Five unusual dishes to try in India

Red ants play an important role in food and medicine for the Bastar tribes
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

In a country obsessed with food, and where every region prides itself for being able to offer a range of interesting dishes, it’s hard to narrow the list down to just a few unusual ones. But we tried anyway. So, here’s a list of the five most unfamiliar dishes you won’t come across anywhere except their native place.

Red ant chutney, Bastar

Red ants are more than just a painful nuisance to the Bastar tribes. They also play an important role in food and medicine. Villagers grind them into a paste to make a chutney known as chapura. After the ants are captured they are transported to the kitchen to be crushed in a pestle and mortar with chilli, ginger and salt. The bodies of ants contain formic acid believed to have useful medicinal qualities.

Tujji Kebab, Srinagar

Srinagar’s skewered lamb kebabs commonly known as ‘Tujjis,’ are juicy, soft, and unusually consistent, irrespective of the street stall you have them at, in the city. These meaty treats are generally dished out with a side of local bread known as lavas and mint chutney. There’s a famous stall halfway down the Boulevard just short of the right turn into the Brein locality called Challi Point. Come before dinner because it often runs out of food by seven in the evening.

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The Hornet stew is considered an edible delicacy in Kohima
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet/Jonathan Gregson

Hornet stew, Kohima

At the Central Market in Kohima the tribal people sell ‘edible’ delicacies such as borol (wriggling hornet grubs). There are plenty of photo-ops (ask for permission before you trip the shutter). Naga food is all about experimenting with new tastes and, so, you should come with an open mind. You are likely to encounter smoked meats, fiery chillies, chicken and pork dishes flavoured with bamboo shoots and chutneys and curries bolstered with fermented soybean.

Tongba, Sikkim

Sikkim’s don’t-miss beverage is tongba, a millet beer (also known as chhang) which is sipped through a bamboo straw from a wooden container. The container is periodically topped up with hot water, so as to increase the potency of the drink, especially to combat the evening chill. It can be found at many places in Gangtok.

Pandi Curry is one of the most popular dishes in Coorg
Image courtesy: Priya Aiyappa

Pandi Curry, Coorg

Coorgis have always been known for their love of pork (pandi) and this is one the most popular dishes of the region. With a recipe passed down from generations, the most important ingredients in this curry are vinegar and lots of green chillies.

Food is the essence of India and all parts of the country have something unusual to offer.