There’s no such thing as Indian cuisine. In a country with such mind-boggling culinary diversity it is almost preposterous to use the term. And while in recent times regional cuisine has been in focus, there are cuisines that remain relatively unexplored. It is worth packing your bags and setting out to merely explore these.
The culinary skills of Odia cooks are legendary. And yet their cuisine – diverse and delicious – is surprisingly less known. A unique Odia dish is the basi pakhala which is cooked rice soaked in water and fermented overnight.
Pair this with some bori chura – fried vadi (dried lentil pellets) crushed with garlic and dried red chilies. Odia meals usually always include khattas – tangy curries and relishes like dahi baigan, egg plants cooked in curd. But one dish that can represent Odia cuisine is the dalma – lentils cooked with an assortment of vegetables and tempered with chilies, mustard or cumin seeds. They also make mind-boggling assortment of sweet and savoury pithas (steamed or fried dumplings). Finally there is the feted chhena poda – baked, sweetened cottage cheese.
The food in the beautiful hills of Uttarakhand is defined by its simplicity and characterised by unique flavours from a host of unusual ingredients and rare herbs. The state is divided into two regions Garhwal and Kumaon and food in each region is distinctly different. While Garhwali’s swear by a simple meal of Tor ki dal, bhaat and til ki chutney spiked with pahari kagzi nimbu or Mandua (finger millet flour) ki roti paired with Chainsoo, ground and roasted Urad dal cooked with a spices and finished off with a generous drizzle of ghee, Kumaon’s iconic dishes include Bhatt (locally grown black soya bean) ki Chudkani – a must try. Hardcore meat lovers could feast on Kachhmauli – a whole goat (or lamb) roasted on a spit fire, to a medium rare, the meat taken off the bones and tossed with turmeric, chilli and salt in mustard oil. Singori, a sweetmeat made with khoya and served in cones made of maalu leaves is a must try.
The popular perception about Gujarati food is that it is sweet. But the food from Gujarat’s Kathiawad region challenges this stereotype. Kathiawadi cuisine is spicy, often fiery and typically cooked on wood-fire, but the sugar relief comes from the ghee and jaggery served on the side with every meal. From the spicy Kathiawadi khichdi to the fiery lasaniya batata, potatoes cooked with garlic and chilies, or the iconic sev tamatar sabzi (a curry made with tomatoes and spices and topped with crisp sev) best served with bhakri (local flat bread) – the variety is mind-boggling. A particularly favourite snack is the spicy dakor na gota, fritters made of gram flour and fenugreek leaves – quite addictive.
India’s tribal culture and lifestyle, albeit gravely underexplored, is fascinating and so are the culinary traditions of the tribal communities across the country, collectively called the Adivasis. Adivasi cuisine is diverse and distinct, and yet they have something in common – the food is simple, rustic and essentially good for health. Plus, there is an unmistakable element of ‘exotic’. From chutneys made of red ant and ant eggs, a favourite among the Dhurwa tribe of Chattisgarh, and the Eri polu, stir fried silk worms savoured in tribal Assam, to Naga tribal favourites like pork cooked with fermented bamboo shoots and fiery chilies like jolokia and Jharkhand’s delicious dhuska, a fried pancake made with rice and lentils – India’s tribal cuisines will never cease to surprise.
A fantastic way to start a day if you are in the region is with the Sarva Pindi, a delicious savoury pancake made with ground lentils, peanuts and rice flour. You must try the jonna (millet) roti a Telengana staple. Pair it with the fiery kooda (curry), pappu charu (toor dal rasam) and tangy, tamarind-based pulusus. In Telengana offal and meat from fish and goat head are cooked into piquant curries. An iconic dish is the Mamsam Pulusu which is mutton slow-cooked with tamarind leaves to make a delightful sour curry. Plus there’s a host of sweet and savoury snacks like the sugar-coated pharda pheni (crisp wafers) and garijelu (deep-fried dumplings with sweet coconut filling).
The heavily forested Malnad region of Karnataka also has a distinct cuisine of its own which is worth checking out. There is fantastic assortment of steamed delights, piquant chutneys and pickles and a host of meaty curries to try from. Try the Benne Kadabu, the Malenadu version of the humble idli, made with rice and coconut. Also a sweet variety of Kadabu is made with jackfruit. Or you could dip your akki roti into some Kaai Tambuli, a delightful dish made with coconut and curd or buttermilk; or try the equally tempting anabe (mushroom) or kalale (tender bamboo shoot) curries, saptige (a curry made of flat beans) and fish and mutton pulimunchi.
Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine
Talk of Kashmiri food and one thinks wazwaan –Kashmiri Muslim delicacies typically served as weddings. But the rich culinary tradition of the Kashmiri pandits remains largely unexplored. The key difference between wazwan and pandit cuisines is that the latter uses no onion or garlic. Try typical vegetarian delights like Gogje Razma, red kidney beans curried with turnips or the must try veth chaman, paneer is a deliciously red gravy , and of course the Duma Alov, typical pandit-style dum aloo. For hardcore carnivores there’s Naine Qaliya, a rich mutton curry (pair it with some Khamiri roti) and Kabargah (batter-fried goat ribs with a delightful crackling). But you simply can’t miss the Pandit-style Rogan Josh, flavoured with asafoetida and dried ginger powder. A must try dessert is the Shufta, made with honey, saffron and dry fruits.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own. The article was first published in 2015 and has been updated.