From ancient times to modern variations, we trace the journey of this crispy north Indian delicacy across regions and generations
Papad, also known as papadam, is an integral part of Indian cuisine that has been enjoyed for centuries. While home-grown brands like Lijjat Papad, Mother’s Recipe, and Haldiram’s have cemented its popularity in the modern day, traditional food served at festivals and celebrations continue to be the torchbearer in furthering the legacy of this crunchy delight. Papad is undeniably deeply rooted in India’s cultural traditions.
Its history can be traced back to ancient times, way before Indian households adopted it as a part of their staple food. Believe it or not, papads originated in the Indus Valley civilization over 4,000 years ago. Early Indians discovered that dough made from lentils, pulses, or cereals could be dried and roasted into wafer-thin, crispy discs. This innovative technique allowed them to preserve foods long-term, helping ensure the availability of nutrition throughout the year.
Ancient Beginnings and Cultural Significance
Papads were initially created as a means to preserve legumes and lentils during harvest seasons. They were made by grinding these ingredients into flour and mixing them with water and spices. The mixture was then rolled out into thin discs, sun-dried, and stored for later consumption.
By the 6th century AD, papad making had evolved into an artisanal practise across India. Different regions developed their own unique recipes based on available ingredients like rice, lentils, millets, or tubers. Papads soon became an integral part of Indian meal culture - their portability and long shelf-life made them perfect travelling companions for nomadic tribes and traders. Whether as an appetiser, side dish, or digestive, papads offered versatility to cuisines. Different preparations involving roasting, baking, or frying papad dough also led to the creation of regional papad varieties with distinct textures.
Regional Variations Reflecting Local Flavours
As time went on, different regions in India started adding their own unique twists to the basic recipe, resulting in diverse regional variations. Each state developed its own distinctive style using locally available ingredients and spices.
For example, Bikaneri papads from Rajasthan are known for their fiery taste infused with aromatic spices like cumin seeds and black pepper. Punjabi masala papads add tangy flavours with chaat masala and amchur (dried mango powder). South Indian appalams showcase delicate textures made from rice flour or urad dal paste mixed with salt and spices like ajwain (carom seeds). Sindhi papads bring forth flavours from Sindh through turmeric powder and red chili powder, while Marathi papads keep things simple yet flavourful with cumin seeds and black pepper.
Papad as a Cultural Icon
Apart from their culinary significance, papads have found a place in various cultural practises across India. They are often used as offerings during religious ceremonies and rituals. For example, during Puri’s Rath Yatra, one is supposed to partake in munching papads as a ritual. In some regions, they are even considered auspicious and are included in traditional wedding feasts.
The process of making papads has also become an art form passed down through generations. It is not uncommon to find families who take great pride in preserving their ancestral recipes and techniques for making the perfect papad.
Commercialisation and Global Popularity
With the advent of technology, the production of papads transitioned from being a homemade endeavour to commercial manufacturing. Today, numerous brands offer a wide range of ready-to-eat papads that cater to different tastes and preferences.
Indian cuisine's global popularity has also played a significant role in promoting papads internationally. These crispy delights have gained recognition as versatile snacks that can be enjoyed on their own or paired with various dishes from around the world.
Preserving Tradition While Embracing Innovation
Despite changes brought about by modernization, many households still value the tradition of making homemade papads using age-old techniques. The process involves meticulous preparation, rolling out thin discs by hand, sun-drying them until they turn brittle before frying or roasting them to perfection. However, innovation has also seeped into this ancient practise as new flavours like garlic, tomato, mint, and more have been introduced to cater to evolving palates while maintaining the essence of this beloved snack.
The Modern Day Popular Papads
1. Aloo Papad
Aloo papad is a popular variety made from potatoes. Thinly sliced and seasoned with spices, these papads are sun-dried and then deep-fried to achieve a crispy texture.
2. Sabudana Papad
Sabudana (tapioca pearl) papad is commonly consumed during fasting periods in India. Made by mixing soaked sabudana with spices, this papad is air-dried, or roasted until it becomes crisp.
3. Rice Papad
Rice flour forms the base of rice papads, which are often combined with various seasonings such as turmeric powder and red chilli flakes for added flavour. They are traditionally sun-dried and then fried until golden brown.
4. Masala Papad
Masala papads are versatile snacks that can be enjoyed on their own or used as an accompaniment to meals. Made by adding a mixture of spices like chaat masala, red chili powder, and salt to lentil or rice flour dough, these papads are deep-fried for a crunchy experience.
5. Garlic Papad
Garlic-infused flavours elevate the taste of garlic papads that combine lentil flour or chickpea flour with crushed garlic cloves along with other traditional spices before being dried in sunlight and later fried to perfection.
6. Kali Mirch Papad
Kali Mirch papad is a peppery delight that incorporates coarsely ground black pepper into the dough. After drying and frying, it offers a distinct flavour profile with a hint of spiciness.
7. Hing Papad
Hing (asafoetida) papad is known for its aromatic flavour derived from the addition of asafoetida to the lentil or chickpea flour mixture. The dough is shaped into thin rounds, dried under the sun, and finally fried until crisp.
Papad remains an integral part of Indian cuisine as its versatility allows it to be both a complement to meals and a flavourful standalone snack. At dining tables across India, papad brings people together where generations pass down recipes and cooking techniques just as stories, memories, and celebrations are shared. Its simple ingredients and preparation have kept papad as a beloved staple at family gatherings for centuries.