Indian food is one of the most popular cuisines in the world. Here in the UK, you would be hard-pressed to find a city community that did not have access to either a local curry house or Indian takeaway. In fact, even pubs attempt to cash in on the popularity of Indian food with many offering special nights where you can pick up your favourite Indian curry and a pint for a discounted price. But a simple curry is unlikely to satisfy the hunger of the true Indian foodie. After all, it is traditional in India to serve a few sides along with the main dish.
Accompaniments can include anything from pickles and raita to dal and rice. But here in the UK, one of our favourite accompaniments to the classic curry has to be a warm hunk of fresh, fluffy naan bread.
Introducing the naan
The word ‘naan’ translates from the Persian word for bread, ‘non’ -therefore, it is a common assumption that this popular bread can trace its origins back to Persia. In fact, there are even mentions of this bread in texts that date back to 1300 AD. There is evidence that a light version of naan bread was enjoyed at the Imperial Court in Delhi before the recipe was developed using the hot clay Tandoor oven.
By the time the Mughal maharajas had taken control of their Indian territory in the 16th century, naan was firmly on the Indian menu. The royal courts were known for their opulent breakfasts featuring warm naan as the accompaniment to the minced meat dish keema.
The naan was widely enjoyed in India by the British explorers and settlers who first took steps to familiarise themselves with the cuisine of this new, exotic land. One of the first mentions of the naan in British texts is when the bread makes an appearance in William Tooke’s travelogue in the year 1780. However, it was Veeraswamy, the oldest Indian restaurant in London, that can lay claim to bringing the naan to the plates of England. And it has only gone from strength to strength.
The traditional cooking technique
The traditional technique of making naan is to bake it in a hot clay oven known as the Tandoor. Most Indian flatbreads are cooked using a hot griddle, but the naan would be brushed with ghee and pressed into the oven walls where the dough would slowly rise and cook to perfection. Modern cooks can make naan bread in a conventional oven, but in the past it was common for small villages to share a single Tandoor to prepare the meat and bread necessary for feeding their families.
For the love of naan
Naan bread is such a popular accompaniment to Indian food because if handled in the right way it makes cutlery redundant. A chunky piece of naan makes a fantastic utensil for scooping up gravies, curries and rice; this is particularly true of the gravies of North India which are often thicker than their southern counterparts.
Pay a visit to Amaya, one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants to experience Indian cooking in a unique fashion. Not only can you choose from a mouth-watering array of tempting and authentic dishes, you can watch the talented chefs at work in Amaya’s show-stopping open kitchen.