Fresh bread is a delight at home; while travelling it is often the key to understanding the local culture. Here are some of the best breads around the around (the list is nowhere near complete, just an introduction).
Roti is an unleavened bread (no yeast) made with wheat flour, and usually cooked on a metal surface with butter. It can be found in many countries, including India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and the West Indies. One of the most popular variants is Malaysian roti. Roti comes in many forms in Malaysia. It can be cooked with egg (roti telur) or onion (roti bawang), but the traditional serving comes with dhal (lentil curry) and/or a meat curry sauce, and is called roti canai.
There may be nothing better (or more Mexican) than the taste of a hot corn tortilla, straight from the comal, almost too hot to touch. A fresh tortilla, cooked until slightly crisp on the outside, almost melts in your mouth, filling it with the taste of corn. The tortilla is the single most important food in Mexico. It is a symbol of a link with a past that stretches back 2,500 years. It is the main source of nourishment for many Mexicans, especially those in rural regions. Simultaneously a food and a utensil, it serves as a receptacle for stews, grilled meats, vegetables, guacamole, potatoes, rice — virtually anything that will fit in the cradle it forms when folded in two.The origin of this simple flat bread is thought to be in the central highlands of Mexico and, while the method for making them has changed considerably with the arrival of new technologies, the ingredients have not. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the daily lives of Mexican women revolved around the preparation of the stacks of tortillas that would feed her family.
Originated in the Middle East, but Punjabis opened their hearths to naan and subsequently introduced them to the world. True naan has to be cooked along the walls of a tandoor. You can cook naan in a normal oven, but the results will inevitably disappoint; even Indians generally wait to savour them in restaurants, as very few homes are equipped with a tandoor. Laced with garlic, naan is difficult to resist; filled with paneer, impossible.
Bagels may have been invented in Europe, but they were perfected around the turn of the 19th century in New York City – and once you’ve had one here, you’ll have a hard time enjoying one anywhere else. Basically, it’s a ring of plain-yeast dough that’s first boiled and then baked, either left plain or topped with various finishing touches, from sesame seeds to chocolate chips. ‘Bagels’ made in other parts of the country are often just baked and not boiled, which makes them nothing more than a roll with a hole. And even if they do get boiled elsewhere, bagel-makers here claim that it’s the New York water that adds an elusive sweetness never to be found anywhere else. Which baker creates the ‘best’ bagel in New York is a matter of (hotly contested) opinion, but most agree that H&H Bagels, ranks pretty high. The most traditionally New York way to order one is by asking for a ‘bagel and a schmear,’ which will yield you said bagel with a small but thick swipe of cream cheese. Or splurge and add some lox – thinly sliced smoked salmon – as was originally sold from pushcarts on the Lower East Side by Jewish immigrants back in the early 1900s.
All boulangeries have baguettes (or flûtes), which are long and thin, as well as wider loaves simply known as pain (bread), both of which are at their best if eaten within four hours of baking. You can store them for longer in a plastic bag, but the crust becomes soft and chewy; if you leave them out, they’ll soon be hard – which is the way many French people like them at breakfast the next day.
In exile in California in 1941, German playwright Bertolt Brecht confessed that what he missed most about his homeland was the bread. That won’t surprise anyone who has sampled the stuff. German bread is a world-beater, in a league of its own. It’s tasty and textured, often mixing wheat and rye flour, and is available in 300 varieties. Pumpernickel bread is steam-cooked instead of baked, making it extra moist, and is black in colour.
Which breads would you add to this list? Comment below.