On a recent visit to a remote farm in Karnataka my friends and I were invited to stay for lunch. The caretakers wife, Lakshmi, made ‘Bhakri’ for us on her wood fire ‘chullah’ (earthen stove). ‘Bhakri’ is an unleavened, circular bread made of coarser ground flour than the ‘chapatti’ and is generally flattened out by slapping it by hand in a circular motion, without a rolling pin. It is then baked on a deep pan, all the while being turned and having water sprinkled on it to keep it from burning. After that , it is made to puff up by laying on the open fire, in this case Lakshmi laid them on the hot embers that made them come out all soft and fluffy, with a lovely smoky flavour.
Though Bhakri is made from wheat flour, or millet flour, in this case she used rice flour ,which is more difficult to work and less doughy, but when kneaded with warm water (and considerable skill ) makes a malleable dough. With a side dish of spicy curried vegetables and a yoghurt dip, we polished off the bhakris as fast as Lakshmi could make them. The pictures were taken when she was baking a few more for her own lunch. Like most traditional women , she insisted on serving her guests hot bread, right off the fire and eating afterwards, after we had washed and were sipping some cardamom tea.
The primitive kitchen, full of wood smoke and without running water was such a throwback to older times ,as were the skills of the cook and her warm hospitality. We city slickers were apalled by the hard conditions in which Lakshmi works every day and yet her skills , patience and kindness had us awed. We said how we would love to have her working as a chef in a glass fronted kitchen where enthusiasts could watch her fine manual skills and savour her traditional cooking. Lakshmi laughed and told us that she was very well off where she was and would we please stop crowding around, there wasnt much space in her kitchen anyway. 🙂