Pass me the parotta, please

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on June 19, 2020

Breaking bread: The move to roll out a higher GST rate for Malabar parotta has divided Twitterati   -  THULASI KAKKAT

A foodie pays tribute to Malabar parotta, the flaky flatbread that changed her life and taste buds

* A move to roll out 18 per cent GST on the parotta has divided Twitterati

* In comparison, a customer pays only 5 per cent GST on every purchase of roti

“Chicken Manchurian, two chicken fried rice, garlic prawns and chilli chicken.”

The curly-haired waiter with a pink notepad cast a questioning look at our group of four. Have we ordered too much, I mumbled under my breath. The chap, on the contrary, was patiently waiting for us to complete the list.

“Two Thums Up,” a friend volunteered.

“Madam, parotta?” the waiter sounded frustrated as he threw this question at us.

Parotta (paratha for many other parts of India) and chilli chicken? I ran out of the busy restaurant in central Chennai to check its credentials on the signboard. Yes, it said Chinese restaurant in bold red letters. But which self-respecting Chinese joint serves parotta?

I rushed back to the table and urged my friends — all sambar-sick hostel residents like me in the year 2000 — to leave the restaurant. “Let’s go somewhere else, please!” The girls, equally suspicious of the Sino-Malabar combination, were too lethargic to step out into the stewing Chennai heat. “Just shut up and eat. You won’t die,” one of them hissed.

I slunk back in the dusty wooden chair with the energy of a slow loris. And shut my eyes as the parotta hit the table, along with the bevy of Chinese beauties.

I usually don’t entertain unsolicited advice when it comes to food. But this instance had its benefits. I dug into the plate with trepidation, taking a cautious bite of the flaky Malabar parotta with a piece of chicken. And then all hell broke loose. We ordered more chilli chicken and more parotta, till we ran out of the last penny in our pockets.

A new beginning had been made. A handful of diehard Calcutta-crazy girls had been converted for life. The Malabar incursion was not just flavourful and crispy. It was undeniably emphatic.

This food accident from the noughties flashed across my mind last week, as I zoomed in on a small news item. It said that a Karnataka bench of the Authority of Advance Rulings had decreed that parottas (in all spellings, shapes and sizes) are not as humble as the roti, and therefore eligible for 18 per cent GST. This was bad news not just for iD Fresh Foods, a Bengaluru-based company that was seeking a GST slash on its frozen products — mainly Malabar parotta and a wheat-based flatbread — but also the thousands who rely on such supermarket saviours for no-cook meals.

The ruling sent Twitter into a tizzy, with memes and witticisms clogging the feed. Industrialist Anand Mahindra predicted the genesis of a new breed called ‘parotis’, to circumvent the controversial tax regime. Hashtag #HandsOffPorotta managed to rally thousands of Malayalis to the defence of the layered flatbread, eaten with different kinds of meat preparations as well as the spicy egg roast. Most termed it “cultural racism”, pitting the North Indian roti against the South Indian parotta. Some called it “emotional atyachaar” while Kerala Tourism invited followers to share their favourite Malabar parotta moments and recipes on Twitter.

A girl from the east of the country, my relationship with flatbreads began quite late in life — only after I had tired of the mounds of rice. Apart from the Sunday staple of luchi (which is puri to other parts of India), I was slowly weaned into a diet of a triangular paratha, made with a mix of atta and maida, and a simple potato dish or fried aubergines on the side. On particularly bad days, my mother would serve the paratha with just a spoonful of sugar or jaggery.

A Delhi visit during mid-school years tossed some butter-coated alu parathas in my direction. I ate them well but, in the internal rating system, placed them a few notches below the sattu paratha that my loving Bou — the Bihari masseuse who kept back pains and shoulder knots at bay for the entire household — plied my plate with. The roasted gram flour is now celebrated as a superfood, though Bou needed no scientific backing for her unwavering faith in the flour.

The Delhi variety returned to my life in 2006, along with a job in a travel magazine. Many winter mornings were spent zipping down the highways out of the city, only to stop at a dhaba for parathas, chai and gajar ka halwa. I even survived a visit to the Parathewali Gali in Old Delhi, fairly shocked at the greasy and oversalted parathas being sold in the name of heritage.

The roti — now in a special GST lounge for the privileged — never quite did the trick for me. I found them dry, uninspiring and a poorer cousin of items such as bhakri (widely eaten in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka) and the fluffy appam. And the countless meals in different parts of Kerala — from Kottayam to Kozhikode — cemented the throne that the parotta had come to occupy.

Now that grocery visits are few and far between, I’ll rely on food delivery apps to show my support for the cause. Bring me the frozen Malabar parottta, please.

The rotis can wait.

Published on June 19, 2020

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