Saj Bread: A Middle-Eastern Cousin of Rumali Roti, Or More?

Whenever there is a lot of meat involved, I instinctively find myself drawn towards a bread that is lighter. So, butter naans and greasy parathas make way for skinny kinds of bread like Rumali roti, Rumali roti, for the unversed, is a very thin flatbread that is often paired with Mughlai Kormas and Kababs. In fact, it is said that the flatbread was popularised in India by the Mughal Khansamas who apparently use to serve these rotis to the royalty so that they could wipe the curry remnants or the masala from their hands. Because it was used as a handkerchief or Rumal, it came to be known as ‘Rumali Roti’, however, there are many who refute the theory saying that it is simply called Rumali Roti because of its resemblance to a handkerchief. Irrespective of what is the reason behind the peculiar nomenclature, Rumali Roti has been a firm favourite ever since I had one.

In one of the Middle-eastern buffets that I attended at The Pluck, Pullman recently, I laid my eyes on what appeared like a Rumali Roti to me personally. When I walked up to the person doling out one bread after the other, he said “would you want a Saj bread ma’am”, “I beg your pardon, which bread did you say?”, “Saj bread”, he repeated in his gentle voice. There lay an inverted griddle, on which he placed a massive Saj bread, thin just like the Rumali Roti and before I could settle my confusion, the bread was already on my plate with the Anadana kebabs and sliced onions.  

Later in the evening, I learnt a fair deal about Middle-eastern cuisine and Saj bread. A popular type of middle-eastern flatbread, Saj bread is cooked on a convex griddle called the Saj. Hot coal is placed underneath the Saj, the embers ensure that the griddle is hot. The technique of making Saj is slightly different too, it does not entail the theatrics of Rumali roti in making. In many parts of middle-east Asia, a mound of wheat is pressed and placed on a kind of a pillow, the edges of which are pulled from all ends until the bread is round and super thin. It is then propped on the griddle and cooked until one end of the roti is slightly crisp. post which it is flipped and cooked on the other side. The Saj bread is slightly darker in colour, unless you choose to make it with all-purpose flour, and also firmer than Rumali Roti.  

Saj Roti also has many variations and different local names. Like the Yufka bread, a Turkish, bread that is baked on an inverted griddle. In appearance, it is similar to Makrurk Shrek, but it happens to be thinner and larger.  

In Palestine, the Saj bread is referred to as the Shrake. It is different from Makruk as it is not baked in a clay oven or tannur.  

The Saj bread could be an ideal substitute to pita for Shawarma. A Lebanese snack wherein the bread is stuffed with Rotisserie chicken, meat, sauces and veggies. Saj bread, with its texture, could be a delightful departure from the soft and chewy pita.

Have you tried Saj bread? Do let us know how you liked it.