If there is one thing that the Delhi College Culture has given it’s a slew of innovative dishes including a filling breakfast (and 2AM treat) called Anda Paratha.
By Madhulika Dash; Picture: Market Café and Bar
When it comes to the world of Indian flatbreads, few have had the kind of interest like the paratha did. The griddle fried flat bread that came into limelight thanks to its mention in Manasollasa, a 12th-century cookbook by Emperor Someshvara III, was a matter of curiosity since its inception a few centuries ago. First as the vessel for the poli, then as the ship for savoury stuffing then ranged from the simple roasted and pounded seeds as in Siddu to the more complex fillings of qeema, sweet marmalade and nuts and so on and so forth. Then came the most glorious chapter when the whole wheat fried flatbread became the centre of affection of the Afgani and Turkish cooks from Samarkand who handled the kitchens of the rich merchants in Bengal and areas around to the military general Bakhtiyar Khalji of Delhi Sultanate to the kitchens of Razia Sultan where the paratha technique was used to create a version of Gözleme, the delicious Turkish street food. A stuffed paratha version that many believe led to the creation of the Baida Roti or Mughlai Paratha in royal kitchen of Emperor Jahangir and around the turn of the 19th century mused the creation of the layered paratha that became an inspiration, says Chef Sabyasachi Gorai (Owner, Fabrica By Saby), “for what today we call the Nizami Roll” thanks to the ingenuity of one brilliant khansama by the name Adil Hafiz Usman.”
In fact, he continues, “if one looks beyond the royal culinary corridors then paratha by the Mughal era had taken on a more substantial role as a filling breakfast – and an integral part of the culinary fabric of the street food, where they were served as these fast-moving alternatives of puri. Moist, soft with a shelf life that quickly turned these fasting favourites into a popular food on the go for the working people, paratha in some format or the other had proliferated the lives of people by the time India had become the crown jewel of Britain. In fact the marketplace had two distinct parathas in existence – the made from maida, layered, gourmet one that came from the royal kitchen and the other that was a simple wheat based flatbread that was crisped using ghee, a common household fare. And while both eventually became a part of thee famous Cha Culture of the British, which inadvertently laid the foundation of khao gali and our love for mid-work and post-work munching, the two parathas did define the rise of what we today call the “mood diet” as each had the potential of putting you into a good mood, irrespective of how the day had been.”
Fascinatingly, there was another space where the paratha did excel to create its own mark as a filling breakfast – the regimental mess (the army word for their officers’ dining hall), says Chef Sharad Dewan (Regional Director, Food Production, The Park Hotel), “the rise of what was once the filling meal for soldiers who preferred having their parathas and rotis to the hard crusted bread offered, the flatbread saw a rise between the two World Wars. It was a time when the British realised that the Indian soldiers and officers – those few lesser royals to join the forces – were not just an important ally but an asset important to help them win. And one way to ensure that was by taking care of the meals.”
Records have it how milk, pulses, egg and grains were brought in for the Indian soldiers and officers while the British side had to do with much canned food. Back home, with princely states like Mayurbhanj aiding the mission, much space was made for Indian food to be a part of the regimental menus. And one of the things that was taken from the chapter of parathas was the roti-anda created by the famous cook Usman. Said to be designed much like the Mughlai Paratha, says Chef Dewan, “it was transformed into a fried version that we today identify as Anda Paratha.”
While little is known of the Usman’s creation aside the fact that the roti version too was layered to keep a generous helping of anda, keema and spices inside the flatbread, says Chef Gorai, “the chances are that the first iteration of the Anda Paratha was shaped more like an envelop rather than the stylish trikon we see today. Of course, there is also the possibility that the Paratha- Anda was a short version created off the Paratha and anda burji/ akuri that had became a part of the Indian meal menu in most of the forts across India, and of the Clubs where it was served as small squares – a petit four with crème fraiche or mayonnaise- based sauce to the riders’ after a day of gallop.”
“By the time India earned its Independence and moved to Industrialisation there were many versions of the paratha anda that existed not just in the market but in cafeteria of colleges where it turned into an affordable luxury,” says Chef Gorai, who while researching for Poppins came across lanes in Delhi that had become not just the finest places of innovation for delicious yet affordable grub, but also of the Mughlai Paratha turning its new chapter as a slimmer but equally delicious anda paratha – where one of the layer of a trikon paratha was opened and filled with a well-seasoned egg mix and then fried again.
While there is little to go on who was the first to turn the paratha into a pocket for an omelette mix, the certain thing was the soulful taste of the simpler version of the royal Mughlai paratha that also made it a popular dish in the galleys of publishing houses where many would come looking for a muse, and Anda Paratha, concludes Chef Dewan, “would provide them with one. After all, it’s a dish that aced not just with its technique (while making it) and theatrics (while eating) but that home, comforting, happy taste too.”