From the kingdom of poppadom

Crunch factor It is estimated that about 2 million papads are eaten every day in Britain DH pic Kishor Bolar, courtesy Kamat  Bugle Rock

Let us begin with an appetiser. Roast a papad (the bigger the better) on high flame and set aside on a plate. Finely chop a small onion, a tomato and coriander leaves. Add a little lemon juice or amchur powder. Mix all these ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle chilli powder and salt. Spread the mixture on the papad. Your masala papad, the baap of all papads, is ready.

A papad aids digestion as the key ingredient hing or asafoetida is a digestive aid. A papad serves as a starter or appetiser. Gujaratis begin their meal with papad and pickle. It also serves as a finale. A sumptuous Bengali meal ends with chutney and papad. You can also relish a papad during the course of a meal or savour it as a snack between meals. It is a great accompaniment for alcoholic beverages.

Papads contribute a crunchy component to an Indian meal. They can be roasted, deep fried or even microwaved — with or without oil. Traditionally flat circles of various sizes, today you can find mini papads in oval and elliptical shapes. Making papads is a labour intensive process and therefore not many people make them at home anymore.  Today, papads are available commercially in raw form to be finished at home. Papads are now branded and sold. An essential ingredient of the flat papad is de-husked black gram dal. In a true papad, urad dal can only be replaced to a certain extent — but never completely — by other dals like moong, tur and chana. Papad flavours can be varied by incorporating various spicy elements in the dough.

While papad may originally be a South Indian contribution, it is equally popular in North India, where the word papad occurs in a popular Hindi tongue twister —  Kachaa papad, Pakaa papad.

Symbol of national integration  

Each region has its own papad variety. In the north, Punjabis make Amritsari papads from urad dal and black peppercorn. In Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, aloo papads are very popular. Along the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where saboodana or sago is abundant, pristine white saboodana papads are popular.

The Rajasthanis, especially the Marwaris, spice up their urad or moong dal papads with red chillies, jeera and asafoetida (hing). Marwaris also make a delicious curry with papads. Traditionally, Sindhis made their papads with a mixture of dried matar (peas) and urad dal. In Andhra Pradesh, papads are made from peanuts, til, jowar or bajra. Jowari papads are equally popular in North India. In some parts of Karnataka you get ragi papad.

The papad has also reached foreign shores. In Britain, where they are known as poppadoms, they are the most fashionable among hors d’oeuvres served with apertifs and cocktails, even in the Queen’s Indian meals. It is estimated that about two million handmade poppadoms are eaten every day in Britain.

In most curry houses in the United Kingdom and Australia, they are served as a starter alongside various dips and mango chutney. Small units in India export papads and appalams abroad.

Know your papads

Only a gourmet would know the subtle difference between appalam, papad and pappadam. Most of the papads consumed in South India are appalams — round, five inches in diameter and unspiced. Bikaneri papads, prepared with urad and moong dal, are spicy and bigger measuring up to 10 inches.

Then there is the rice appalam, which is grainy and also popular among South Indians. Leftover rice is mashed with spices and sun-dried to make rice papads.

Khakra is a good alternative to papad. The thin crispy-crunchy khakra, a favourite Gujarati snack, is an appetiser like the papad. Khakras are available in the market but unlike papads, there is no need to fry or roast them. They can be eaten straightaway. They are more like very thin, spiced rotis, cooked on a low flame. They are  made with wheat flour, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, kasturi methi (dried fenugreek leaves), ajwain/carom seeds and salt. You can top khakras with chopped tomatoes, onions and chutney to turn it into a yummy chaat.  

The jackfruit papad is made from raw jackfruit which is steamed and ground without adding water. Ingredients including cumin seeds, sesame seed powder, salt and pepper powder is added. Sandige, another smaller variation, is popular in Karnataka. Then there are prawn papads (fritters).

Topping tales

For sheer variety you can make papad pakoras by placing the filling on a uncooked papad,  wrapping it up and frying it. You can use the toppings used on Mexican tortillas, tacos, nachos and tostados on papads. In fact, like pizzas, there is a great scope for culinary innovation with papads.

Like agarbathi-making and beedi-rolling, papad making cannot be mechanised. Besides papads have to be sun-dried. The humble papad has become a symbol of women’s empowerment. The Mumbai-based Shri Mahila Griha Udyog, the makers of the famous Lijjat Papad, is an organisation which symbolises the strength of a woman. Only women can become members of this organisation. Thousands of women have benefited from papad-making as an occupation.

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