Food is big for Indians, it is a fact that we all know, even without taking a 20,000 kilometer long journey across the length and breadth of India. This what Saransh Goila also found out on his aforementioned epic food journey, traversing 28 Indian states in a span of a 100 days. A chef, a TV show host, food consultant, columnist and now author, Saransh Goila is going places, in this case, literally! The fact that he is a chef first and a writer later is evident in his book which is fairly rudimentary in both thought and style. But what he is able to bring out is the fantastic culinary diversity in India and the multitude of flavors that abound the country.
His travels take him to all those places that are landmarks on the culinary map of India- Hyderabad, Delhi and Lucknow. These places throw up some great food and recipes, but that’s predictable. The interesting bits are where he goes to places we don’t normally associate with food and gives us an insight into food cultures and cuisines we have barely heard of, if ever.
Here are 9 cuisines he encounters that you might not be familiar with:
1. Kangra cuisine:
In Dharamshala, the confluence of Indian ingredients with Tibetan flavors come together in a flavorful soup called the thenthuk and in the aloo momos. In the same vicinity, we hear about the Kangra cuisine, which has influences from Himachal, Kashmir, Punjab and Chamba and has dishes we have never heard of with unusual ingredients including lugdu (pickled fern), patoday arbi ke patte (dish made from colocasia leaves), dham (chana dal with dry coconut), khatta chana (tangy horse gram).
- Ladakhi cuisine:
Leh is place that features on the bucket list of many for its staggering beauty. What we do not now is that its food is to die for too. Incorporating local ingredients like dried yak cheese, red chillies, sun dried tomatoes, apricots and lots of organic fresh vegetables, Ladakhi food sounds absolutely divine. Thukpa, a spicy soup with hand rolled noodles and the gud gud chai (butter tea) are a further incentive to visit the heavenly acres of Ladakh.
- The Wazwan of Kashmir:
A fascinating concept. “Waz’ stands for a passionate, expert chef following traditional culinary practices that have handed down over generations, while “wan” refers to a shop selling meats and other delicacies. Served in a large copper platter called trami from which four people share, the thought behind it being one of promoting a spirit of sharing and brotherhood, the wazwan is a massive meal which may have up to 36 courses, the majority of them involving various cuts of succulent meats, it includes dishes like rista, tabak maaz, aab gosht, gushtaba and daniphul.
- Dogri cuisine:
The Dogri community that is local to the southern part of the Kashmir valley, boasts of a strong heritage of art, craft, language and music, Dogri culture is also very proud of its food, which they say is a blend of satvic and rajsic classes of food, two food categories we encounter in ancient Indian scriptures. Their dishes include Maa ka madra (pulses cooked with yogurt and topped with dried milk and dried fruits) , anardana chutney (pomegranate relish), auriya (dish of yogurt and potatoes fermented with rye), ambal, khatta mean, mitha path and thotrus.
- Mewari Cuisine:
In Udaipur, Goila gets to sample a royal Mewari dinner, which he shared with the descendants of the Kelwa lineage. Focused on fresh vegetables, maize and its by- products, Mewari cuisine involves a technique of slow- cooking on beds of coal. Memorable dishes include ker sangri (bean and dried berries cooked in Mewar spices), maas ka sula , khada palak, and to top it all, gulab ki kheer (rose petals and dried fruit cooked in milk and sugar).
- Kodava cuisine:
Coorg which was known as the ‘Scotland of India’ by the British comes up as another unusual food destination. The Kodava cuisine, named after the local community has a mix of vegetarian and non- vegetarian fare, rice being a foundational ingredient. Rice is grown widely in this area, as are coffee, cardamom and pepper. Rice lends itself to staples like akki roti, puttu (steamed rice cakes served with coconut), kadam battu, nu pattu (rice threads similar to vermicelli).
- Saoji Cuisine:
The Saoji community is a small population of people from Central India, particularly from the Malwa region of Maharashtra. They are known for their special blend of spices, that in particular are complementary to meat and result in fantastic non- vegetarian recipes. Their lambi roti (crisp, glutinous long flatbread) paired with the Saoji mutton curry makes for an epic meal.
- Sikkimese Cuisine:
Invited to a Bhutia (a community local to Sikkim) wedding in Gangtok, our food traveler is treated to a ritual butter tea, deshi (fried pastries) and khapse/zhedro (local biscuits that are a cross between the Indian shakker para and Mexican churros) and the inimitable gyatho, a Sikkimese noodle specialty, and of course, momos. Other popular dishes of Sikkimese cooking which usually goes easy on spices and incorporates a lot of vegetables, broth and rice are gaythuk, thukpa, prok gyari, and sael roti. An interesting recurring ingredient is churpi cheese, which is a slightly crumbly and sharp- tasting cheese, available both fresh and dried.
- Assamese cuisine:
Employing a fascinating variety of flavors and cooking methods and with a reliance on natural herbs and local ingredients available in the wild, the Assamese taste palette is very unlike any other. Foods are preserved using various techniques, including fermentation, smoking and drying. A fascinating technique is one of using a hollow bamboo as a cooking vessel. Fish outenga (fish cooked with elephant apples) and the sunga kukura (chicken cooked in a roasted hollow bamboo) are dishes that Goila walked away with memories of.
The book leaves you salivating over delicacies new and old, and all you want to do is grab your backpack to go savour those pedas of Mathura and the puneri missal in Pune, the drool- worthy laddoos of Maner, taste the pulihora in Vishakapatnam and tongue tickling kuliya ki chaat in Varanasi. Wherever you go, India has a variety of tastes, aromas and flavors at every turn, tickling your senses and offering you a gastronomic experience that finds a rare parallel.
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