Biscoot and chai, anyone?

Published: October 12, 2016

‘Nan khatai‘ comes from the Persian word ‘Nan’ (bread) and ‘Khatai’ (‘Catai’ or ‘Cathay’, the older name for China), translating as ‘Bread of Cathay’. PHOTO: ARHAMA SIDDIQA

While browsing through the aisles at the local store, I came across a new kind of biscuit – LU’s Nan Khatai. 

I was immediately transported down memory lane, to numerous childhood bakery trips for the much savoured, freshly baked version. While growing up, we have all relished khasta (crispy) nan khatais. And I am sure many of us still do.

How did it end up in this part of the world?

Nan khatai‘ comes from the Persian word ‘Nan’ (bread) and ‘Khatai’ (‘Catai’ or ‘Cathay’, the older name for China), translating as ‘Bread of Cathay’.

According to the ‘Hobson-Jobson Dictionary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words’ (yes it exists) these biscuits date back to when Dutch explorers touched the subcontinent’s shores back in the 16th century. Two of them set up a bakery, which they later handed over to a trusted employee when they left.

Now the locals would not eat the bakery’s bread because it included sura (sap from the Palm tree, or toddy), which was used, as yeast in those times. As a result, the left over bread would become dry and crispy and sold to the poor at discounted prices. This inexpensive dried out crispy bread became a hit with the locals. The bakery seized on the idea of turning the bread into cookie-sized titbits sans sura, and thus Nan Khatai was born.

Enough with the history lesson, let’s begin!


Flour – 1 cup

Baisan (Gram Flour) – 4 tbsp

Baking soda – ¾  tsp

Baking Powder – ½ tsp

Ghee – 1 cup

Ground sugar – ½ cup

Cardamom powder – 1 ½ tsp

Egg yolk to brush

Method: (literally four steps)

1. Mix in all the ingredients except the egg yolk.

2. With your hands form medium-sized cookies balls and place them on a baking tray.

3. Brush each cookie with egg yolk. You can place an almond or chopped up pistachios in the centre if you want.

4. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 180 degrees.

Unlike other cookies, nan khatais will not brown up and when taken out of the oven they will still be soft and gooey. Nothing to worry about. Simply allow them to sit for 5 to 10 minutes on the counter and they will harden up.

When completely cooled down, you can store them in an airtight container for at least a week.

You are all set to have your evening ‘biscoot’ and chai!

All photos: Arhama Siddiqa

Arhama Siddiqa

Arhama Siddiqa

The author is a LUMS and University of Warwick Alumnus and is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). She calls herself a bibliophile,a dreamer and an avid foodie. She also has a Instagram food blog: @chakhoous ( . She tweets @arhama_siddiqa (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • AH

    Thank you!Recommend

  • harinder

    nice oneRecommend

  • Parvez

    I just loved the title ‘ Biscoot and Chai ‘……..transported me back in time to Boman Irani tea shop in Saddar Karachi, with its marble table tops strong tea and fluffy biscoots and curry puffs ( I have to admit no Nan Khatai , or lets say I never had the pleasure to trying one there ). There’s a place in Lahore that produces Nan Khatais that are unbeatable.Recommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    Nice article, but nothing beats being dunked in a cup of garam chai like ‘cake rusk’.

  • Areeb Khan

    wow amazing i love your food blogsRecommend

  • Hamsid

    thank you <3Recommend

  • Rabia

    Parvez its called Khalifas and its tucked away somewhere in the inner city.I went there once. You get there by walking through a labrynth of fascinating lanes where you can (okay I did) peep shamelessly into other people’s homes and businesses.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Khalifas ? ….are you talking of a tea shop in Karachi or the Nan Khatai place in Lahore ? If its Lahore then yes I also went on foot ( although I forgot what its called ) to get the Nan Khatais…..and along the way met the pehlwan who had two pet lions ( one roaming free ), he assured me SHE was harmless……..I’m talking of some 25 years back.Recommend

  • Rabia

    oh goodness, a lion roaming free in those narrow streets would be kissing distance! Anyway, yes, I’m talking about the one in Lahore.Recommend