Asian Breads

Asian Breads

The breads of Asia are quite different to European types of bread, and well worth trying. Many are unleavened. There are some which use yeast, yet are not baked in large, light loaves which lend themselves to slicing. They are somewhat flat compared to Western bread, but with very special flavor. Asian breads are not usually baked in an oven, since ovens are not a feature of the average Asian kitchen. Instead, they are griddle-bake, shallow fried or deep fried. In the case of Chinese breads, they are steamed in bamboo steamers (or any other kind of steamer available). Most of the breads are found in India and other countries where the Indian influence is strong.

Chapati : The everyday bread of millions in India, made simply with flour, water and salt, baked on a griddle called a tawa and depending only on the way it is kneaded and rested and rolled for its lightness and amazing ability to puff like a balloon.

Chinese bread : Leavened with yeast and usually steamed in individual shapes - flower rolls, silver thread rolls, and round buns either plain or with fillings. Steaming gives the bread a thin, smooth, shiny skin, not a crust which results from the dry heat of baking.

Naan : A yeast-risen bread, flat but with a soft center and smoky, crisp crust. It is made from white wheat flour enriched with yoghurt, egg and butter. Traditionally baked in a charcoal-fired clay oven called a tandoor, but a hot oven does the job too.

Roti : A general term for bread which can take many forms. If it is made from ground grain - whether wheat, rice, corn or millet - it qualifies for the name roti. Roti can be fine or thick, plain or with freshly grated coconut incorporated in the dough, or chilies and onions, which make it taste enough to eat on its own. It can enclose a savory filling of cooked and seasoned vegetables or meat, or a sweet filling of mashed lentils. These breads with fillings are ideal picnic fare served with fresh chutney or yoghurt.

Rumali roti : (Northern India) A very large, very thin bread supposed to be as fine as a silken scarf, is cooked on what looks like an upturned wok - a convex metal pan similar to those used for the large Middle Eastern loaves called 'mountain bread'.

Roti jala : A favorite in Malaysia and Singapore. Like a French crepe with holes in it. It is named after a fisherman's net and the lacy pattern is formed by drizzling the batter through a cup with many small funnels, into a pan hot enough to set the batter within a minute or so. It is served with curry, into which the pliable roti is dipped.

Paratha : Baked for special occasions, being richly flavored with ghee (clarified butter). While very thin, it is multi-layered like flaky pastry, achieved by a special method of rolling and folding.

Yeast risen bread : Now popular in Asian countries. Vietnamese bakers make the best French bread outside of France. Sometimes the breads are plain, but often have a savory filling so they are a complete snack or meal in themselves.

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