When India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, declared a last-minute lockdown in March, most of the country’s workers found themselves stranded in cities without food or shelter. With buses and trains all shut down, they were forced to walk home to their villages hundreds of miles away in the heat. For days and weeks they trekked with scarcely anything to eat. Many survived on just water and biscuits.
The earliest biscuits were hard bread rusks, baked twice to make them last longer. The ancient Greeks and Romans soaked these rusks in water and dipped them into soups and vegetable stews. Muslim confectioners were the first to add sugar to the dough and transform a main-course item into an indulgence. During the Renaissance, egg-leavened biscuits were consumed as both appetizers and desserts. Bartolomeo Platina, perhaps the West’s first food historian, recommended them for allaying “whatever discomforts there are.”