Let’s just agree that Indian cuisine is one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. And not just in terms of spices, curries and desserts but also in terms of flatbreads that it offers. Indian flatbreads are what makes our entire meal a wholesome affair. Can you imagine your bowl of rich and flavourful kadhai paneer without roti or paratha? Neither can we. A bowl of butter chicken with naan or your favourite tikkas wrapped in a tandoori roti is a treat you can’t forget. But much beyond the realms of naan, tandoori roti, parathas exist a flatbread that most of the world may be oblivious to. Baqarkhani roti, a gift from modern-day Bangladesh from the time of Mughal era, is a flatbread that deserves more limelight than it gets.  

A sweet, biscuit-like bread made with flour, baking powder, ghee, milk, nuts and dry fruits, baqarkhani is also often confused with sheermal simply because the two look quite similar. But wait, they are different. Where sheermal can be termed as sweet naan since it is made with maida, leavened with yeast and baked in a tandoor or oven, bakarkhani is made by kneading together flour and ghee, sometimes cardamom, sugar and salt with water. It is made by stretching a sheet of dough repeatedly and interleaving with ghee, molasses, poppy seeds before baking in an oven.

 

Sheermal is flavoured with saffron while bakarkhani can have nuts and dry fruits including raisins and almonds. The history of the two is also different since bakarkhani is a product of Sylhet in Bangladesh. After the Afghan ruler was defeated by the Mughals in 1612, many remaining Afghans surrendered though continuing to live in Sylhet. They were captured by the Mughals and were made to serve a type of bread associated with their Afghan culture, which came to be known as Baqarkhani. 

Legend has it that the name of the bread's name is credited to Agha Baker Khan, an adopted son of the Nawab of Bengal, Murshid Quli Khan. Sheermal on the other hand is the traditional flatbread from Greater Iran. It is derived from the Sanskrit word sheer which means milk, and Persian word which translates to rub, which literally means milk rubbed. It was introduced to North India by the Mughal emperors and became a delicacy of Lucknow, Hyderabad and Aurangabad.

Sheermal is paired well in many parts of north India and Pakistan with Lucknow kababs or alongside nihari. Baqarkhani is primarily an Iftar item in Sylhet and is also eaten with tea at night during the month of Ramadan.

 

My experience with baqarkhani is that with mouth-watering mutton kebabs that my mother cooks at home. It is one heavenly experience that one should not miss out on. She slow-cooks the meatballs in thick spicy gravy while my father gets the baqarkhani from the narrow by lanes of Daryanganj in Old Delhi, where you can find scores of shops selling both sheermal and baqarkhani and the sellers would also let you taste both to understand the difference.