Posted by Arvind Suryavanshi
As my beagle Charlie lounged by my side, a bite of a slightly spiced, beautifully fluffy Indian naan in my hand, my mind pulled me in the direction of one of life's greatest culinary mysteries. How is this piece of perfection any different from a Mexican tortilla? More importantly, why do people often think they are the same? The naan and tortilla, despite their apparent similarities, are quite peculiar in their own rights and have a separate fan base across geographical boundaries.
The naan, surviving through centuries of Indian culture, is a wheat-based flatbread that is kneaded with yogurt or milk. The dough, once it blossoms into a soft fluff, travels to a clay oven known as the tandoor, where it's skillfully adhered to the inside and baked till golden. The end product is pillowy bread, often brushed with ghee, or clarified butter, to cement its richness. Tandoor-cooked naan hails from Panjab, but has effortlessly slid onto plates across India and beyond, making it a universal favourite.
Conversely, the tortilla has Mexican roots. The dough is formed by mixing maize flour with water, and unlike naan, it doesn’t require a leavening agent. This is then rolled into thin, round shapes and cooked on a flat pan, or comal. There are two principal types of tortillas: maize and wheat. The former is traditional and preferred in Southern Mexico, with the latter reigning in the North. You might just catch a whiff of tortillas being toasted in every street corner if you venture into a Mexican neighbourhood. Well, we have covered the origins and how do they make them, but how about their taste?
In this section, I take a brief moment to remember my rabbit Zoya, dutifully chewing on her lettuce, completely oblivious to the extraordinary culinary journey of human food. Poor Zoya, you won't understand the delight of biting into a naan or a tortilla, will you?
Naan has a soft, chewy bite and a slightly tart taste, courtesy of yogurt. However, the flavours can be tweaked drastically by tweaking the accompanying dish. Naan serves a perfect canvas for soaking up scrumptious curries and gravies, meaning every bite can be a delightful surprise. And when brushed with a blend of melted butter and minced garlic, oh, it becomes a piece of heaven you can actually taste.
In comparison, tortillas feature a delicate earthy taste due to the maize flour – a taste that’s subtle and satisfying. They might not possess the buttery richness of a naan, but they compensate with their versatile nature, perfectly nestling an array of fillings to produce palate-exciting dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. You can even experiment by toasting it to crispness and creating tostadas!
Yes, I know. Just because I have the privilege of savouring all the culinary delights on the planet, doesn't mean I turn a blind eye to healthy eating. Trust me, it's a balance. Even Charlie here, with his nose perpetually tilted towards something delicious, knows the value of a balanced diet. So, let's earmark this section for the health-conscious, shall we?
Naan bread is typically high in calories, thanks to the milk or yogurt and the ghee that tops it off. However, it also provides a decent amount of protein and minerals. If you're choosing naan over tortilla, you're also signing up for a high amount of carbohydrates. But remember, carbs are not inherently harmful, it's the excess that can be detrimental.
On the other hand, tortillas tend to be lower in calories and fats compared to naan. They can boast of a higher fibre content too, particularly if you choose the whole grain versions. Additionally, tortillas provide essential nutrients like calcium and iron, and can be a great option for those wanting to follow a diet low in fats or on a calorie count regime.
Ah, now comes my favourite part. Using these delicious flatbreads in food. Dear reader, I might not be the most celebrated culinary expert, but explore I do! I often find Charlie watching me with inquisitive eyes as I navigate my little kitchen creating something out of these simple breads.
In India, naan is typically savoured with a curry or a dry dish. It is often considered a side bread, used to scoop up meat or vegetables and at times even used as a pseudo sandwich bread to wrap grilled meat and vegetables. It's not uncommon to find cheese-stuffed versions of naan in India's streets or butter naan being served at a fancy dinner.
Tortillas, however, take up many roles in Mexican cuisine. Tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, you name it. They are transformed into dinner plates in the case of tostadas, or even cut up and fried to make chips. Tortillas showcase an impressive versatility, which might be one of the reasons people love them across the world.
Folks, we have dissected these two seemingly similar but surprisingly different flatbreads, revealing how each one is unique in its own way. But for those of us who like a neat, point-to-point comparison, this section is your guide to the Indian Naan vs Mexican Tortilla debate.
While both are a type of flatbread, naan uses a leavening agent, which gives it a fluffy texture. Tortillas, on the other hand, are unleavened and therefore flat and thin. Naan is traditionally made from all-purpose flour, while tortillas use maize flour, though wheat variants also exist. The cooking technique is another key difference — naan is globally recognized for its distinct tandoor oven preparation style, while tortillas are cooked flat on a comal. Moreover, naan is often enjoyed with various curries, whereas tortillas act as a base in a plethora of dishes like tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas.
At the surface, they may seem similar, but each bread has its charm, unique history, and culinary uses. Whether it's a hearty Indian curry scooped up with a chunk of naan or a loaded taco brimming with toppings folded inside a tortilla, they each are delicious on their own terms and have found a home in international cuisine. This is a testament to how food connects civilizations, surpassing linguistic and geographical barriers.