TWAS Eats – Parathas!

On the menu: In praise of parathas
By Saima Shakil Hussein
(This article was originally published/printed in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper)

 

 

paratha

 

 

It is almost impossible to describe in words the joy that is engendered by that wondrously crisp, pleasantly flaky, and subtly fragrant fried flatbread that is the paratha — the smell of it, the sight of it, and most especially the taste of it. Oh-so-filling and utterly satisfying, it is the perfect food for any time of the day or night. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, even afternoon tea — it is always a good time to eat a paratha.

The paratha originated in the Punjab from where it spread across the subcontinent. In Chandi Chowk, Old Delhi’s oldest and busiest market, there is even a Parathay Wali Gali (Lane of Parathas) known for the many shops selling parathas. When South Asian traders and workers travelled to other parts of the world, they took the paratha with them. In Mauritius it became known as farata, Malaysians call it roti canai, while in Singapore it is referred to as roti parata.

What makes a paratha a paratha? It’s the layers, definitely the layers. Without them this amalgam of parath (layer) and atta (dough) would be just an oily roti. The paratha may be made with maida (refined white flour), wholewheat flour, or even sooji (semolina). It may be round or square in shape. But it is the expert handling of the dough which creates the coveted layers.

Indeed, if you have made yourself a paratha, or — even better — had the pleasure of watching someone else make you one, you will agree that the making of it is a little bit like origami. Adherents of the square paratha school of thought roll out a piece of dough, fold in the sides to make what looks like a square-shaped roti, then spread some ghee or oil on it and fold some more to form a compact square pat of dough. The square is rolled out once again and shallow-fried on a hot tava (round metal griddle).

Groupies of the round paratha, also called lacha paratha, get a bit more creative. The rolled out dough is folded up like a fan then stretched to look like a piece of rope. The rope is shaped into a flat coil, flattened completely with a rolling pin, and then cooked on the same hot tava. Dabs of ghee or oil are applied throughout the process. The end result of both processes is a golden brown flaky flatbread ready to be eaten. I like to sprinkle sugar on mine, then roll it up and dunk in a mug of tea at frequent intervals while eating.

Not all parathas, however, are cooked on a tava. An equally popular and usually commercially made variety is deep-fried until it is almost golden in colour. A common accompaniment to barbeque foods such as chicken tikka and seekh kebab, this crispy flatbread should not be considered a puri. A genuine puri puffs up into a full-blown sphere and does not boast the layers that characterise even this paratha. To be perfectly honest, I cannot describe how the layers got there because I have not had the pleasure of closely observing the making of it. Usually I am too engrossed in stuffing myself with the finished product.

Speaking of stuffing, there is very little out there which may not be tucked between two tava parathas to create an incredibly scrumptious whole new one. Aloo (potato), qeema (minced meat), gobhi (cauliflower), muttar (green peas), palak (spinach) … the list is virtually endless with no holds barred apparently. I recently learned of a thing called banana paratha. It sounds suspicious like a brazen invasion into French crepe/American pancake territory, but it is still definitely going to be tried. As is the Nutella paratha. Yes, you read correctly. It does indeed exist.

A friend who lived in Singapore for some time raved about the cheese paratha freshly made and sold by vendors there. He claimed that he ate it regularly, but then he also took up running quite regularly. This explains why he did not succumb to heart disease within the year.

My favourite paratha story though involves mooli (radish) and the wonderful city of Lahore, that great haven of hospitality and hearty appetites. I was visiting Lahore for work and had plans to meet a friend for breakfast near M.M. Alam Road. My host, a beloved aunt, had knowledge of this since the night before. But come morning, when I went to bid her adieu for the day, she offered a massive, piping-hot mooli ka paratha. “Eat this. It’s not good to leave the house with an empty stomach, beta.” “But Aunty, I’m going out to eat breakfast.” “Haan, haan, I know. Just eat one.”
Yaar Karachi, you have so much to learn.

 

 

saima

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