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Breads: Naan, roti, chapati

A basket of naan from Pindi in Delhi, India.

What: In North India, the sidekick to those thick curries is always bread, not rice. Rice is often available, should you prefer it, but there’s nothing like a hot piece of freshly made bread for scooping and mopping up a saucy dish—it is how the food here’s been eaten for centuries. In Delhi, the most common served-on-the-side breads you’ll be dealing with are naan, roti, and chapati (see also: paratha, bedmi in bedmi-aloo, bhature in chole bhature, and kulche in chole kulche).

Naan is a soft, leavened flatbread made of white flour that’s traditionally cooked in a tandoor, or clay oven; it’s generally offered either plain, buttered, or stuffed—with, say, garlic, aloo (potato), or minced mutton (which is then called keema, or qeema, naan). Roti and chapati are both unleavened wheat-flour breads rolled out much thinner than naan and cooked on a tawa, or flat griddle; the breads are so similar as to be interchangeable in name (technically, chapati is a type of roti), and so popular that the average Indian will have some at every meal. Roti, however, has quite a few varieties, including the pillowy tandoori roti, cooked in the tandoor, and the roomali roti, which is rolled out extra thin and often acts as the wrap in kebab rolls. Sheermaal is yet another bread you’re likely to encounter, particularly in Muslim-Mughlai restaurants; a sweet variety of naan made with saffron, it hails from Lucknow in nearby Uttar Pradesh.

Where: Any restaurant in Delhi serving North Indian food will carry most of these breads, but for illustrative purposes, ours is from Pindi (2338-7932; 16, Pandara Rd. Market, map), one of several good Punjabi restaurants on famed Pandara Road, just south of India Gate in central Delhi.

When: Daily, noon-12:30am

Order: Pictured is the hot plain naan (70 rupees) and butter naan (100 rupees), the latter an exceptionally decadent brand of bread, coated in butter. (Note that this is a relatively upscale restaurant, so prices are on the high side.) These naans were particularly delicious alongside Pindi’s butter chicken and kadhai paneer; the restaurant offers lots of other breads too, including garlic, gobi (cauliflower), and aloo naan; keema naan; butter, roomali, and tandoori roti; and tandoori kulcha.

Alternatively: Again, we could list a hundred restaurants here. But you’ll find a wide variety of breads—regular naan and roti, sheermaal, roomali roti, tandoori roti, often keema naan—at such Mughlai-derived restaurants as Al-Jawahar (2327-5987; Bazaar Matia Mahal, opposite Gate 1, Jama Masjid, map) and Karim Hotel (Gali Kababian, Jama Masjid, map), both in Old Delhi; as well as Purani Dilli (2698-3371; 371 Main Rd., Zakir Nagar, Jamia Nagar, map) in Zakir Nagar, a mazelike Muslim enclave in South Delhi.


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