Despite the fact that cookies originally came to India with colonial settlers, Indian chefs believe that the Parsis must be credited with producing Indian versions of European biscuits.
Dunking Parle-G into chai has been the hallmark of teatime for Indians for a while. However, the country’s heart beats for nankhatai, khari, Shrewsbury, Karachi biscuits and atta cookies. Every city has its specialty when it comes to Indian biscuits. Nankhatai vendors can be found dotted along Chawri Bazaar in Delhi while Pune’s Kayani Bakery prides itself on Shrewsbury biscuits, which are as old as the 1600s.
The credit for introducing biscuits or cookies to the world has been attributed to the Dutch. After the Arabs, the Dutch arrived next and settled as traders in India. Koekje, the Dutch cookies, were used for bartering with the British. The British brought biscuits with them and even taught Indians the art of baking. However, despite the fact that cookies originally came to India with colonial settlers, Indian chefs believe that the Parsis must be credited with producing Indian versions of European biscuits.
Dotivala Bakery in Surat was one of the first Indian bakeries and has been credited with the invention of nankhatai. Surat has also been responsible for creating the “Surti batasa”, which can be found easily in Parsi households. The Surti batasa travelled to Mumbai with the Parsis, where it became a fixture on menus at Irani cafes. Muslims brought nankhatai to Delhi and Punjab. Similar to shortbread, nankhatai is made with ghee, spiced with cardamom and garnished with nuts. It has evolved and similar biscuits are now made in bakeries across India.
Regional influences made different biscuits what they are. In the north, ghee was used, and in the west, butter. South India added coconut and cashews, and so macaroons, which Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu is known for, emerged. Kerala’s mutta biscuits or egg drop biscuits also became popular. Where people didn’t eat eggs, cashew powder was added.
Different bakeries across the country specialise in different types of biscuits. Established by Khanchand Ramnani in 1953, Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad made the Karachi biscuits (a fruit biscuit) famous. Ellora in Dehradun is known for its rusk, while Mumbai’s Paris Bakery is known for its khari biscuits.
Atta and jeera biscuits are nostalgic items served to guests in Indian homes, even if more people stock their kitchens with packets of Good Day today. Modern biscuit companies like Britannia and Parle may be calling the shots when it comes to what lines the shelves at kirana shops, but biscuits made at bakeries found in enigmatic old streets are the true heroes of teatime in India.