India is one of the largest countries in the world, both in area and population. Its colorful and vibrant cultures are world-famous, and their food is beloved around the globe.
Indian food encompasses a broad range of regional dishes, chutneys, yogurt-filled drinks, aromatic spice mixtures, and street food snacks called chaat.
It’s common knowledge that Indians eat without utensils, using their right hands to pick the food up off their plates. However, they have a helpful edible serving spoon: bread.
There are numerous types of Indian bread made with different ingredients and cooking techniques.
Below, I’ll explore the ingredients, taste, texture, and tradition of the many different types of Indian bread used in Indian cuisine.
Naan is the most well-known type of Indian bread, served around the world in Indian restaurants and even sold premade in grocery stores.
It’s a simple flatbread made from a mixture of flour, water, yeast, sour yogurt, salt, and olive oil.
After letting the dough rise, the traditional form of cooking is in an Indian tandoor or clay wood-fired oven.
Similar to pizza dough or focaccia, naan cooks over an open flame, acquiring a slight char while the doughy center becomes bubbly and pillowy.
Naan comes in many flavors, from garlic to cheese. It folds easily, so you can scoop stewed meats and vegetables with it. I like to add anise seeds to the batter for a distinctly aromatic flavor.
A common breakfast and snack bread in the Northern Indian region known as Punjab, Bhatura is a puffy fried bread made with a leavened sourdough with the same base ingredients as naan.
Like naan, Bhatura consists of wheat flour, sour yogurt, yeast, and ghee or olive oil.
After the dough has risen, you portion the dough into small balls, flattening them into small circles.
The dough is then deep-fried until it puffs up into a sphere. The exterior is slightly crunchy and usually served with chickpea curry.
I like to fill it with paneer or cheese curds to create a heartier, more decadent variation.
Originating in the Punjab, parathas were once a delicacy for Indian high society but have since become one of the most popular flatbreads in the world.
Today, many different countries serve parathas with their meals.
Parathas are basically the unleavened version of naan bread, using a mix of whole wheat flour, white flour, water, and ghee.
Unlike most unleavened bread that is usually cracker-thin, Parathas are thick and flakey.
This is the result of folding the dough various times and coating each layer in ghee before frying it into a savory flatbread.
I’d compare its light, flakiness to a butter croissant. It’s customary to stuff parathas with spiced potatoes.
Parotta originated in Tamil Nadu as a peasant bread eaten by Tamil laborers for lunch and breakfast.
Parottas are still popular street food in Tamil Nadu and the neighboring southern Indian state of Kerala.
Parottas are essentially Southern India’s version of the Paratha, consisting of white flour, ghee, and water mixed into a thick dough.
Parotta’s are fried, but they’re first formed into knotted balls which make for a more interesting texture that’s a little thicker than a Paratha.
It’s hard not to love fried bread, and Parottas are a beloved snack and side dish whether you’re wandering the streets or at a wedding celebration.
I like eating them slathered in raita or sour yogurt.
Bhakri is a type of bread traditionally made from millet flour and water and native to the middle west coast states of India.
That said, there are wheat flour, corn flour, and rice flour variations in states where millet isn’t a staple.
Bhakri is a simple flat bread that assumes the shape of a large, thin circular crepe.
Like the Mexican tortilla, a simple mixture of flour and water create the dough that is portioned into balls and flattened by a plate or hand before being baked over an open fire grill.
The Bhakri can be soft like a tortilla or hard and crunchy depending on baking time. I loved the hard version which you can use as an edible plate. I slather flavorful chutneys atop it for a snack.
Another staple from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Appam is a crepe-like flatbread made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk. It has the look of Ethiopian injera, but it has a stiffer texture.
Appam is a pancake insofar as its batter is poured over a griddle and cooked for a few minutes on each side.
Also, depending on the region and meal, Appam can be sweet or savory. It’s customary to eat Appam at breakfast or dinner.
I think coconut milk gives it a rich flavor that’s tempered by the tang of fermented rice.
I like to eat it as egg appam, where you crack an egg over the appam as it cooks, like an Indian-style egg-in-the-hole.
Kulcha is the Indian equivalent to dinner rolls, small, fluffy semi-leavened flatbread rounds eaten alongside curry stews.
Kulcha is made with wheat flour, water, and yeast and left to sit for an hour before rolling the dough into small rounds and baking it in the tandoor.
The result is a simple, pillowy, and perfectly round bread that absorbs and holds up to thick Indian curries.
In northern India, Kulchas are larger, thinner, and stuffed with fried cheese, acting as a favorite streetside snack.
I like them in their simplest form, served piping hot with a slather of ghee.
Originating in the Indian state of Gujarat, Thepla remains a favorite regional flatbread eaten at breakfast or as a snack.
Thepla is unleavened, consisting of a mixture of wheat, millet, chickpea, gram flours, fenugreek leaves, spices, ghee, water, and, often, milk.
Thepla is plate-sized and firm like a large Mexican tortilla. They’re very flavorful and rich due to the milk, spices, and ghee.
They are also a griddle cake, made on a flat top or metal dome, puffing up slightly over an open flame.
I love the taste of fenugreek that shines through their buttery chewiness. I like to eat them with yogurt and pickled mango.
A traditional bread from the dry and arid regions of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Baati is a round, hard unleavened roll.
Made from water, ghee, and wheat flour, Baati uses very little water and is totted for its long shelf-life. You typically eat it with dal, a lentil stew, or Bharta, mashed eggplant.
Baati is an oven-baked dome-shaped cracker that tastes nice on its own as a simple buttery cracker.
You can also crush it into croutons and let it absorb the moisture in dal or bharta. I love dal and paired with baati, it makes for a complete protein with a more complex texture profile.
Dosas are the Indian equivalent of a crepe. They are made with fermented rice and lentil batter, poured over a dome-shaped griddle until fluffy or crisp, and folded into triangles or cylinders.
Dosas are from Southern India but have gained worldwide popularity.
Like crepes, dosas have numerous variations, both sweet and savory. They can be served plain with a side of chutney or ghee, they can be stuffed with potatoes, or the batter can be sprinkled with chilies, scallions, and other aromatic ingredients.
Dosas run the textural and flavor gamut, but I like them in their soft, savory form with scallions, chili, and tomato.
A popular snack in India, Kachori differs according to region.
Chaat is the term that refers to street food snacks, and kachori is one of the most popular chaats in any region.
Made of gram flour or wheat flour, Kachori is a small, puffy, and crunchy fried cracker stuffed with lentil paste.
The crackers use lentil or bean flour for the outer shell, stuffing it with spiced lentil paste, ginger, chili powder, and pepper.
Therefore, these are spicy snacks that need little embellishment. Depending on the region, they’re either served plain or topped with sweet chutneys and yogurt to offset the spiciness.
I love them with tangy-sweet tamarind chutney.
Chapatis are a popular unleavened flatbread with numerous regional varieties.
In their simplest form, chapatis consist of water and whole wheat flour, to which you can also add ghee, oil, or salt for a richer flavor.
While chapati is unleavened, the dough proofs for 15 minutes to an hour before being spooned onto a hot griddle.
Some cooking techniques include cooking it first on the griddle and finishing it off with a minute or two over an open flame to create charred, puffy air pockets.
In my opinion, Chapatis look like Neapolitan pizza crusts without the toppings. Chapatis are savory and delicious, often topped with spiced potatoes and peas or paneer.
Luchi is deep-fried wheat-flour puffs made by deep-frying a simple mixture of white flour and water in ghee.
If you don’t have ghee, oil will do just fine. Luchi is puffy, but also soft, collapsing as you puncture the puffy shell with your teeth.
Luchi originated in the Bengal state of India and the neighboring country of Bangladesh and is usually served alongside a boiled and spiced potato dish called dum aloo.
They are chewy and buttery, but I still find them light and delicate. They’re also small, so you can devour them in a few quick bites. I like them alongside lentils or a stewed vegetable like eggplant.
Bakarkhani is a thick, slightly sweet biscuit that is a popular type of bread in India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Russia.
There’s an iconic love story surrounding Bakarkhani’s origins in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Bakarkhani consists of a dough made from wheat flour, ghee, cardamom, sugar, salt, and water that’s kneaded and stretched, then covered in layers of ghee, molasses, and saffron water before being baked in a tandoor.
The result is a dense and chewy, slightly sweet biscuit. The variations in India are flatter and less dense with a crisper shell and a sesame seed topping.
I find them the perfect snack for a mid-morning tea break.
The unleavened counterpart to Naan, Roti is just as popular.
It consists of wheat flour and water-based dough, rolled into rounds, and baked at high temperatures inside a clay tandoor.
Roti is a bit denser and firmer than Naan, often used to create a taco or pita-like wrap for savory fillings.
In India, Roti is eaten alongside a full meal of stewed vegetables, meats, and lentils. You would use it like naan, to grab and absorb stews off your plate.
It’s also a quick and easy flatbread to make. There’s no waiting for the dough to rise, and it cooks in a matter of minutes in a hot oven.
I place my roti uncooked in a broiler to imitate the open-flame temperatures of the tandoor oven.
Puri is a popular snack, breakfast, and Hindu food offering made of whole wheat flour and water deep-fried in ghee or oil.
They are a popular Indian tread, served hot out of the frier to accompany a curry dish.
In Bangladesh and the Indian state of Bengal, they’re called luchi, which I discussed earlier on my list.
Puri is slightly crunchier and somewhat larger than luchi. Some variations are as large as plates and topped with potatoes or other aromatic pastes then punctured into a flatbread.
I prefer the Odisha-style puri, stuffed with lentils.
I’ll end my list on a sweet note, with Sheermal. Sheermal is popular in Northern India, but it’s from Iran.
The word Sheermal is Persian and means “milk-rubbed.” Sheermal is made with ghee, yeast, milk, white flour, sugar, and saffron. It’s essentially a sweet naan that replaces water with milk.
The result is a yellow, oven-baked sweet bread that almost looks like a typical Danish without the glaze.
It’s a delightful snack, breakfast, or even a dessert. You can eat it with savory dishes as well. I like the subtle sweetness. It tastes great paired with a milky, spiced chai.