe book for different kinds of bread! That would have saved Adam a lot of trouble, what with buying flowers et al. Not to mention, God too having to pick himself up on the 8th day and create nail salons, designer bags, and the rest. The point here is that Adam probably wasn’t eating the right bread.
Like wine, cheese and beer, bread too is a fermented product. Sugars added to the dough provide food for the yeast which produces carbon-dioxide as a by-product and as it escapes, it makes the dough rise. This is also called leavened bread. Roti, in contrast, is unleavened.
Making good bread, pun be excused, is no piece of cake. Sugar, yeast, fat, flour and water in the correct proportions and combined in the prescribed manner and baked at a precise temperature for a determined time period are essential to the making a fine loaf. Alter any of those by a few units and you end up with a totally different product.
The idea of having bread with our meal is to provide the carbohydrates. The West eats meat as the main part of the meal and hence the bread presented on a side-plate provides the essential carbs. India being an agrarian society, bread is more central to the meal than elsewhere. Rice or pasta is just another form of taking in the carbs and that is exactly why it is beyond me why certain restaurants insist on serving breadrolls alongside pasta: it’s like serving bread to accompany bread!
The different types of breads on our tables today is simply astounding. With wholewheat loafs dominating the scene more and more (mostly for its fibrous benefits over the refined flour versions), people are also experimenting with all sorts of other styles – from rye to corn and barley, sour-dough to regional breads (pumpernickel or paranthas) to breads for different times of the day (breakfast and dinner rolls, tea toasts, dosas to appams). While most are more or less composed of similar basic ingredients, they differ in their handling and/or technique which further serves to showcase the versatility of one very simple product.
The correct way to eat bread is to break off a tiny morsel, apply butter (or dip it in olive oil) and eat it in one go. Never bite off bread with your teeth; not if you weren’t brought up by wolves in the wilderness. Hence the term to break bread. In the Middle East, to break bread at someone’s house shows the highest form of trust. It means that we place our faith in our host to not poison us.In days gone by, to refuse to break bread at a person’s house pretty much amounted to announcing irreconcilable enmity. In India, we always break bread with our right hand, the left being considered, let’s just say, not so pious. The West had another quirk: bread is always offered and never placed on someone’s plate. This originates from France where serving someone a bread roll right side down was considered an omen for death hence the safer choice of allowing the diner to pick up the bread with his hands and place it by his plate rather than risk casting a dark spell over the guests.
Even in the world of wines, bread plays a very important role. It is that one product that is allowed space on the table besides wines. It helps reset the palate and neutralises our olfactory thus enhancing our grasp of the stuff in the glass. It is most useful to have a small piece of bread when we feel our senses exhausted at a tasting. It also helps remove excess tannins from the mouth thus helping prepare us for the next wine. With spicy food, bread is my saviour and performs the function of dousing the flames in my mouth which not even gallons of water can achieve.
So much for an ode to an unsung yet indispensable member of all meals. Next time you break some, take a moment and admire this ickle bun of joy!