As a true blue Punjabi, I have always felt a sense of ostentatiousness in the fact that ‘roti shoti’ is our claim to gastronomic fame! Butter chicken without Naan isn’t even an option, Chole without Kulche? We don’t resonate with that either! We want the works! But of course…. What is Batman without Robin? These Indian breads emerge as an indispensable part of our daily meals, almost staple to every single event or wedding.
For the longest time Naan was only ‘Butter Naan’ and Kulcha was ‘Chola Kulcha’; Till recently when the formulation of menu is almost a cult. From North to South Gurgaon, West and South Delhi, Delhi vs Mumbai and Bangalore vs Hyderabad, here is one more…. Naan vs Kulcha! With food innovations being the order of the moment, and choices swelling, the competition only intensifies. Here is how I traced them… and you’ll be surprised!
Naan To Kulcha
The first recorded history of Naan was found in the notes of the Indo-Persian poet Amir Kushrau, dating this unleavened bread to 1300 AD. Then Naan was cooked at the Imperial Court in Delhi as naan-e-tunuk (light bread) and naan-e-tanuri (cooked in a tandoor oven).
One invention that naan initiated was that of a kulcha. The Sufi mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Aurangabadi. Hazrat Nizamuddin invited Mir Qamruddin for a meal and offered him kulchas tied in a yellow cloth. Mir Qamruddin wolfed down seven kulchas. On his apology, Hazrat Nizamuddin prophesised that one day he would be king and that his descendants would rule for seven generations.
The Mughals vs Nizams?
Naan was a staple during the Mughal era in India. From around 1526, Naan accompanied by keema or kebab was a popular breakfast food of the royals. Due to its pairing with Mughlai and North Frontier cuisine, many believe Naan, like kebabs that came from Persia, was developed by the Persians and the Mughals. The official bread for breakfast and lunch by the time Shah Jehan took to the throne. In fact, the king, during his exile, preferred naan to biryanis. Aurangzeb too was fond of naan as it went well with all the vegetarian fare.
While the popularising of Kulcha is accredited to The Nizams; with that the kulcha, which was a humble replacement of the naan, earned its place in royal cuisine. ‘Kulcha’ was in fact the official symbol of the Asaf Jahi dynasty and even appeared on the Hyderabad state flag till it became a part of the Indian subcontinent post independence. A state known for its shorbas, niharis and kebabs gave kulchas an exalted status than any other food product.
Getting To The Basics
Naans are very lightly leavened by baking powder and the dough is enriched by milk and/or eggs. These help make the naan crisp and light with a nice, even caramelized finish. Some people like to add a bit of yogurt to the naan dough as the enzymes in yogurt help digest the gluten once consumed.
Kulchas are of two types i.e. leavened and unleavened depending on which part of the country you are in as each community has it’s style. The leavened kulchas are not stuffed but are flavoured with spices and/or seeds such as onion seeds and the unleavened ones popularly known as Amritsari kulchas are made from a shortened dough similar to a rough puff pastry and then stuffed with a spicy mixture of potatoes and onions.
Made using self raising flour with raising agents like baking soda, the Kulcha almost replicated naan in its chewiness and soft bite. The icing was the fact that it was easy to cook on a tawa or a brick kiln, which made it easily as accessible to the masses as it was to royalty.
While Naan is predominantly made in the Tandoor (or Oven), a staple of the royal kitchens.
The Long & Short Of It!
Naans are usually oblong or triangular while Kulchas are usually circular. (This difference is no longer valid though with the creativity in culinary field.)
The consumer is spoilt for choice with variety of naans today – Plain naan , Garlic naan , Butter naan , cheese naan , Keema naan & a lot more. Or as in the case of Kulchas- Amritsari Aaloo Kulcha , Gobi Kulcha, Paneer Kulcha , Pyaaz kulcha ,Cheese kulcha , mix kulcha et al.
Main Kaun Hoon?
Naan in old Persian means bread, and in Iran indicate any kind of bread. The Naan bread served in all the Indian restaurant from all over the world has been likely invented between India and Pakistan. Over the centuries, Naan spread into Myanmar, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and the Chinese region of Xingjian. As a result of the migration flows, Naan also reached the Persian Gulf.
Starting out as a take on the aloo ke paratha, the famous Amritsari kulcha was born. Of course other variation had the Kashmiri and Peshwari version, which essentially was kulchas stuffed with fruits and dry fruits along with the meat. Khansamas in the royal kitchen would often serve kulchas stuffed with vegetables and meat in place of the famous naan.
So, what are you rooting for?
“Mere do anmol ratan…. ek hai naan toh ek kulcha!” seem to live the Bollywood story of ‘do bichhde bhai’ who still probably haven’t discovered each other…. or have they?