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The Bhopali Flatbread - Sheermal

While poori, paranthe and phulka have been amongst the oldest flat breads of India, the tradition of tandoor-baked breads came here only in the Medieval period with the advent of the Turko-Afghan rulers. Naans and tandoori rotis may now be popular as Indian breads, but the first reference to naan-e-taanur was only found in the works of Amir Khusrau in the 13th century during the Khilji period in Delhi. Mughal Delhi, in the subsequent centuries, saw a rich bazaar tradition of naanbhais, or bread bakers, from who households and caterers would order their breads daily.

Sheermal, that beloved of connoisseurs, is a more regal bread with slightly different origins. The Persian tradition is at once visible even as you take your first bite of the slightly sweet bread. There is the richness of saffron, of milk and ghee mixed into the dough (made from refined flour - maida) that suggests the refinement of the Persian culture (that influenced India's syncretic fabric through the Mughal kitchen and later through the kitchens of the Nawabs and the Nizams). Both saffron and a tinge of sweet (though no sugar is added in the original recipe) in the bread are giveaways to this Persian connect.

Sheermal or Shirmal is a saffron-flavored traditional flatbread from Greater Iran. The word sheermal is derived from the words  sheer meaning milk, and mal meaning to rub. In a literal translation, sheermal means milk rubbed. After being introduced to North India by the Persianate Mughal emperors, it became a delicacy of Lucknow, Hyderabad and Aurangabad. It is also part of the Awadhi cuisine and is enjoyed in Old Bhopal.

Today one can find sheermal in most Indian cities, usually in old established cities. Traditionally sheermal is a round flatbread, with saffron strands on top of it.

Whereas in Bhopal, it's rectangular! Moreover, Bhopali sheermal is flavoured with cloves, which is an addition created by the French Bourbons.