The world, in general, is blessed with natural, monumental, historical and cultural heritage. Of which culinary tradition is an inextricable part. Over time many a trend has played a deliciously disruptive role in an ever evolving global food scene. Yet, there is no escaping the fact they all stem from deep-seated foundations cemented over millennia. Our food-loving ancestors flourished in a natural, nutrient-dense, and healthy environment despite the absence of scientific ‘breakthroughs’.
In India, for instance, culinary philosophy is centred purely on common sense. And increasingly the world is looking to its roots for nutritional wisdom. The World Heritage Cuisine Summit in Amritsar (12th-14th October)–where ethnic cuisine will be showcased by culinary masters from over 40 nations including India–is a delectable consequence of this global shift. Here’s looking at some edible traditions from around the world.
Arugampul Smoked Meat
This dish harks back to the Sangam Era (300BCE-300CE), a period largely regarded as the classical age of India. Believed to be a particular favourite of a powerful Chola king who lorded over Tamilakam, as peninsular India was then called, it is prepared from the meat of arugampul-fed goats. A type of grass, also known as durva or Bermuda grass, arugampul is endowed with several medicinal uses and is considered sacred. Chunks of mutton, marinated in pepper, the sole spice, are cooked on direct heat and finished off by smoking them with arugampul yet again.
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This fragrant turmeric-infused chicken broth is an Indonesian classic. It is believed to be a much-loved variant of the traditional soto, with practically every region–from Aceh to West Papua–adding a bit of its local personality as it goes along. Cooked with shallots, ginger and celery, the soup is poured over a bed of thin rice noodles and customarily served with a boiled egg, sprouts and celery. Now, often treated as a DIY meal, garnishes and accompaniments are served separately, perhaps making room for portion as well as flavour control.
Fisinjan Shakh Plov
An Azerbaijani signature, plov or pilaf, is served on special occasions and comes in scores of versions. Shakh Plov, as the name suggests, is the King of Pilafs; infused with saffron, it is wrapped in lavash, baked and served hot with a variety of meat quvormas, fruit and nuts. Accompanying it here is Fisinjan, a sweet and sour chicken preparation cooked in pomegranate molasses with ground walnuts. It is said, to deepen the shade of purple, ancient Azerbaijanis used to place a horse-shoe in the sauce!
Dalmatian Seafood Risotto
That seafood is a staple in Croatia is unsurprising given its long coastline. Nor is the Italian influence in its cuisine, possibly a result of itinerant Venetians; given Italy is a mere whiff away across the Adriatic Sea. Juicy morsels of squid, clams and local shell-fish slow cooked with short-grain rice, onions, parsley, garlic, wine and butter are what make up this most favourite of Croatian dishes. The near-black look of Crni Rizot (Black Risotto) is a result of the anti-oxidant rich sepia ink from cuttlefish.
Pollo Alla Cacciatora
Like most traditional dishes, this one too is simple to make and is found in myriad variants across Italy. Typically the chicken is pan-fried, cooked with onions, juniper berries and rosemary, and then slowly stewed in tomato sauce and a red wine reduction. In other versions, mushrooms, rabbit and white wine, more to the north of the country, have been known to be used. Many versions also exist on how it came to be called alla cacciatore (to do with hunters). Most plausible of which is the easy availability of basic ingredients–chicken, garlic, rosemary–while out on a hunt.
Biche or Viche de Pescado
This hearty dish has its origins in the Manabi province of Ecuador, the Equator-straddling South American nation. Prepared with fish, peanuts, cassava, sweet plantains, corn and other vegetables, it is a comforting soup consumed along the length of the coast. It is often made with shrimp or both fish and shrimp and served hot with a side of lemon or hot sauce and little else. Though of coastal origin, biche is today served across the country–that’s how popular this tradition is!