GUJARAT – Many but not all-Gujaratis are vegetarians, and this is a place to sample the fabulous vegetarians, and this is a place to sample the fabulous vegetarian dishes of India. Gujaratis savour sweet and sour mixes as well, and one of the communities here, the Bohris, alternate sweet and salty dishes at their banquets. Moongphuli nu shaak, steamed cubes of roasted peanut-chickpea paste cooked in a spice paste; batloo, a millet bread cooked in a griddle. Khandvi, miniature pancaked, tightly rolled, are a regional delicacy. There are Muslims here as well, and the Bohri community of Muslims produces a fine (and, in India, rare) array of soups, as well as the delectable malai na khaijla, pastry circles filled with clotted ceram. The Parsis, who arrived from Iran in the eighth century, have a predictably cosmopolitan influence in their dishes – English, Gujarati, and Persian; one of the most delicious of the latter is meat dishes combined with dried fruit.
UTTAR PRADESH – Because India today is carved out of old kingdoms and cities, some regional cuisines are more diverse than others: this is the case in U.P. Here, one speaks of the cuisine of Muslim Lucknow, of its fabulous Kakori kebabs, kulcha flat breads and korma meat curries; of Rajasthan, where the fabled hunting parties of the Rajputs produced dishes, like wild boar pickle and game, meat, and fish cooked over an open fire; fish dunked in yogurt and a coriandr-chilli-garlic paste and deep fried from a Bhopal lake; puffy pooris from Varanasi’s Lane of Fried Breads.
KERALA – Spice traders have plied Kerala’s coastal waters since ancient times, and the spices they hankered for liberally lace Kerala dishes. Creamy chicken stews are full of the flavours of black pepper, coconut, cloves,and chillie; fish is marinated in tamarind; unripe papayas, jackfruit, and even tomatoes go into curry. Rice accompanies the meal, either cooked or in rice flour form, as “string-hoppers”, a mound of pasta-like strings; or appams, pancakes with soft centers and crisp edges. There is pootu, a soft rice-coconut steamed mixture, which is especially delicious with Kerala fish curry, particularly when the fish comes from the dramatic Chinese fishing nets off the waters of Cochin.
TAMILNADU AND KARNATAKA – This is the vegetarian heart of India, and dedicated meat eaters are often surprised at how little they miss meat here, given the culinary scope of this region’s vegetarian dishes. Rice rules, as does by fresh roasted coffee, usually with plenty of hot milk and sugar, almost always with a frothy head. Dosas, the golden, crisp crepe of South, and the lighter than air balls of rice and lentil batter called idlis, are accompanied by lentil stews like urad dhal. Meals are a necklace of rice, the pepper soup calle rasam, samber, curried vegetables, and yogyrt, but each cook will have a different riff. Not everyone in the region is vegetarian: the fisherfolk of the coast produce delicious Chettiars of Chettinad have a justly famous fried chicken dish, called simply chettinad fried chicken.
ORISSA – Traditional Oriya cuisines includes the delicious dalma (lentils cooked with vegetables like bitter gourd, potatoes, brinjals, and spinach), saga bhaja (fried spinach), kukuda tarkari (chicken cooked in a gravy), dahi baigan (brinjal cooked with curd), chingudi tarkari (prawn curry), tomato khajuri khata (typical sweet and sour tomato chutney with dates) which serves as an excellent relish, badi chura (fermented black gram, crushed, dried and mixed with chopped onions), and the crowning glory chhencheda (seasonal vegetables cooked with fish head). The favourite sweets are chhenna podapitha (cheese based steamed cake, traditionally cooked in a leaf) and rasgullas.
WEST BENGAL – Bengalis love sweets. They often put jam even in their ‘daal-bhaat’ (salted rice and lentil curry)! There is a vast array of sweet-meats, prepared from milk, which originated in Bengal. One can get the light and spongy Rosogulla and mouthwatering Sandesh sweets all over India, but nowhere do they taste as they do in Kolkatta. Shops in other parts of the country establish their reputations just by calling themselves “Bengali Sweet House”. If you are in Kolkatta do remember to try the delectable Mishti doi (sweet, rich yogurt).
Great fish eaters, the true blue Bengali is the one who can crunch fish bones without letting them stick in the throat!