I'm traveling in India right now, and thought that I'd keep you up to date on things that REALLY count.
I went to a popular vegetarian restaurant here in Jaipur yesterday. Off in the corner of the restaurant, in plain sight, was a man making bread.
Now I have to explain that a lot of Indian bread is in the flat style; bread baked in a loaf is totally available, but it's not what is served with a meal.
Follow me below.
The plainest bread that is served with the meal is the chapatti, which is flat, round, about the size of a large pancake, and made of whole wheat flour. It is brought to the table hot, freshly made, and I'm talking freshly made that second, the brown surface nubbly with darker spots, so hot that it burns your fingers when you try to tear it, and if you pick it up and smell it, it has this enchanting smell that tells you that this bread is slap-you-in-the-face fresh and full of whole wheat goodness. It's actually food, truly the staff of life, an incredibly appetizing treat that compliments the other food that you're going to not only eat it with, but use pieces of to pick up the food. The combination of wonderful food and made – that– instant bread is one of those things that I cried for back in the United States; you won't understand unless you go to a good Indian restaurant there and experience the bread first hand. As far as I know, the only equivalent in the United States, other than an upscale Indian restaurant, is the kind of Mexican restaurant that serves fresh tortillas made on the spot. I do have to point out that there is the occasional restaurant in the United States that makes fresh bread and serves it, and I have had excellent fresh bread there, but Indian bread is in a class of its own.
Slightly more complex is the Paratha, which is like the chapati but has a layer of butter in the middle, followed by the stuffed paratha, which not only has butter but various other things such as onions and other vegetables. The stuffed parathas served at breakfast here at the hotel are not only meltingly fresh, but a meal in themselves. Combined with an omelette, it's a breakfast made in heaven.
At the restaurant I went to yesterday, I ordered Lachcha paratha, and I had to walk over to the man baking bread and actually watch as it was made. We're talking something that is layered with butter and structured somewhat like a cinnamon roll, in complex layers. I finally found out how it's done, and in this case the disc of dough is anointed with Ghee, which is clarified butter, and then deftly folded on itself accordion style, then turned on its edge and rolled up, then flattened out and baked.
The oven that this bread is made in is a Tandoor, a sort of vase shaped enclosure that is incredibly hot. You can see the waves of heat rising from it when the bread cook takes the lid off. He takes the flat bread, sets it on a pad, reaches into the oven and slaps the bread against the inner wall, where it immediately sticks. He does this when he is forewarned by the main kitchen that you are about to be served, and about a minute later he reaches in with two long pieces of metal and pulls your bread out. The screamingly fresh bread is brought to your table with beautiful darkened spots that give the bread a tiny bit of crunch in the yielding, melt-in- your– mouth, almost indescribably delicious texture. The word ‘Fresh’ doesn't begin to describe this manna from heaven, this incredible treat the Indians take totally for granted, lucky them. For Indians, it's just an everyday occurrence; for me, it's a cause for grateful tears. Of course, sitting in the restaurant, I don't cry over its perfect goodness; I'm too busy snarfing. Trying unsuccessfully not to burn my fingers, I tear pieces of the bread off and pick up the tongue-twisting curries with it. The combination is almost indescribably delicious; it's like a marriage made in heaven.
There are many other styles of bread, such as Nan, which slightly resembles Pizza, And which comes in a large variety, including garlic Nan, one of my personal favorites. There are other types of bread, such as Baati, a small ball-shaped bread that is a specialty of “right just done” (that's Rajasthan, according to my dictation program, and it's such a good one that I had to keep it) in fact, it might be the perfect way to characterize Indian bread; “Right Just Done”, or maybe “Just Done Right”.
I would continue, but I have to go down and have breakfast. This is Shri 108 Maharaj, signing off, and wishing you bread as fresh as the one that I am about to have.