The finest of India's cuisines is as rich and diverse as it's civilization. It is an art form that has been passed on through generations purely by word of mouth, from guru teacher) to vidhyarthi (pupil) or from mother to daughter. The range assumes amazing proportions when one takes into account regional variations. Very often the taste, colour, texture and appearance of the same delicacy changes from state to state.
The hospitality of the Indians is legendary. In Sanskrit Literature the three famous words 'Atithi Devo Bhava' or 'the guest is truly your god' are a dictum of hospitality in India. Indians believe that they are honoured if they share their mealtimes with guests. Even the poorest look forward to guests and are willing to share this meager food with guest. And of particular importance is the Indian woman's pride that she will not let a guest go away unfed or unhappy from her home. Indians are known for their incredible ability to serve food to their guests invited or uninvited.
Food customarily forms the crowning part of most festivities and celebrations. Whatever the occasion Indians eat with great gusto and are adept at finding reasons to feast and make merry. At traditional and festive meals, the thali (plate) or banana leaf is decorated with rangoli (a design drawn with white and colored powders around the edges).
Kashmiri cuisine is essentially meat-based. Lamb, goat's meat and chicken form the basis of many a famous dish. It is flavored delicately with saffron and kashmiri chillies which are not too spicy but impart a rich red colour to the food.
The abundance of dry fruit like walnuts, dried dates, and apricots also inspire the Kashmiri connoisseur to use them lavishly in puddings, curries and snacks. Cottage cheese or chaman as it is called, is also a popular accompaniment to many meats and vegetables. Fresh water fish like trout found in the numerous fresh water streams flowing down from the Himalayas is also a delicacy.
Food is generally followed by a generous serving of fresh fruits like strawberries, plums, cherries and apples which grow here and not all over India due to the cool climate.
Punjabi community is robust people with robust appetites and their food is like the Punjabis themselves, simple, sizeable and hearty with no unnecessary frills or exotic accompaniments. The Punjabi tandoori cooking is celebrated as one of the most popular cuisines throughout the world. Huge earthen ovens are half buried in the ground and heated with a coal fire lit below it. Marinated meat, chicken, fish, paneer, rotis and naans of many types are cooked in this novel oven and the results are absolutely scrumptious!
Punjab has imbibed some aspects of its cuisine from external influences. Connoisseurs of the cuisine say that the gravy component of Punjabi cuisine came from the Mughals. The most popular example is the murg makhani. It served the state well to combine this influence in its cooking since it had a lot of pure ghee and butter. Murg makhani also provided a balance to tandoori chicken, which was dry because it was charcoal cooked. Nans and parathas, rotis made of maize flour are typical Punjabi breads. Of course, over the years the roti has been modified to add more variety, so there is the rumali roti, the naan and the laccha parathas, all cooked in the tandoor.
In Punjab, winter brings in the season of the famous makki ki roti(maize flour bread) and sarson ka saag(mustard leaf gravy). No meal is complete without a serving of lassi( sweet or salted drink made with curd) or fresh curd and white butter which is consumed in large quantities. The other popular dishes, which belong exclusively to Punjab, are ma ki dal, rajma (kidney beans) and stuffed parathas.
Having reigned over India for so long, the Moghuls left a deep and long lasting influence on Delhi's cuisine. The Mughlai cuisine is literally 'fit for royalty'. With it's rich sauces, butter-based curries, ginger flavoured roast meats, and mind-blowing sweets, it has captured the fancy of food lovers all over the world. From a tangy shorba or soup to the rose petal strewn kulfi, Mughlai food offers a rich fare that is irresistible. Although available throughout the country, the best place to try this royal cuisine is in Delhi.
Bengal's greatest contribution to the food heritage of India is a magnificent spectrum of sweets made from burnt milk and curd. 'Rasogullas', 'gulab jamuns', 'cham cham', 'malai sandwich', 'chena murki', 'anarkali', 'rajbhog' - the list of mouth-watering delicacies is endless. 'Mishti dhoi' or yoghurt sweetened with jaggery is a must in every Bengali home. Guests are always welcomed with 'sandesh' or sweets made from burnt milk and 'singadas' or crisp samosas.
Besides sweets, the Bengalis eat fish with great relish and most of the popular Bengali dishes are made from fish. A variety of styles are adopted to cook fish. They are at times marinated in spices, at other times cooked in curd. The cuisine of West Bengal differs from that of Bangladesh in that the use of coconut in this cuisine is much lesser and mustard oil is cooking medium instead of coconut oil. The spices differ from those used in the heartland of India, but are similar to those used in the interiors of the East Coast.
The specialty of Bengali cooking is the use of panchphoron i.e. five basic spices which include zeera, kalaunji, saunf, fenugreek and mustard seeds. Generally, Bengali food is a mixture of sweet and spicy flavors and dining with these gentle people is a definate treat.
Maharashtrians are by and large, meat eaters. The cuisine includes subtly flavoured vegetarian delicacies and hot, aromatic meat and fish curries. Their crunchy, crisp sweets are made mostly from rice and jaggery. The exotic 'Konkani' and 'Malwani' cuisines also have their origins in the coastal parts of this region and are sea-food based.
As in most of the other states of India, rice is the staple food grain in Maharashtra too. Like the other coastal states, there is an enormous variety of vegetables in the regular diet and lots of fish and coconuts are used. Grated coconuts spice many kinds of dishes, but coconut oil is not very widely used as a cooking medium. Peanuts and cashewnuts are widely used in vegetables and peanut oil is the main cooking medium. Another feature is the use of kokum, a deep purple berry that has a pleasing sweet and sour taste. Kokum, most commonly used in an appetizer-digestive called the sol kadhi, is served chilled. All non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes are eaten with boiled rice or with bhakris, which are soft rotis made of rice flour. Special rice puris called vada and amboli, which is a pancake made of fermented rice, urad dal, and semolina, are also eaten as a part of the main meal.
The most popular dessert of Maharashtra is the puran poli, which is roti stuffed with a sweet mixture of jaggery and gram flour and is made at the time of the Maharashtrian New Year. Other popular sweets are the ukdiche modak (these are served during the Ganesh festival), the panpole ras, and the shreekhand. Shreekhand, a sort of thick yogurt sweet dish, is a great favorite at weddings and the Dussehra festival. Flavored with cardamom powder and saffron, this aromatic dish is served with piping hot puris.
Famous for it's distinctive cuisine, Goa can boast of delicacies like the tangy pork 'vindaloo', spicy 'sorpotel' and the ever popular Goan fish curry with rice. Goa's luscious coconut and fish based dishes draw in people from all over the world. Goans often accompany their meal with one of their innumerable local wines or the local liqueur called 'Feni'.
Goan food is simple but one has to bear in mind that most, though not all, of itis chili hot, spicy, and pungent. Rice, fish, and coconut are the basic components of the typical Goan food platter. Delicacies made from these three items can be expected in nearly every Goan meal. Besotted with seafood, the Goans find truly world-class prawns, lobsters, crabs, and jumbo pomfrets along the coastline and use them to make a variety of soups, salads, pickles, curries, and fries. An essential ingredient in Goan cooking is coconut milk made by grating the white flesh of a coconut and soaking it in a cup of warm water. Equally important is the ‘kokum’, a sour, deep red colored fruit that gives it a sharp and sour flavor. The famous red Goan chilies are also a must for most dishes, as is tamarind. Goans make their own version of vinegar from toddy. Then there are innumerable chutneys that are typical of the state.
Goa is not particularly known for its vegetarian dishes. While Hindus like lamb and chicken, Christians prefer pork. However, both prefer fish and seafood to any other meat. Pork is a must for any festive occasion in Goa and the most famous preparation is the vindaloo. It is a spicy concoction, lots of red chilies, garlic, cooked with chunks of pork, Goa vinegar, and hard palm jaggery and is best enjoyed with plain boiled rice. Another mouth-watering delicacy made of pork is the sarpotel. A curry with a thick gravy to the layman, this exotic concoction comprises boneless pork, liver, heart, kidneys, red chilies, cinnamon, cloves bathed in tangy toddy vinegar, which is needed to balance the strong taste of pig’s blood: another traditional ingredient of this revered dish.
For those with a sweet tooth, Goan cuisine offers the famous bebinca. The extract of coconut milk is added to flour, sugar, and other delectable ingredients are used to make this delicacy. Each scrumptious layer has to be baked before the next one is added, though not many people nowadays have the time to make the traditional 16 layers. Even so, a good bebinca is a mouth-melting dream. Other sweets include a soft jaggery flavored fudge called dodol made from finger-licking palm-sap jaggery, rice flour and coconut; the crispy delicate rose-a-coque that are flower-like waffles and can be eaten alone or drenched with cream or honey; the curled and sugared kulkuls spiraled around the tines of forks and deep-fried as Christmas goodies and Easter eggs known as ovos da pascoa. Similarly, during the Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, cone-shaped dumplings called modaks are a favourite fare.
Gujaratis have truly perfected the art of vegetarian cooking. From the simplest lentils and vegetables, they create a mouth-watering variety of food. Gujarat is known as the land of milk and butter. Predictably so, yoghurt and buttermilk are a part of the Gujarati's daily diet. While in Gujarat, a 'thali' dinner - literally meaning a meal served on a silver platter- is a delight you must not miss. An endless procession of fresh vegetables cooked in aromatic spices, a variety of crisp, fried snacks and an array of delectable confections typically appear in the 'thali'.
In Gujarat, during winter when green vegetables are available in plenty, a delicious vegetable concoction called undhyoo is made using potato, brinjal, and green beans amongst several other vegetables.
The main dish of gujarati cuisine is the khichdi, a simple lentil and rice mixture. It is eaten with kadhi, a savory curry made with yogurt using bay leaves, ginger, chilies and finely chopped vegetables as garnishing, onions and pickle.
Using the same lentils and rice, Kutchi kitchens produce delectable items like the khaman dhokla, a salty steamed cake made from chickpea flour; doodha pak, sweet, thickened milk confectioned with nuts, and srikhand, a dessert made of yogurt, flavored with saffron, cardamom, nuts and candied fruit which is eaten with hot, fluffy pooris. These three delicacies have made their way into the favorites list of the rest of India too and can be found in restaurants all over the country.
The ancient princely state of Rajasthan gave rise to a royal cuisine. The Rajas who went on hunting expeditions ate the meat or the fowl that they brought back. Even today, Rajasthani princely feasts flaunt meat delicacies that are incomparable.
In contrast are the vegetarian Rajasthanis. Their food cooked in pure ghee is famous for it's mouth- watering aroma. Rajasthani cooking was also influenced by both the war-like lifestyles of its inhabitants and the availability of ingredients in the desert region. Food that could last for several days and could be eaten without heating was preferred, more out of necessity than choice. Scarcity of water and lack of fresh green vegetables also had their effect on Rajasthani cooking.
Dried lentils and beans from indigenous plants like sangri, ker etc. are staples of the Rajasthani diet, as wheat and rice do not grow very well in the desert land. Gram flour is an integral cooking ingredient and is used to make delicacies and so are powdered lentils. Bajra and corn are used all over the state for making rotis and other varieties of bread. In Rajasthan, bajre ki roti (millet bread) and lahsun ki chutney (hot garlic paste) combined with spring onions are the staple diet of the locals as these are believed to be safeguards against the hot winds. In the desert belt of Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner, cooks still use very little water and instead use milk, buttermilk and clarified butter as alternatives.
The balance to using these milk products is provided by the appropriate use of digestives, especially asafetida, black rock salt, ginger and ajwain. The favored spices are fenugreek seeds, kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) and aniseed. A distinct feature of the Maheshwari cooking is the use of mango powder, a suitable substitute for tomatoes, scarce in the desert, and asafetida, to enhance the taste in the absence of garlic and onions.
The cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is reputedly the spiciest and hottest of all Indian cuisine. The cuisine includes both the original Andhra cooking and the Hyderabadi cuisine with its Mughlai influence. It is the former which is red hot.
The vegetables and greens are prepared with various different masalas giving the same vegetable different flavours. Traditional Andhra cuisine also has many non-vegetarian dishes which are also spicy and unique in taste.
Hyderabadi cuisine is rich and aromatic with a liberal use of exotic spices and ghee, not to speak of nuts and dry fruits. Lamb is the most widely used meat in the non-vegetarian dishes. The biryanis (flavoured rice with meat or vegetables) is one of the most distinct Hyderabadi food.
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