Do You Know The Origin Story Of The Iconic Nankhatai?
Image Credit: Hariom Sweets

The ritual of the evening cup of tea is deeply entrenched within the beverage culture of our country – so much so that Indian biscuits like the rusk, khari and nankhatai have carved their place as an inevitable aspect of being trusty dippers into a cup of the hot beverage. With time, as pre-packaged foods made their way into our shelves, the charm of these homemade biscuits continued to persist, but on a smaller scale. Although the nankhatai does not get the credit it deserves for being a cookie that is solid, holds its own and tastes as buttery as any other sugar cookie, its origins are more global than we’re aware of.

When the spice-trading Dutch moved to India, they decided to settle in the port city of Surat, from where a couple set up a bakery during the 16th century. When they decided to sell the bakery to a Parsi gentleman by the name of Faramji Pestonji Dotivala, he made an attempt to retail a type of bread that the Dutch ate, which used palm toddy to aid fermentation. Although most Indians weren’t in favour of its taste, those who lived in Surat enjoyed consuming it. This gave Dotivala an idea to remove eggs and bread from the original recipe and cut it into biscuit-sized portions.

As the first known variation of the nankhatai, businessmen in Surat leveraged its potential by changing the shape of the ‘bread’ to a more oval or round, before oven-drying it. What they referred to as the Irani biscuit, most others knew as Surat biscuit; until it was exported to the metropolis of Mumbai – that plenty of Gujaratis called home, due to their trade backgrounds. Soon enough, the nankhatai began to make its presence on the side of saucers atop which teacups were placed. From here, the biscuit made its way towards the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, where more flour and butter was added to the recipe as a way to fluff it up.

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While some parts of history allege that the word ‘khatai’ is derived from the Persian word that means six – as a way of referring to the six key ingredients used for the recipe – namely flour, eggs, sugar, butter or ghee, almonds and toddy, for leavening. Other known origins of the nankhatai also mention that the word ‘naan’ meaning flatbread, is borrowed from Afghanistan and ‘khatai’ meaning biscuit – gives nankhatai its name that means flat biscuit. Today, the nankhatai is sold across the country by local bakers who pile them up in aluminium boxes and go door to door, for anyone interested in buying freshly baked biscuits.