Made in India, with love

Made in India, with love

There is so much variation, right within the states, that it is rather hard to determine the “original cuisine” of most Indian regions. But the beauty about food is that it crosses man-made boundaries. Shipra Khanna traces the history behind some of our popular regional cuisines.

We are about senses and sensory perceptions, and food is one of the very few things, that involves and arouses all our five senses. From the first sight of fresh greens and colours of fruits and veggies, the touch of meat that tells you what is just right, the sound of tadka sizzling on dal, the aroma of good cooking, to the final taste, cooking is the only art form that involves and arouses us, the sensory beings, completely. 

My travels across India have shown me a new dimension, where food depicts the lifestyle, culture and history of the regions. However, it is rather hard to determine the “original cuisine” of these regions. Honestly, there is so much variation in a single cuisine, right within the states, and not so much across immediate boundaries across the states! 

But one beautiful thing that emerges with food is that it crosses man-made boundaries. It is a reality that cuisines were formed long before the formation of the Republic of India. Cuisines dismiss the concept of states and languages. It is a reality that food, around the globe, in fact, knows no bounds.

When we speak of Indian cuisine, the plate is so full of rich delicacies from various regions, that people often get confused. For instance, Gujarati and Marwari cuisines  - many are surprised to know - are not the same! While the idea of purity and the ingredients used may be same, the preparation itself gives the two quite different flavours. As food and recipes were (and still are) always made the trial-and-error way, and documented in various forms of writing, it has been quite a task tracing the different cuisines and their histories.

 The food traditions were taken forward by the bawarchis, khansamas, maharajas, and most importantly, the womenfolk of India. Here’s looking at the history behind some of our popular regional cuisines: 

Andhra cuisine

It has a history beyond compare and there have been intensive researches to back it. Kalinga was a kingdom that was never conquered and thus, the science or art form of cooking flourished. Kalinga comprised parts of Bengal and all of Orissa and Andhra. During the war of Kalinga, before Ashoka gave up war, all the bawarchis were sent into hiding, and their secret recipes went with them, too. Later, the Vijaynagar empire, under Krishnadevaraya, recalled as many of these chefs as they could find, and the resurgence of ancient cooking flourished in Andhra. But this wasn’t all. There was more to come as the Nizam rule brought Mughlai fusion into the kingdom. 

Interestingly, Andhra cooking and Hyderabadi cooking are completely different! Andhra cuisine is ancient, with original use of spices, whilst Hyderabadi cuisine is Andhra cooking fused with Mughlai cooking. The one commonality in these cuisines is the extensive non-vegetarian recipes. Both, the original Andhra tribes and the Mughals, were warrior tribes. So the distinct commonality was the use of spices with the wide variety of non-vegetarian dishes. The eastern cost of Andhra also has a lot of seafood recipes. Another aspect about Andhra cuisine is that besides chutneys as add-ons, there is a lot of prominence given to pickles (especially avakai). There are non-vegetarian pickles, too. While the methods of cooking may be similar, Andhra Biryani has green chillies, poppy seeds and other ingredients that aren’t usually used in Mughlai Biryani. Moreover, Andhra cuisine still has the popular South Indian touch of the dosa, idli, uttapam, sambhar, chutney and upma.
 Punjabi cuisine

If there’s one geographical sect of people that lives to eat, it’s got to be the Punjabis! Punjab, again, has historically seen a lot of political strife, but that just makes its cuisine all the more rich. It has crossed boundaries with Haryana, Himachal, Jammu and Pakistan, giving its cuisine a unique blend of all these regions. With a lot of influence from Baluchistan, Afghanistan and Persia, it offers a wide variety of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Nothing like a heavy breakfast of paranthas with oodles of fragrant butter.

 Then there is Murg Makhani (or Butter Chicken, as it is more popularly known) for lunch, and various kinds of rotis (or flat breads) to dip into it. The Punjabi vegetarian dishes are no less than their non-vegetarian counterparts. Sarson Ki Saag with Makai Ki Roti, especially in winter, beats any non-vegetarian preparation! The Rajma Chawal and Kadhi Chawal, which are meals by themselves, are quite the classics of the vegetarian dishes. Yes, Punjabi cuisine is essentially a very heavy and rich cuisine, making it the most hearty of feasts, at social gatherings.  

Rajasthani cuisine

For the most part, Rajasthan is a desert and this in itself, makes its cuisine very unique. Limited ingredients put to best use is the way you could describe Rajasthani cooking. ‘Kaanchri’, a wild fruit used as basic food softener, and hing in Dal Baati are predominant add-ons to the dish, specific to Rajasthan.

Historically, Rajasthan had the advantage of its rulers patronising cooking. Chefery was considered nothing short of an art form, and several rulers, themselves, indulged in this “art”. Also, the Maharajas loved hunting, and so a lot of recipes were tailor-made for the particular type of meat. The Laal Maas, Junglee Maas, Achaari Keema, Khad Murgh and Raan are amongst the common popular dishesconceived in the royal kitchens. There were vegetarian dishes too, like Mungeri Ki Sabzi, Mirch Ka Salan, Gatte Ki Sabzi, Khata (which is thinner than Punjabi Kadhi). 

(The writer is the winner of Masterchef India 2 and author of  the book, ‘The Spice Route’)

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