While exploring the colourful past of papads and the role they played in Indian history, Vikram Doctor spoke to author Saaz Aggarwal who in her book Sindh: Stories From A Vanished Homeland talks about how after partition, the Sindhi community found purpose in preparing papads.
After the separation of India and Pakistan, thousands of families felt a sense of displacement -- many had moved to new towns, some even a new country! They did not have their old neighbours, or their old jobs so enterprising women from families who were not very affluent began making papads and hawking them from door to door. Soon, the entire Sindhi community began making papads on a large scale -- the usual recipe involved urad dal and pepper, with some also adding asafoetida, jeera and garlic. These papads were placed on roped cots and the sweltering heat of the Sindh region would cook them perfectly.
While the Sindhis also had other crispy treats to go with their meals -- such as vadi (nuggets of ground dal), kheecha (a papad-like creation made from rice) and kachari (traditionally made with vegetables) -- the papad found a dignified spot on the Sindhi platter. Most people ate them as an accompaniment to their meals, roasted to perfect golden brown or in case of an elaborate feast, fried. Some even poured curd on the crunchy papads and bit into them! During weddings in North India or Pakistan, when certain families couldn't afford a royal feast they would often serve papads to their guests.
Over the years, papad and achar also took up quite some space in the luggage of any Sindhi trader packing for a trip. The obsession grew to the point where Saaz suspects that Sindhi women invented myths (such as carrying papad and achar brings bad luck) so no one would bother them about carrying papads! She also told us about an elderly gentleman who was so attached to his crunchy papads, he even took a box of them to Chinese restaurants.
Of course, the Sindhi community is not the only one whose cuisine has a particular affinity for papads. She thinks Pune is the world capital of homemade papads -- its climate is drier throughout the year, facilitating the production of papads on an industrial scale. Saaz herself grew up in the Nilgiris in the South of India and even there, the go-to meal at her boarding school was hot rice, some delicious sambhar paired with the satisfying crunch of papad.
Listen to the podcast above to find out about the history of Indian papads and their place in Indian cuisine.
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