“Makke ke aate mein ajwain daalni zaroori hai”, “saara aata ek saath nahi goondna chaiye”, “ghee acche se lagao aur roti ko acche se bhuno”, these are just the few instructions that my mother gave me when I requested her to teach me how to make the revered bread of Punjab – makke di roti. It is that one half of the dish that people most commonly associate with my home state of Punjab – Sarson da saag- makke di roti. A dish common to most households in the winter season. Understated and not as talked about as its accompaniment – saag, this is a bread that is full of flavours and textures and can be a meal in itself.
Nothing is more quintessentially Punjab than sarson ka saag and makke di roti, it’s an earthy hearty food abundant in flavour, nutrients and colour; much like the land and the people it belongs to. Traditionally, this was rural people’s food in Punjab and the robust homemade butter-topped saag fit the hardworking lifestyle of the village people who would laboriously work in their agricultural lands. Though rich, but its pure and farm fresh composition makes it a winner in this world of preservatives laden food.
I remember not being too fond of this combination in my childhood. The slight bitterness of the saag and that crisp makke di roti didn’t appeal to my tastebuds. It was much later that I began to appreciate this dish, specially after having found that perfect maize flour in Mumbai, which was slightly sweeter and rotis made out of that turned out to be crispier from the outside and soft when one bites into them. Unlike the wheat flour dough, the dough for makke di roti isnt kneaded at one go; instead one kneads small portions of it, fresh. The roti is patted into shape directly on the griddle with with one’s bare hands and then cooked till it is crisp on both the sides. This rather raw technique of making it ensures that the roti has uneven edges, but for me that is the best part of it as the edges are extremely crisp and delicious! Served with a dollop of fresh home churned white butter or chitta makkhan , as we call it in Punjabi, this makes for a delectable treat.
The reason behind having this bread in the winters is because of the inherent warm characteristic of Makkai (maize) . It is also a complex carbohydrate, providing sustainable energy for the entire day, something that’s needed in the winters, when you tend to feel tired and sluggish. Wholegrains are also rich in vitamin B; this helps the thyroid gland, which helps to regulate body temperature, to function optimally. Plus, it is gluten-free and with corn abundantly available in Punjab during winters, our forefathers brought it home from the fields and would then freshly grind it in the chakkis. In most households this bread is also made with variations like methi waali makke di roti or mooli waali makke di roti, with most of those ingredients being seasonal winter produce.
My friend Priyadarshini Chatterjee, a journalist by profession and a Bengali married into a Punjabi family, she mentioned to me about her inquisitiveness about makke di roti and sarson da saag, and her eventual Punjabi-fication, “I first tasted this dish at my husband’s aunt’s place and she served the roti to me with preposterous amount of ghee and gur, which made me forget the saag completely!” Well, that is the delight that is makke di roti – complete on its own.
This is the first time that #IndianBreadsDay is being celebrated (9th December), and I felt that with my on-going research on the food of my homeland, I’ll take this as a platform to celebrate the bread that is dear to all Punjabi hearts, but never celebrated on its own. Here’s to makke di roti, without which our sarson da saag would be incomplete!
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