Discovering India through its rich diversity in cuisines is a journey by itself. While some gems, such as butter chicken, biryani, and dosa have travelled the globe, there is a whole wide world of Indian regional cuisine yet to be explored. Come, take a culinary journey with us exploring four drool-worthy regional cuisines of India. By Chef Abhinanda Bhattacharya
Growing up, the one adjective that often popped up in history and geography books to annotate India was the word ‘vast’. In this huge number of square miles of land live a rather mind-boggling billion people. Obviously they eat differently in every land pocket, creating an equally vast repertoire of delicious cuisines. Attempting to unravel Indian food is a tall order. However, what is popular is not all of it…
As a business traveller visiting India, one would undoubtedly spend a few days in Mumbai and get acquainted with the street food delicacies vada pav, pav bhaaji, and dabeli. The lip smacking food comes from the picturesque Konkan area alongside the coast of Maharashtra up to Devbaag, and is commonly referred to as the Malvani cuisine. Malvan, an unassuming town in the Sindhudurg region birthed some food gems, such as kombi vade-chicken curry, bombil fry (Sachin Tendulkar’s choice of fish!), mori masala (baby shark gravy), and kaju chi aamti (a spiced curry with cashews, downed with solkadhi—a drink made from kokum and coconut). The region’s cakes and pancakes—dhondas, ghavan, and khaprole are equally sumptuous. Almost 16 dry spices go through various steps of roasting and grinding to create the zesty Malvani masala. The cuisine is an honest mélange of food flavours of Maharashtra, Goa, and north Karnataka, imbibing characteristic tastes, a tone of seafood, and deep reverence to coconut.
Taste it here: Gajalee in Mumbai offers delectable Malvani thalis, along with signature preparations, such as tandoori crab.
When Sati practice was abolished in the movement led by socio-religious reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the widows of Bengal found themselves in secluded kitchens free to create their own recipes, but not free to consume fish and meats. Unbeaten by life’s choices, these food stalwarts created delectable, futuristic vegetarian recipes. Some of these creations—mochar ghonto (banana flower stir fry), chhanar dalna (cottage cheese curry), and aloo posto (potatoes infused with poppy seeds) are the pride and shame of the lesser known vegetarian Bengali cuisine. The British Raj capital, Calcutta, housed English families in sprawling bungalows with expert cooks managing equally sprawling kitchens. From the recipes and traditional practices of English wives and Indian cooks, originated the Anglo-Indian cuisine Kolkata is so popular for. Try Captain’s Chicken, Railway Mutton Curry, and mulligatawny soup to get acquainted to the flavours. With the partition of Bengal, many crossed the borders to settle down in West Bengal with their treasured recipes of ilish fish (Hilsa) curry and daab chingri (prawns cooked in tender coconut), which unfalteringly infiltrated with Bengali gravies, curries, cutlets, and sweets. To summarise, Kolkata offers outstanding food choices under the banner of Bengali cuisine, which if not tried is an opportunity of a lifetime missed.
The Chettiars of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu participated in spice trade with the Gulf countries, Burma (Myanmar), Java (Indonesia), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Mauritius, and Khmer (Cambodia). While this trading community lived by the sea initially, with time, they prospered and expanded into the dry and hot back country. Rare spices being an easy access, availability of seafood in plenty, and wild games like rabbit, quail, and turkey hunted in the arid hinterland, Chettinad cuisine left its mark in the culinary legacy of India. Foreign influences were inculcated in the way vegetables were salted and meats were sun-dried. Hand-pounding of masalas was a custom never to be compromised by homes in temple towns and agrarian villages. Delectable dishes like meen kuzhambu (fish curry), nandu masala (crab masala), kootu (lentil curry), Chettinad kozhi (chicken curry), idiyappam (stringhoppers), and karaikudieral masala (juicy prawns prepared with curry leaves) are a must-try. Interestingly, Chettinad cuisine is cooked in specific utensils—which are today considered as collectible vintage makes. If you find time to explore work in Tamil Nadu’s capital city on the Bay of Bengal, Chennai, then finding the gumption to stomach at least one glorious Chettinad meal is what’ll make you exploratory and epicurean. And this will stay as a food memory forever.
Peshawar (earlier Purushpur) literally translates to ‘the city of men’. A part of ancient India, the city now lies on the other side of the Indian border. Like New Delhi, this walled city too was ruled by invaders and foreigners and is predominantly inhabited by Punjabi denizens. Influences from Moghul kitchens, Sikh food habits, British rule, and age-old practices define Peshawari cuisine. The classiest aspect of this cuisine is that it requires a plethora of ingredients—the food is aromatic and has loads of body; milk and saffron are incorporated abundantly; grilling over coals gives it the characteristic earthy aroma. Banno kebab (chicken kebabs), chapli kebab (mince lamb cutlets), mutton dumpukht (slow cooked mutton), and anjeer halwa (fig pudding) are among the many Peshawari favourites. Each dish is unique because it is cooked with a special technique. For instance, the dumpukht method of cooking comes from the very word—‘dum’ as in breath, and ‘pukht’ as in cook—denoting that the meat is placed in a heavy based pot (preferably a clay pot), and is then cooked on slow flame over time. In the centre of an ocean, discovery is endless. There will always be a first sighting of kaleidoscopic coral colours and jewelled fish shapes. Indian cuisine is exactly like that. The discovery has no finish line with any end date. From one lane to another, there can be a hidden delicacy, from one city to another, a diverse flavour. The submission is to embrace and give yourself up to engulf these myriad gastronomical experiences, and find yourself only craving for more.
Taste it here: Bukhara at ITC Maurya in New Delhi is the tallest icon of Peshawari cuisine in India.