Growing up in India has a lot of perks: plethora of cousins to play with, grandparents who fuss over you, flying kites with the neighbour's kids, aunts and uncles who bribe you with sweets just to keep your mouth shut, street cricket and incredible food. But what we don't grow up with is good bread. And frankly, that's fine. Because we are a culture that has fantastic local breads which make me go weak in the knees even today. But all we had available for toast every morning was the sad white, limp bread in multicoloured plastic bags that were readily available at every corner grocery store of our little town. I thought they were pretty great toasted and golden brown with a layer of really sweet Kissan mixed fruit jam. That was until I had my first taste of real sourdough bread which happened when I was 15 years old.
We were on a family vacation in Italy and went to a local trattoria( my foodie uncle picked the place because left to the rest of my family, we would have ended up with pizza or Chinese food) for lunch in Rome. It was a bustling place, packed with locals speaking in Italian and gesticulating a lot. Our waiter placed down a basket of bread even before handing us the menu. This bread looked very different than the white bread I was used to. This bread had character with a hard crust and soft, chewy interior and an unusually large crumb. Large enough that all my cousins and I took turns looking through it much to the dismay of my sophisticated uncle. My brother was the first one to have a taste. He followed the locals and tipped some olive oil on to his plate followed by a few drops of balsamic vinegar (two gleaming bottles were present at very table) and mopped up the leopard print concoction with a slice of bread. He proceeded to close his eyes and moan grossly. I was intrigued and imitated my brother and ohmygod it had so much flavour and texture- soft, chewy with a touch of sourness but which was pleasing to the palette and rounded with excellent olive oil and sweetness from the balsamic. We were hooked and inhaled two bread baskets before even ordering lunch.
Its been several years since and I regularly bake my own sourdough with a starter I have managed to keep alive for a few months ( I have also killed over 10 of them so fingers crossed!). Sourdough bread is made from dough that has been leavened naturally using active yeast instead of store bought commercial ones and is a labour of love like anything worth doing in life should be. You make a starter with flour, water, few drops of honey and couple of unwashed grapes. You let it sit for a day and then discard half the starter with the grapes and feed it with equal amounts of water and flour. You repeat the steps for a week before your starter is alive and healthy and you can use it to bake bread. Here is a great resource and recipe for you to get started on your first loaf of bread. Fair warning, its hard to go back to white bread once you have tasted your first slice of sourdough.