Got dough? Braided, ringed, long and narrow, round and flat, puffed or unleavened, chances are there is at least one type of bread you adore. Be it bagels, baguettes, biscuits, pitta or poori, this fundamental food is found in one variety or another throughout most of the world. And it’s part of the quintessential American diet—a sandwich—whose origin stems from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who devised this style of eating so he did not have to leave the gaming table.
Bread—often the equivalent of food—also was a popular English slang expression for money in the 1960s and 1970s, replacing the earlier “dough.” And in customs and cultures around the globe, bread has a role in relation to religion, magic and superstitions. It’s been used to ward off evil spirits, for sun worship and fertility rites. The Bread Museum in Ulm, Germany is currently compiling information on living bread customs and European Bread Festivals while the Museum of Bread in St. Petersburg, Russia holds regular tasting ceremonies and features bread for cosmonauts, packed for easy eating in a weightless environment.
From the Native American banique to the ceremonial Swedish stollen and well-loved Irish soda bread, recipes are passed down from one generation to another. In parts of Africa and Asia, bread may serve as the utensil (sopping up the other food) or as a tablecloth, as I discovered in an Ethiopian restaurant in Manhattan.
Eating bread in other countries changed my relationship to this food, beginning at age 16, when I first stepped outside North America and tasted the world (and bread) anew in Europe. I would never return to the pre-packaged, tasteless slices of my childhood. My travel days began with a taste for other cuisines and cultures as my ears opened to new sounds around me.
When I was 21, I lived in Benares, India, studying the classical bansuri flute and ritual folk drumming of the untouchables, only to return from the chaos of the streets to my room, where I had a chapati pan, specifically to cook this circular Indian bread over a single kerosene burner. The thin, soft, unleavened bread (un-oiled and un-puffed) is usually about five inches round and it embodied the simplicity I sought in India. While Indian eateries in the States are popular today, the many breads on the menu often omit the plain, whole-wheat flatbread known as chapati, which I still favor.
Touring in Egypt with my trio, we performed in a concert hall akin to Carnegie Hall, except for the rat in the backstage dressing room and the cat that crossed the stage during the performance. Between trips to view the pyramids, archeological wonders, and buy assorted tambourines and neys, we feasted on oversized pitta bread, warmed on the street by vendors not unlike New York’s pretzel men. We joked that as Americans, you had to be a fool to eat the bread with the delicious bean dish known as “fool,” since our stomachs weren’t equipped.
Iceland—the youngest country in Europe—is a land known for its rock-dwelling elves and pure Viking horses. But a more recent journey to this country of pristine beauty, akin to a national park, led me to new discoveries including the clean, pure, brisk
If you need bread and don’t want to knead it, try these. . .
BRUSCHETTA BREAD PREPARATION
Toast the bread, preferably in the fireplace*, to impart a slightly woody flavor. Coat the toasted thick slices with olive oil. Place a peeled clove of garlic with a toothpick in it next to it for guests to rub on their slice of bread. You choose more or less garlic, according to your taste preference.
*If you want to toast the bread over an open fire, try putting the slices into a commercially available wire grill with a handle, made to grill vegetables or fish.
Another way Morena serves bread:
Dice tomatoes and place in a bowl with olive oil, oregano and coarse salt. Spoon the mixture on to the toasted bread. Serve this one “dressed.”
BANIQUE INDIAN BREAD
3 Tbls baking powder or yeast
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups white, wheat flour or corn meal
2 cups water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a bowl mix the yeast (or