T he 29 states of India enjoy varied landscapes, cultural influences and religious traditions, so it is no wonder that one type of food cannot define the country. However, no matter where you travel in this large and magnificent country, the delightful aromas of regional cuisines will tempt your taste buds and please your eye. So, let us take you on tasty tour of India as just a start to your experience of the diverse and delicious cuisine.
Residents of Delhi come from across the country (the largest community being Punjabi) so menus have evolved that are unique to the area. It is known for its street food, which has modified traditional dishes for mobility, favouring the use of flatbreads (various types of roti) and even sandwiches.
Street food dishes include Kababs, kachauri (flaky deep fried pastry with spicy peas) and various types of chaat (combinations of chick peas, potatoes and spices).
Punjab is known for its diverse cuisine benefiting from a land of agriculture and farms where rural workers were sustained with a diet rich in dairy products with butter, yoghurt and cream being staple ingredients. Meat is a regular part of the Punjab diet.
Popular dishes include makke di roti (corn flour flatbread) and sarson da saag (a vegetable dish made with mustard leaves and spices) tandoori chicken (roasted in a clay or metal ‘tandoor’ with yoghurt and spices) meat and fish curries and basmati rice.
The tropical climate of Goa on India’s south west coast influences a seafood diet with intense flavours and spices, often tempered with coconut milk. The history of colonialism by the Portuguese introduced a number of items to the cuisine, most notably potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, guavas, cashews and the chili peppers.
Pork vindaloo (a curry made with spices and vinegar) is very popular.
The coastline state of Karnataka, although a neighbour to Goa, has its own unique dishes, many of which are served on banana leaves, particularly during festivals. The cuisine of Karnataka extends from vegetarian and vegan to a diversity of meats.
This area is known for its unusual breakfast dishes which include khara bath (cream of wheat with vegetables), Idly (savoury cake) Rava Idly (wheat cake), Masala Dosa (crepe stuffed with curried potatoes and eaten with coconut chutney), Kadubu (sweet stuffed rice balls), vadai ( fried fritters, doughnuts).
Popular vegetarian dishes also include Bisi bele bath (hot lentil rice) badanekai yennegai (stuffed eggplant), saaru (soup with tamarind base), Bangibath (fried eggplant rice),
The capital city of Lucknow has a history of control by Nawabs, famous for lavish dishes, heavy on cream and oil, marinated meat and a variety of spices. The Nawabs had a gift for laborious preparation and elaborate presentations, often creating desserts that masqueraded as main course fish or curries.
Today Lucknow is defined by Awadhi and Mughlai cuisine, influenced by the Nawabi dum style cooking over a slow fire. Kebabs are a large part of the Awadhi cuisine and are a source of pride in Lucknow. Minced lamb, beef and mutton kebabs are grilled on a chula (traditional Indian stove) and sometimes in a skillet.
Awadhi menus also include kormas (braised meat or vegetable in sauce), biryanis (rice), nahari-kulchas (slow cooked stew), zarda (boiled rice with orange food colouring) sheermal (saffron flavoured flatbread) often enhanced with cardamom and saffron, their preferred spices.
Mughlai cuisine is similar to that of Northern India and Central Asia with a propensity for elaborate dishes served in buffet style. It represents the cooking styles of the Muslims and is recognized for its distinctive aroma and the taste of ground and whole spices.
Bengali cuisine is more akin to French style where courses are served separately as opposed to the more typical Indian way of presenting all the dishes at once. Fish is the most popular food item but how it is prepared varies, as do the ingredients it is flavoured with.
Fish, rice and lentils are a staple and many dishes are enhanced with chillies, and some with mustard oil. Milk and coconut milk are also frequent ingredients found in Bengali cuisine.
The cuisine of Odisha on the east coast is typically lighter - spiced fish and seafood dishes such as crab and shrimp, with chicken and mutton are also enjoyed.
Vegetable meals are often flavoured with a five-spice seasoning called panch phutana, consisting of cumin, mustard, fennel, fenugreek and kalonji (nigella seed or black cumin). Some popular dishes include Kanika (sweet rice pilaf), Dalma (vegetable dish), Sag (spinach and other green leaves) and Alu-bharta (mashed potato with onions and chillies).
Meat curries are typically enhanced with garam masala and turmeric.
Meals are often followed up by dessert with Pakhala (rice, water yoghurt fermented overnight) popular in the rural areas.
Residents on the coast of Maharashtra benefit from a diet of fish from the Arabian Sea and the abundance of vegetation including coconut, which is typically grated and used for seasoning.
People who live in the interior consume more vegetables and rice and lentil based meals, flavoured with groundnuts and poppy seeds, with meals based on six main classes of ingredients; grains, legumes, vegetable, dairy products and spices.
The Savji community in the Vidarbha area has a diet of hot and spicy meat dishes, with different types of oil used in the preparation. Peanut butter oil is popular as is kokum oil from the wild mangosteen tree.
RICE AND ROTI
Everyone knows Indian food is eaten with rice – Basmati being the most famous, but there are a variety of different types of rice based dishes including pilau, or pilaf, and biryiani - just for starters.
Many dishes also traditionally include some type of roti or bread.
There are five main Indian breads - Roti, chapati (chapatti, chappati, chappatti), puri (poori), paratha and naan – essentially all flatbreads – but there are variants within these – for example a plain naan, garlic naan, onion naan or dal (lentil) puri. India offers you more choices of meals than you can imagine.
The deliciously spicy and flavourful meals in India typically conclude with a selection of ‘Indian Sweets’ or mithai.
These are often made with sugar, milk or condensed milk and flavoured with almonds and pistachios, spiced with cardamon, nutmeg, cloves and black pepper, and decorated with nuts, or with gold or silver leaf).
They can include kheer (milk based pudding), Bhakra (sweet fried pastry), carrot or sooji (cream of wheat) halwa, gulab jamun (fried milk dough balls soaked in a sugar syrup) or jalebi (funnel cakes soaked in a sugar syrup). Kulfi, a rich creamy ice cream, also makes an excellent finale to a meal.
HAVE A SIP
Refreshing drinks popular in India are yoghurt based Lassi and nimbu pani which is a fresh lemonade that can either be drunk plain or spiced with black salt, cumin powder, and chat masala.
Fresh coconut water and sugar cane juice are also enjoyed.
When in India - eat, drink - enjoy.