Peeling the many layers of parathas across India

In fact, TasteAtlas ranked the Indian Roti and all its flatbread variants, which includes parathas, as the fourth most popular street food around the world.
Mughlai paratha.
Mughlai paratha.

A very happy New Year to you, dear readers! It’ll soon be a year since I restarted Delectable Delhi—here to speak about all things Delhi, in food. Over months, I’ve brought to you poignant stories from Kashmir, introduced home chefs who make for some of this city’s best food secrets, and shared stories that ring in comfort and warmth. Going ahead, I’ll hopefully do more of it—only even better!

For almost all of the past month, we collectively complained about the lack of ‘December feels’ as Delhi NCR didn’t exactly see the kind of winters that we’re used to. But, come January, and the temperatures have dipped! The cold wave has set in and looks like it is here to stay for a while.

Winters in North India are a food lover’s delight. Personally, my go-to meals in these

chilly months are hot, stuffed parathas, served with a dollop of homemade butter, seasonal pickle and some curd.

Malabar parotta
Malabar parotta

I wake up every morning excitedly and make my way to the kitchen to brew a cup of tea, and alongside, check out what vegetables sit in the box in the refrigerator. This, in turn, gives the inclination of what paratha they be turned into. The good ol’ aloo paratha is usually given a break till the new harvest of potatoes begin to show up in the market towards mid-December. The sweetish cauliflower is turned into gobhi paratha, the radish into spicy mooli paratha, and then there’s always the creamy and comforting paneer paratha. Oh, and did I mention the leftover dal turned into parathas? So, there’s that too. The sizzle of the paratha on a hot tawa is, in fact, my winter love song!

It is believed that the parathas came to India from West Asia. Sonal Ved writes in her book Whose Samosa Is It Anyway? that the actual name for paratha is ‘Waraqi’ in Persian—owing to the technique of kneading the dough with milk and having multiple layers to it that can be peeled. This fundamental recipe is consistent with the parotta from Kerala, too.

Up north, a close cousin to the delectable Malabar parotta is the laccha paratha—with its many layers. But, the parotta is made of maida with an addition of oil, and is left to leaven for a long time. Personally, I love having Malabar parotta with a spicy egg curry, and sometimes also shred it to make it like a kotthu parotta—yes, yet another variety of it!

When I got married and went to Kolkata to my husband’s hometown, I discovered the Mughlai paratha. This egg-based paratha was made popular by the once-uber-popular Anadi Cabin—an iconic eatery with centuries of stories to tell. Made of maida, the paratha is cooked and then a masala made of ginger, garlic, sliced onions and green chilies is added to it, along with beaten eggs. Even today, it remains a hearty, wholesome meal-for-one that the ‘City of Joy’ swears by!

You’d likely imagine by now that I find plenty of joy in savouring parathas—also the kind of bread that I like. This versatile base makes it to more Indian dishes than what you may imagine, and can even be savoured on its own. It is also as ubiquitous to Delhi as rajma-chawal, with landmark joints making localities popular on their own accord! Not only is it a quick meal that’s easy to prepare—it is also economical and accessible for all.

In fact, TasteAtlas ranked the Indian Roti and all its flatbread variants, which includes parathas, as the fourth most popular street food around the world. If one has to believe the crowds outside Murthal on Grand Trunk Road, who line up for parathas even at odd hours of the night, then one wouldn’t doubt an Indian’s love for their parathas of all types, at all!

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The New Indian Express