Indian Bread and Crepe Overview
Roti, chapati (chapatti, chappati, chappatti), puri (poori), paratha and naan are different types of Indian breads. What are these breads and what are the differences between the bread types?
These are the 5 main Indian breads but there are more different types of bread than these. And even these 5 main bread types have variants – for example, you can have plain naan, garlic naan, peshwari naan, onion naan, chilli naan and keema naan.
Almost all Indian breads are flatbreads – they are flat, compared to most UK breads that are loaves or rolls. But some of these so-called flatbreads are really crepes, being made from some kind of batter. Some of the main crepes are dosa, uttapam, idli and appam.
The most common flours used to make Indian breads are wheat flour (also known as atta and chapati flour), chickpea flour (also known as besan, chana, gram and garbanzo flour) and rice flour. But you can see bread recipes where other types of flour and flour substitutes are used, such as dal and semolina. Indian breads can be made with lots of different ingredients, just like UK bread.
Leavened and Unleavened Breads
There seems to be some confusion about the words leavened and unleavened.
Leavened means that the bread dough expands when another ingredient (such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda) is added while the dough is being made. This added ingredient is called “leaven” and the leaven causes a fermentation process to happen. This fermentation process makes the dough expand in size. Heat, or warmth, is usually needed for the fermentation process to work well. The amount by which the dough expands depends on the recipe, how much leaven is used and the temperature around the dough. The main causes of the fermentation process not to work are that the leaven is too old (it has lost its potency, or ability, to cause fermentation) or that the temperature is too low.
Unleavened bread does not contain any of the leaven ingredients that cause dough to expand.
What is Roti?
Roti means bread. Specifically, unleavened bread. But as well as being a general term for bread, there is also a type of bread called roti.
Roti is an unleavened bread that is usually made from wheat flour (atta) and water (roti dough can also contain other ingredients such as salt and cooking oil).
The roti dough is made and separated into pieces before being shaped into dough balls and then rolled into flat rounds. The rounds are then cooked on a hot tava (tawa), hotplate or even in a frying pan – no ghee or oil is used for the cooking although ghee (or butter) is often smeared on a cooked roti to enhance the taste.
The simple roti has been mixed with lots of different combinations of ingredients to make a wide range of roti breads such as aloo roti (potato roti), badshahi roti (roti with peanuts, yogurt, cauliflower and spinach combinations), besan roti (adding besan flour), paneer roti (adding paneer cheese), missi roti (with chickpea flour), methi roti (with fenugreek leaves), coconut roti (with coconut) and saag roti (with spinach). The range is almost limitless.
Roti can also be used as a wrap, such as in chicken roti.
A rumali (roomali) roti is a simple roti that is rolled very thin and then folded over before being cooked (rumali, or roomali, means hankerchief and describes what the finished roti looks like).
The usual way to cook a roti is on a tava (tawa), hotplate or in a frying pan but roti can be also be cooked in a tandoor (a conventional oven can be used as a tandoor substitute).
What is Chapati?
In some parts of India, chapati is identical to roti (only the name is different). About the only difference between the two is that in some parts of India (mainly southern India) a chapati (chapatti, chappati, chappatti) is lightly fried instead of being cooked dry on a hot tava (tawa), hotplate or in a frying pan. Ghee (or butter) is often smeared on a cooked chapati to enhance the taste.
What is Puri?
Puri (poori) is another unleavened bread that is similar to chapati except that puri is deep-fried rather than lightly-fried.
What is Paratha?
Paratha (parotta, parata) is a layered unleavened bread that gets its layers from being a chapati that is rolled flat then folded over and then rolled again (this folding and rolling can happen a few times to make a paratha). The paratha is then lightly fried in cooking oil or ghee.
A common way to make a paratha is to stuff it with other ingredients such as potato (aloo paratha), cauliflower (gobi paratha), peas (mattar paratha) and egg (egg paratha). A paratha can be stuffed with almost any ingredient – all you need to do is grate, or mash, big ingredients and add them to the chapati as you start the folding and rolling process.
A stuffed paratha can be a meal in itself whereas other unleavened breads are usually eaten as an accompaniment to a dal or curry.
What is Naan?
Naan is a leavened bread and is well known in UK restaurants. Naan is not a common bread in India though because a naan needs to be cooked in a tandoor and not many Indian homes have a tandoor. Similarly, very few UK homes have a tandoor so home made naan bread is often made in a conventional oven.
Naan bread is leavened and the dough expands while being made (because of yeast, baking powder or baking soda). The cooked naan and is usually a bit thicker than the unleavened breads, although naan bread is still a flatbread.
Naan bread is traditionally shaped like a teardrop. This happens because the naan dough sags while it is cooking in the tandoor (the naan dough is slapped on the side of the tandoor rather than being laid flat). If making naan bread at home in a conventional oven, you can get a tear shape by stretching the dough before cooking.
Like most Indian breads, naan bread tastes delicious with a smearing of butter or ghee.
There are lots of different types of naan bread with the most common being plain naan, garlic naan, peshwari naan (has nuts), onion naan, chilli naan and keema naan (has meat).
What are the Other Well-Known Types of Indian Bread?
There are lots of different types of Indian bread, with the most well-known being Poppadom, Bhatura, Kulcha and Thepla.
What is Poppadom?
One of the most famous Indian breads is the humble poppadom (papad, papadum, poppadum). The poppadom really is a type of Indian bread but does not look like bread because it is rolled out to be very thin before being baked, or fried, to produce the finished poppadom.
In Indian restaurants in the UK, you are likely to be served poppadoms without you having asked for them. They are often served when you arrive at the restaurant so you can nibble on them while your main meal is cooking. These initial poppadoms are often complimentary and you can order more, at a cost, if you want more.
What is Bhatura?
A bhatura (bhatoora, batora) is a leavened bread made from flour and yogurt where the dough is rolled out flat and then deep-fried. Bhatura eaten with a chickpea curry is called chole bhature and chole bhature is one of the most popular street foods in India.
What is Kulcha?
Kulcha is an unleavened bread that is very similar to a stuffed paratha except that kulcha is cooked in a tandoor (oven), rather than being lightly fried.
What is Thepla?
Thepla is a spicy unleavened bread that hails from Gujarat. A typical thepla dough is made from flour, spices and fenugreek leaves. Thepla is lightly fried and often eaten as a snack.
What about Dosa, Appam, Idli and Uttapam?
These are not types of bread. They are really types of Indian crepe.
What is Dosa?
Dosa is a type of Indian crepe made from a fermented batter of rice and other ingredients such as dal or semolina (a rava dosa has semolina in it). The fermented batter is fried, a bit like a pancake. Like most Indian breads and crepes, extra ingredients such as spices, chillies, nuts, grated potato and vegetables can be added to the batter to give a huge range of possible dosa textures and tastes. Dosa is often eaten as breakfast or as a snack.
What is Appam?
Appam is made from a fermented batter that is made from rice and coconut milk (or shredded/desiccated coconut). Yeast is added to the batter so, in effect, appam is a leavened type of pancake. Appam is fried. Appam is common in southern India and in Sri Lanka. Once again, the addition of different ingredients means that there is a big range of different appam recipes. Appam is a popular breakfast but can be eaten at any time of day.
What is Idli?
Idli is made from a fermented batter of rice, semolina (rava), poha rice or dal (or combinations of these). The fermented batter is shaped into a small disc and steamed (a lot of people use an idli mould to get the traditional idli shape). The hot idli are usually eaten for breakfast.
What is Uttapam?
Uttapam is similar to dosa where a fermented batter (made from rice, semolina/rava, dal or combinations of these ingredients) is fried. The main difference between uttapam and dosa is that dosa is like a crisp crepe but uttapam is a lot thicker and a bit like a thick pancake with toppings such as caramelised onion, tomato and chilli flakes. Uttapam is often eaten as breakfast but can be eaten at any time.
What are the Bread Type Differences?
The above descriptions describe what is in these popular breads and how they are made.
We get a lot of emails asking about the differences between different Indian breads. The following highlights the differences between the main bread types.
Difference between Chapati and Naan (Chapati vs Naan)
A chapati is unleavened but naan bread is leavened. A chapati is plain bread that is cooked dry or lightly fried on a tava/tawa/hotplate. Naan bread is cooked in a tandoor and there are different types of naan bread, with the most well-known being plain, garlic, peshwari (with nuts) and keema (with meat).
Difference between Chapati and Paratha (Chapati vs Paratha)
A chapati and paratha are both unleavened breads. A paratha is a chapati that has been rolled out and folded over multiple times so that a paratha becomes layered. Whereas a chapati is plain, a paratha is often stuffed with other ingredients that are added while the paratha is being rolled and folded. Paratha is often eaten as a street snack by itself while a chapati is usually eaten with a dal or curry.
Difference between Chapati and Roti (Chapati vs Roti)
A chapati can be identical to a roti, with the only difference being the name. The only real difference between the two breads is that a chapati is lightly fried but a roti is cooked dry (extra ingredients can also be added to a roti to make it a stuffed bread).
Difference between Kulcha and Naan (Kulcha vs Naan)
The main difference between kulcha and naan is that kulcha is unleavened and naan bread is leavened. Both types of bread are cooked in a tandoor and both types of bread can be stuffed with other ingredients.
Difference between Kulcha and Paratha (Kulcha vs Paratha)
A kulcha is almost the same as a stuffed paratha except a kulcha is cooked in a tandoor whereas a paratha is cooked on a tava/tawa/hotplate.
Difference between Naan and Chapati (Naan vs Chapati)
Naan bread is leavened but a chapati is unleavened. Naan bread is cooked in a tandoor and there are different types of naan bread, such as plain, garlic, peshwari (with nuts) and keema (with meat). A chapati is simple bread that is cooked dry or lightly fried on a tava/tawa/hotplate.
Difference between Naan and Paratha (Naan vs Paratha)
Naan is a leavened bread that is cooked in a tandoor. A paratha is a chapati, an unleavened bread, which has been rolled out and folded over a few so that a paratha becomes layered. Naan bread and a paratha can both be plain or have extra ingredients added to give a range of breads.
Difference between Naan and Roti (Naan vs Roti)
Naan is a leavened bread, cooked in a tandoor, which can have different ingredients added to give different types of naan (such as garlic, peshwari, onion, chilli and keema). A roti is often a plain unleavened bread that is cooked dry on a tava/tawa/hotplate but, like some other Indian breads, extra ingredients can be added to give different types of roti bread, such as aloo roti, (potato roti), badshahi roti (roti with peanuts, yogurt, cauliflower and spinach combinations), besan roti (adding besan flour), paneer roti (adding paneer cheese), missi roti (with chickpea flour), methi roti (with fenugreek leaves), coconut roti (with coconut) and saag roti (with spinach). In addition, roti can also be used as a wrap, such as in chicken roti.
Difference between Naan and Tandoori Roti (Naan vs Tandoori Roti)
Naan is a leavened bread but a tandoori roti is an unleavened bread. Naan bread is often stuffed with other ingredients but a tandoori roti is usually a simple plain bread. Both are cooked in a tandoor.
Difference between Paratha and Chapati (Paratha vs Chapati)
A paratha is a chapati that has been rolled out and folded over several times and this makes a paratha become layered and sometimes a bit flaky. But a chapati is a simple flat bread that is rolled once before cooking. Another big difference is that a paratha often has other ingredients added during the rolling and folding process to produce such popular paratha as aloo paratha (has potato), gobi paratha (has cauliflower), mattar paratha (has peas) and egg paratha (has egg) and these paratha are often sold as street food.
Difference between Paratha and Kulcha (Paratha vs Kulcha)
About the only difference between these types of Indian bread is that a paratha is cooked on a tava/tawa/hotplate but a kulcha is cooked in a tandoor. Both types of bread are unleavened and often stuffed with other ingredients.
Difference between Paratha and Naan (Paratha vs Naan)
A paratha is an unleavened chapati bread that has been rolled and folded a few times to produce a layered bread whereas naan is a leavened bread that is cooked in a tandoor. Both types of bread, paratha and naan, often have other ingredients added during the dough making and rolling process to produce a wide range of breads.
Difference between Paratha and Roti (Paratha vs Roti)
A paratha is an unleavened chapati that is rolled and folded at least twice to make a layered bread whereas a roti is simple unleavened bread that is rolled once before cooking. Both types of bread can have extra ingredients added to give a huge range of different tasting breads and a cooked roti can also be used as a wrap (for example, a chicken roti).
Difference between Paratha and Thepla (Paratha vs Thepla)
Paratha and thepla are unleavened breads that are both lightly fried. A paratha is rolled and folded a few times to produce a layered bread but a thepla is only rolled one time. Paratha and thepla can both have other ingredients stuffed into them and both types of bread are often eaten as street food snacks.
Difference between Roti and Chapati (Roti vs Chapati)
In some parts of India, a roti and a chapati are the same thing (both are unleavened bread types). In other parts of India the main difference is that a roti is cooked dry when a chapati is lightly fried. A more obvious difference between the two breads is when additional ingredients (such as spinach, cauliflower and potato) are added to a roti to produce a stuffed bread.
Difference between Roti and Naan (Roti vs Naan)
A roti is an unleavened bread that is cooked dry on a tava/tawa/hotplate and naan bread is a leavened bread that is cooked in a tandoor. Extra ingredients are sometimes added to both types of bread to give different tastes. The main extras added to roti are potato, spinach and cauliflower. The main extras added to naan are nuts (peshwari naan), garlic, onion, chilli and meat (keema naan).
Difference between Roti and Paratha (Roti vs Paratha)
A roti is an unleavened bread that is rolled once before cooking. A paratha is also an unleavened bread but it is rolled (and folded) a few times before cooking so that a layered type of bread is produce. A roti tends to be cooked dry in contrast to a paratha which is lightly fried. There are big ranges of roti and paratha because both types of bread often have extra ingredients added to make a varied range of breads.
Difference between Thepla and Paratha (Thepla vs Paratha)
Thepla and paratha are both unleavened breads that are lightly fried. A thepla is only rolled once whereas a paratha is rolled and folder at least twice to make a layered bread– a thepla is not folded. Both types of bread can be stuffed with other ingredients and both are eaten as street foods.
There are breads that are made at festival time. These include Bakshalu, Kachori, Malpua, Besan Ki Roti, Palak Puri and Puran Poli. As with a lot of breads, there are regional variations in how the breads are made.
What is Bakshalu?
Bakshalu is very similar to Puran Poli. Bakshalu is made in Telangana to celebrate Ugadi (Telugu New Year). Bakshalu is an unleavened bread where dal is cooked before being mixed with jaggery (sugar) and cardamom and then used as stuffing in dough made from maida (all-purpose, or standard, flour), ghee and water. The stuffed dough is then rolled into flat rounds and then lightly fried in ghee.
What is Kachori?
Kachori is an unleavened bread where a filling of dal and spices are rolled into balls and then placed in the middle of dough rounds that are folded over to encircle the filling. The kachori are then either rolled to flatten a little, or left as round balls, and then deep fried.
What is Malpua?
Malpua is a type of pancake where the batter is made from flour, semolina, milk and yogurt. The batter is then deep fried in hot oil (or ghee). There are lots of variations to this basic recipe and these can use combinations of crushed fruit (such as banana, pineapple and mango), coconut, cardamoms, milk solids and sugar.
Malpua are eaten a lot during Ramadan.
What is Besan Ki Roti?
Besan Ki Roti is an unleavened bread where besan (chickpea) flour is mixed with spices, water and/or ghee to make a dough that is rolled into rounds that are quickly dry-fried and then further cooked by using tongs to put the rounds into a flame to get the roti browned. If cooking with electricity, a high heat can be used to do the last step by putting the partially cooked roti onto a cake tray or they can be cooked under a hot grill. The final roti usually has ghee, or butter, spread over the top surface.
Sometimes besan ki roti is sort of stuffed where an extra ingredient, such as grated/shredded onion, is added when the dough is being made.
What is Palak Puri?
Palak Puri is an unleavened deep-fried bread and is simply a puri where spinach is added when the dough is made. Like puri, palak puri is deep-fried.
What is Puran Poli?
Puran Poli (holige, boli, poli) is a stuffed unleavened sweet bread. Dough is made from flour water and ghee/oil and a filling is made from a mixture of dal, jaggery/sugar, cardamom and spices. There are lots of different versions of this festival flatbread and the stuffing ingredients vary around India. Dough balls are rolled out flat, an amount of filling goes into the middle, the dough is folded over the filling and the round is rolled out flat again. The stuffed dough rounds are then lightly fried.
Indian Bread Types Summary
The following table highlights the main differences between the types of bread and crepes. Remember that roti and chapati are often one and the same thing in most parts of India.
|Bread/Crepe||Bread Type||Leavened or Unleavened||How Cooked|
|Roti||Flatbread||Unleavened||Dry on tava/tawa/hotplate|
|Chapati||Flatbread||Unleavened||Dry or lightly fried on tava/tawa/hotplate|
|Poppadom||Flatbread||Unleavened||Baked or shallow fried|
|Bakshalu||Festival Flatbread||Unleavened||Shallow fried|
|Kachori||Festival Flatbread||Unleavened||Deep fried|
|Malpua||Festival Flatbread||Unleavened||Deep fried|
|Besan Ki Roti||Festival Flatbread||Unleavened||Dry on tava/tawa/hotplate/naked flame|
|Palak Puri||Festival Flatbread||Unleavened||Deep fried|
|Puran Poli||Festival Flatbread||Unleavened||Shallow fried|
You can make all of these different types of Indian flatbreads and crepes at home. If you do not have a tava (tawa), or suitable hotplate, then just use a large, heavy-bottomed, frying pan. If you do not have a tandoor then you can use a conventional oven.
Where Can I Find Indian Bread and Crepe Recipes?
The Curry Focus website has a wide range of Indian bread and crepe recipes.
None of the bread recipes use a tandoor. It is unlikely that anybody using the Curry Focus website will have a tandoor and a conventional oven will usually be used for the cooking.
If you have a favourite recipe for an Indian bread, or crepe, then why not give us the details and we’ll publish it on the website? You can give us the details on in a recipe form or just email the details to Curry Focus.