Munch India Does Awesome Non-Naans

The popular pop-up has a brick-and-mortar outlet now that spotlights 40 regional Indian breads.


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Photo by Lance Yamamoto

If the phrase “Indian bread” makes you think instantly and only of naan, Nick Ahmed and Diana Afroza would like a word with you.

Several words, actually. For instance, rumali roti. Also luchi, puri, lachha paratha, and dozens more. But especially rumali roti, because it’s Afroza’s favorite.

Popular in the Punjab region that straddles northern India and eastern Pakistan, made from well-kneaded wheat-flour dough flattened into a 33-rpm-size circle then cooked on both sides to golden-brown, bubble-pocked perfection on the bottom of an overturned wok-like pan called a kadai, it’s a limp and almost translucently thin wheat-flour flatbread whose name, in several northern Indian languages, “means handkerchief, because you fold it like a handkerchief” before dipping it into dal or saucy dishes and eating it, said Afroza, who with her husband and fellow chef, Ahmed, helmed the popular Munch India food truck, then launched a brick-and-mortar Berkeley restaurant by the same name last fall.

“The breads that are popular in specific regions depend on the staple grains of those regions — wheat, rice, or whatever,” said Afroza, who has also authored a cookbook, Flavors of Mirch Masala.

They also depend on regional baking styles.

“Making naan requires a tandoori oven that can reach 700 degrees,” Ahmed said. Such ovens do not inhabit every corner of the Indian subcontinent. 

Folded over once, then again to effect the proper handkerchief shape, “rumali roti is especially prevalent in Old Delhi, where every three blocks you’ll find someone making it — on the street and in all the very plush hotels,” Ahmed said.

It’s one of some 40 regional breads spotlighted on Munch India’s constantly rotating menu.

Another is puffy white-flour luchi. Deep-fried in ghee and traditionally eaten for breakfast with tangy-sweet spiced potatoes, “it’s very quintessentially Bengali,” Ahmed said.

Sourcing many ingredients from the Berkeley Bowl, the South Berkeley farmers market, and nearby farms, the pair — who live in Berkeley — buy herbs and spices whole, then grind them freshly to optimize each dish.

“Indian restaurants in America completely misrepresent India and have given a bad name to its food — which in reality is incredibly complex, and when prepared by authentic, true chefs is on par with French and Japanese cuisine,” Ahmed said.

“We’re trying to demonstrate that Indian food is much more than just tikka masala and naan.”

Munch India, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-847-6043, MunchIndia.com.

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