Exploring a new cuisine is like finding a new city. You don’t quite know what to expect but you look forward to it, your anticipation laced with just a touch of anxiety. In our quest to explore lesser-known Indian delicacies, we found four distinctive cuisines, each with their own exciting use of spices and indigenous ingredients. We stepped off the beaten path and let our senses of taste and smell guide us. Are you drooling yet?
WORDS: AMIT GAIKWAD & AURELIA FERNANDES
PHOTOGRAPHS: VIKRANT KHARAT, ANUSHRUTI BHATNAGAR
We explored Assamese cuisine with Priyangi Borthakur and Joyee Mahanta of O’TENGA, an Assamese restaurant in Mumbai. When the two friends moved to the city over a decade ago to pursue their education, the lack of Assamese food left them craving a taste of home. Taking it upon themselves to educate Mumbai about the goodness of their food, Joyee and Priyangi set up O’Tenga, drawing inspiration from the food of their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, mothers-in-law and sisters. With dishes as authentic as the restaurant’s name (O’Tenga is a fun wordplay on ou tenga, or elephant apple), Joyee and Priyangi have managed to get Mumbai foodies hooked on to Assamese goodness!
Assamese cuisine is characterised by the minimal use of spice, allowing the natural flavours of the ingredients full play. Fresh vegetables are cooked on their own or paired with meats or fish.
Bilahi Masor Tenga
A tangy fish curry cooked with tomatoes, bilahi masor tenga is the definition of comfort food, and best enjoyed with steamed rice.
2 tbsp mustard oil
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 green chillies
pinch of turmeric
salt to taste
1½ cup water
4 pieces fish, marinated with salt and turmeric powder, and fried
½ kaji nemu juice (or lime juice)
a handful of coriander leaves, to garnish
- Heat the oil in a wok. Once hot, add the fenugreek seeds and let them crackle.
- Add the chopped tomatoes. Cover the wok with a lid and allow to cook till the tomatoes soften.
- Add the green chillies, turmeric and salt. Stir and cover again.
- Once the tomatoes start releasing oil, add the water.
- Once the gravy comes to a boil, add the fried fish pieces and bring again to a boil.
- Add the kaji nemu juice (or lime juice), garnish with the coriander leaves and serve hot with steamed rice.
We explored Andhra cuisine with Srividya Mehta at her restaurant GONGUURA. Amazed that the city had no authentic vegetarian Andhra food, Srividya set up her restaurant three years ago as a litmus test. And the response from Mumbai has been amazing!
Before it split into two states, Andhra Pradesh consisted of three regions: Telangana in the north (now an independent state), Rayalaseema in the south, and coastal Andhra. The food in Telangana is influenced by the nizami style of cooking and is meat-centric. Coastal Andhra, from where this dish comes, has plenty of crops and access to fresh vegetables. While this area is perceived to be primarily non-vegetarian, it has quite a few vegetarians and a cuisine that is largely unexplored.
Thanks to its deliciously tangy taste, this Andhra staple is sure to leave you craving for more
4 – 5 tbsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp split Bengal gram
½ tsp split black gram
1 tsp sesame seeds
a handful groundnuts
2 red chillies
¼ tsp asafoetida
3 – 4 curry leaves
6 – 8 black peppercorns
3 green chillies, slit
½ tsp turmeric powder
¼ cup thick tamarind paste
salt to taste
1 cup cooked white rice
- Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the mustard and fenugreek seeds, and then the split Bengal gram and split black gram, sesame seeds, groundnuts and red chillies.
- Once the mustard seeds start spluttering, add the asafoetida, curry leaves, peppercorns and green chillies. Cook for a minute.
- Add the turmeric, the tamarind paste and salt to taste. Cook for five minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat, and allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Add the cooked white rice to the paste and mix well. Allow to rest for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the flavours to develop before tucking in.
We explored Garhwali cuisine with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal at her APB COOK STUDIO in Mumbai. Rushina fell in love with Garhwali food after she met and married her husband, Shekhar, also an avid cook. The APB Cook Studio is a beautiful kitchen with state-of-the-art gadgets, a pantry filled with ingredients from all around the world, and a team of experts to help you experience food like never before. Food enthusiasts can sign up with the studio for curated Garhwali meals; stay tuned for the interesting pop-ups!
Garhwali cuisine comes from the state of Uttarakhand. The food here features simple ingredients and is characteristically grain- and cereal-based.
Tchichwani definitely requires a bit of effort in the prep. Crushing each ingredient manually might be tough on your hands and back, but one bite of this wholesome dish makes it worth that effort.
1/3 cup mustard oil
½ tsp jakhiya
3 – 4 dry red chillies
5 cloves garlic, crushed
3 – 4 potatoes, crushed using a silbatta (mortar and pestle)
5 – 6 radishes, crushed using a silbatta
2 onions, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
salt to taste
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1/3 cup toasted sesame powder
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
- Heat oil in a pan. Add jakhiya and let it splutter.
- Add chillies and saute for 30 seconds till they darken.
- Add the crushed garlic and saute till golden brown.
- Add the crushed potatoes and radishes and stir-fry on medium heat until golden at the edges and almost cooked (about seven to 10 minutes).
- Add onion; stir fry for two to three minutes till golden.
- Add the coriander powder, turmeric powder, chilli powder, cumin powder and salt, and mix well.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and mix well.
- Add one to two cups of water and mix well. Cover and simmer on medium heat for four to five minutes or until the potatoes and radishes are cooked.
- Stir in the sesame powder. Cook for a minute.
- Take the pan off the heat, garnish the tchichwani with coriander leaves, and serve with rice or chapattis.