Breads of Pakistan

Roti, naan, sheermal, chapati or paratha - there are numerous names for the many different types of bread found in Pakistan. Let’s explore them all.

Freshly kneaded dough (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Types of Breads in Pakistan

There are many different types of breads served across Pakistan, from the homemade chapati to the commercially available naan, and the celebratory sheermal. This exhibit will show you Pakistan’s favorite breads and how they are eaten.

Freshly kneaded dough (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation


Traditionally breads in Pakistan are an uneven or even round shape.

From Tandoor to Table: Pakistan's Bread Heritage (2023)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Watch our film on the breads in Pakistan.

Chef Azra Syed making the chapati roti (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The Simple Chapati or Roti

A chapati, also known as roti and phulka, is essentially unleavened flatbread and a staple in South Asian homes. Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and even Caribbean communities have been making and eating chapati in a similar style for ages.  

Chef Azra Syed making the chapati roti (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation


The first mention of a chapati was found in the historical 16th-century document “Ain-i-Akbari” written by Mughal Emperor Akbar’s vizier, Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak. However, remains of carbonized wheat grains found during excavation at the historical Indus Valley Civilization site, Mohenjo-Daro, were found to be similar to ones found commonly all over South Asia, indicating that similar breads may have been made and cooked at that time. 

Chef Azra Syed making the chapati roti (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The word chapati originates from the Hindi word 'chapat' which means to slap or flatten, describing the traditional method of flattening the dough ball between wet palms by slapping and rotating until it reaches the desired thinness.  

Chef Azra Syed making the chapati roti (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The dough is prepared much like it is for a tortilla - by mixing whole wheat flour with water, edible oil and salt optionally added and kneaded into a dough, which is then left to rise for 10 to 15 minutes. The dough is then divided equally into rounded portions (pedas) which are then flattened into thin circles with the help of a rolling pin on floured surfaces and cooked on a flat skillet, locally known as a tawa. 

Chef Azra Syed making the chapati roti (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

To help the chapati to rise, it is sometimes half-cooked on the skillet, and then moved to a direct flame due to which air bubbles form and fill the bread helping it to rise. It is usually served and eaten hot, fresh off the stove.

Fresh naan (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Naan (Persian: نان‎, romanized: nān)

Naan originates from ancient Persia, where it was inferred to mean bread baked on hot pebbles. In South Asia, naan is a softer, thicker bread in comparison to a chapati, and is most comparable to pita bread, which is similarly leavened with yeast or a starter.   

Paye served (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

To make naan, flour is mixed with active dry yeast, salt and water to make a dough, which is kneaded for a few minutes until it comes together into a ball, and then set aside to rise for a few hours.  

Dough Preparation (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

After this, the dough is divided into balls and flattened into circular discs, much like a chapati.

Dough Preparation (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Sometimes sesame seeds are also added to them.

Naan in tandoor (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Apart from the yeast and the thickness of the bread, what sets a naan apart from a chapati is that it is baked in a tandoor (cylindrical clay oven heated by fire generated from wood or coal) which produces extremely high temperatures. Hence the name tandoori naan. These days, however, modern ovens are also used to make naans.  

Fresh Naan (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Freshly Prepared Naans

Naans cook rapidly in the fierce heat of the tandoor, and only need a few minutes of cooking time.

Top shot of Sheermal bread (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Taftans & Sheermals - a Royal Gift

With their origins in Awadhi cuisine and the royal kitchens of the Mughals, sheermal (Persian-Urdu: شیرمال) and taftan (Urdu: تافتان‎) are two different types of bread, often served on celebratory occasions in Pakistan.       

Close Up of Sheermal bread (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation


The word sheermal comes from the Persian words شیر (sheer) which means milk, and مالیدن (malidan) which means to rub, so literally sheermal means milk rubbed. The incorporation of milk is what sets sheermal apart from the rest of the unleavened flatbreads in Pakistan, and is traditionally made in a tandoor like naan.

Sheermal bread dough (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Sheermals are rolled out and pricked with a tool in order to ensure even cooking throughout the bread.

Sheermal inside the tandoor (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Maida (white flour) is mixed with warm milk, sweetened with sugar, replacing the water in a regular naan dough recipe. During special occasions, saffron and cardamom are also incorporated into the unleavened dough mixture.

Top shot of Sheermal bread (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Ready to Eat Sheermal

Once the sheermal is ready, it has a creamy texture and can be enjoyed with savory, spicy curries, or as a dessert accompaniment with fresh malai (cream) or yogurt, or even plain with a cup of tea.

Freshly kneaded dough (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation


Like sheermal, the taftan is also made with milk and baked in a clay oven, however it is a leavened bread, and eggs and yogurt added to the dough.

Freshly kneaded dough (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Commercial Bread Making

In commercial establishments, the dough of each taftan is individually weighed before being rolled out to ensure that size of each bread is proportionate.

Interior of tandoor oven (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Baking Taftaan

Taftaan is cooked and baked in a tandoor, in the same way as sheermal and naan bread.

Naan breads (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The final taftaan is flakier and lighter than a regular naan, and often made on special occasions too. Taftan is more commonly used as an accompaniment for savory dishes and spicy curries.  

A Pakistani table is incomplete without roti and the flavor of a meal will not come through if the roti is not made well, which is why makers of chapati, naan, sheermal and taftan are to be found all over Pakistan.

Credits: Story

Produced by SOC Films 
Project Director: Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
Producers: Syed Ayub , Sameer Khan
Project Manager: Huma Shah
Director of Photography: Murtaza Ali
Photography: Karim Baig , Murtaza Ali
Photography Editor: Karim Baig
Additional Video & Photography: Khurram Victor
Exhibits Writer: Nazia Latif , Sameer Khan
Exhibits : Syed Ayub , Sameer Khan
Art Direction : Rahat Niazi  
Associate Producer : Asad Pabani
Video Editors: Nina Zehri, Farhad Jamali 
Color Grade: Sourath Behan
Additional Video Editing: Mishal Adhami 
Sound Design: Sameer Khan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Pakistan's Museum of Food
An insider's guide to the country's rich cuisine
View theme
Google apps