Surely no tikka masala, butter chicken or vindaloo is complete without a side of hot and crispy naan bread. Its uneven shape, crusty edges, and chewy interior make it the perfect accompaniment to many Middle Eastern dishes or other more Western menus. Pair with a perfectly balanced curry or beef biryani, turn into cheesy garlic bread, or use as the base of a pizza – either way, naan comes in first every time.
Naan is generally made with Maida flour, yeast, and often yoghurt or milk, resulting in a softer consistency than other flatbreads, such as pitas. Traditional naan bread is cooked in a super-hot Tandoori oven, a clay pot dug into the soil.
The Punjabi Tandoor can reach temperatures of about 900˚F or 480˚C. Bakers either stretch the dough or roll it into balls and slap onto the side of the scorching oven, which results in the random shape of each bread. It bakes very quickly, and air pockets form inside, creating that delicious texture synonymous with naan.
Although naan is prevalent in Great Britain, and chicken tikka masala is repeatedly voted among the most popular takeaways in the UK, the road from India to western palates has been a long and winding one! Naan was initially created in an experiment when yeast was first introduced to India. Back then, naan was not a dish for the masses – the art of making it was a rare and revered skill and the breads were only enjoyed by royals and the nobility. During the Victorian era, when India was considered the ‘Jewel in the British Crown’, a love affair developed between the Colonial ruling elite and Indian cuisine. British bureaucrats and traders wanted to enjoy their curries and accompanying naans when they returned to Britain, which is partly why the genuine Indian naan bread is found throughout the UK today and has spread globally, along with many Indian dishes.
Not only do we expect a plate of fresh naan bread alongside our rogan josh, but it has also proven to be a versatile base for many other dishes. It is perfect for sopping up gravies or spicy sauces, can be made into a wrap and filled with salads and meats, or topped with tomato sauce and cheese for a quick naan pizza. Spread with garlic butter, then top with grated cheese and grill for an easy lunch, or use instead of sliced bread for a grilled sandwich.
It’s one of the few side dishes that really deserves first place.