This Delicious Indian Flatbread is a Popular Choice in Downtown Ottawa Restaurants
The truly wonderful thing about Indian food, from the streets of New Delhi to restaurants in downtown Ottawa, is that nearly every dish in the vast repertoire of Indian cuisine has not only a history, but a connection to culturally significant events or longstanding traditions. When you eat a dish like rogan josh or mulligatawny, you’re not just tasting ingredients and spices prepared a certain way. You’re tasting something that was refined over generations and influenced by the various cultures—both within and outside of India’s borders—that they have come into contact with. And papadum is no different!
Also called papad, papadum is a crisp flatbread made from legume flour. It can be found throughout India and Pakistan, and the role it plays in a meal changes from region to region, as does its recipe. In many regions of southern India, these thin, chip-like breads are an essential part of larger meals, while in the north, they are often served as appetizers or snacks, with chutneys or curries to dip into.
They are most often made with lentil or chickpea flour, and while they can be produced by machine, many are still mass-produced by hand throughout India. The dough is flattened until it is translucent and nearly paper-thin, and then dried in the sun, though they can also be baked, fried, or grilled. Some varieties are made with spices and seasonings like garlic, pepper, chili, or cumin, to produce a more flavourful product. Papads can be found at Indian restaurants in downtown Ottawa and across the world, and are particularly popular in curry houses in the United Kingdom and Australia.
One of the most interesting aspects of this dish, however, is the role that it has played in women’s empowerment movements in India. In fact, Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, or simply Lijjat for short, is an Indian worker’s cooperative made up exclusively of women. It was founded in 1959 by seven women from present-day Mumbai with the mission of creating a sustainable livelihood for themselves using the cooking skills they had been taught. Within three months there were 25 women, who produced papads by hand. As word of their products spread, the cooperative grew and expanded. Today, Lijjat employs over 42,000 people across 81 branches, and they still produce papadum the old-fashioned way—by hand. The Lijjat is a truly remarkable initiative that has provided opportunities to generations of women in India, and it all started with this flatbread.
The next time you find yourself in an Indian restaurant in downtown Ottawa, try a papad—you won’t be disappointed!