The Real Food Diary: India’s people and India’s papad

24/05/2016 Leave a comment

While exploring the colourful past of papads and the role they played in Indian history, Vikram Doctor spoke to author Saaz Aggarwal who in her book Sindh- Stories from a vanished homeland talks about how after partition, the Sindhi community found purpose in preparing papads.  After the separation of India and Pakistan, thousands of families felt a sense of displacement—many had moved to new towns, some even a new country! They did not have their old neighbours, or their old jobs so enterprising women from families who were not very affluent began making papad and hawking it from door to door. It wasn’t just a few idle women though, the whole Sindhi community began making papads on a large scale—the usual recipe involved making papads from udat dal and pepper and some even added  asafoetida, jeera and garlic. These papads were placed on roped cots and the sweltering heat of the Sindh would cook them perfectly.

While the Sindhis also had other crispy treats to go with their meals such as vadi (nuggets of ground dal), kheecha (a papad-like creation made from rice) and kachari (traditionally made with vegetables) but papad found a dignified spot on the Sindhi platter. Most people ate them as an accompaniment to their meals, roasted to perfect golden brown or in case of an elaborate affair, fried. Some even poured curd on the crunchy papads and bit into them! During weddings in North India or Pakistan, when certain families couldn’t afford a royal feast they would often serve papads to their guests. Over the years papad and achar also took up quite some space in the luggage of any Sindhi trader packing for a trip, the obsession grew to the point where Saaz suspects that Sindhi women invented myths (such as carrying papad and achar brings bad luck) so no one would bother them with carrying papads! She also told us about an elderly gentleman who was so attached to his crunchy papads, he even took a box of them to Chinese restaurants.

But the Sindhis are not the only community who’s cuisine features papads very often, she thinks Pune is the world capital of homemade papads —it’s climate is drier throughout the year facilitating the production of papads on an industrial scale. Saaz herself grew up in the Nilgiris in the South of India and even there, the go-to meal at her boarding school was hot rice, some delicious sambar paired with the satisfying crunch of papad.

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