Nankhatai: The Sweet Biscuit Legacy from Surat

Chai time comes with an accompaniment of crackling snacks, mostly savory but sometimes sweet. One such snack that makes it straight to the list is Nankhatai. Let's see how this snack made its way into every Indian household.

Hitanshu Bhatt
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The sweet-salty biscuits referred to as the famous ‘Indian biscuits’ are supposed to have a fusion of the Persian-Afghani language in their name. Naan - is a type of flatbread in the Persian language and ‘Khatai’ is an Afghan word that means biscuit. Although the neighbouring countries influenced the name of this biscuit, it saw its beginning in the western part of India. A city in Western India is supposed to be accredited for the invention of Nankhatai. 

Dotivala nankhatai
Image Courtesy: Dotivala Bakers & Confectioners


It is believed that the story of this brittle biscuit began in the 16th century in the city of Surat in Gujarat. At the time, the city was the center of the heavy trade carried on between the Indians and the Dutch. Surat saw an influx of many immigrants from Dutch countries due to trading activities, and this opportunity was seized by a Dutch couple to start a business of their own. Since there was a constant phase of settlement, they thought a food business would work well, so they set up a bakery to sell bread and other confectionery.

Jamshed and Cyrus Dotivala
Jamshed (R) and Cyrus Dotivala (L), the fifth and sixth generation of the Dotivala family at their Bakery in Surat (Image Courtesy: The Week)

Slowly the phase of trade was starting to decline and the Dutch couple too decided to leave the country. While doing so, they handed over the bakery to a local employee - Faramji Pestonji Dotivala. The shop is still present in Surat's Nanpura area by the name 'Dotivala Bakers & Confectioners.' For some time, Dotivala continued to run the business with the same items that the couple used to sell but as Indians were not that fond of bread, Dotivalal’s business started to decline. The reason was the texture and ingredients like toddy and eggs which did not appeal to the Indian palate. After selling bread at a lower price for a brief period, the bakery introduced round biscuits called Nankhatais. They soon became a popular chai-time snack which people used to dip in the tea and have it because of its rich texture and taste. 

nankhatai and chai
Nankhatai dipped in chai (Image Courtesy: Thefearlesscooking)

The confectionery crossed boundaries and travelled to Mumbai in Maharashtra. Here too it became a tea-time staple and became a popular part of snacks, mostly in Gujarati households. Slowly it travelled to the entire India and till date, it is consumed in most of the houses. Besides, its popularity in India it is also famous in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. In Iran and Afghanistan, it is called Kulcha-e-khataye.

 Kulcha-e-khataye (Image Courtesy: YumNumFoodSpice/YouTube)

Often made in bakeries, but it also finds a space in the Indian kitchens with some of the common and easy-to-source ingredients. Maida/all-purpose flour, ghee/clarified butter, powdered sugar, salt and baking powder are all it’s needed to make a Nankhatai. The flatbread that turned into a round cookie and made its way into every Indian household besides the most favourite - chai, is worthy of staying in the hearts of people forever.  

Dotivala Bakers & Confectioners Indian biscuits round cookie Kulcha-e-khataye Dotivala Faramji Pestonji Dotivala