Indian cuisine throughout the subcontinent – and beyond its borders – is arguably more diverse than anywhere else in the world. If you travel from state to state in India, and even town to town, you will find countless examples of unique dishes enjoyed by those who live in each area.
The Registrar General of India has estimated the number of vegetarians in a few regions as follows: 74.9% in Rajasthan; 69.3% in Haryana; 66.8% in Punjab; and 61.0% in Gujarat. That’s why you usually have a huge selection of fruit- and vegetable-based dishes in Indian restaurants. India Chef offers a large selection of vegetarian dishes – check out the menus at www.indiachefatlanta.com.
Below are several of India’s most influential regions, and some of the popular dishes enjoyed there AND in the United States.
India Chef’s main menu influence comes from the Punjab region of northern India and Pakistan. Tandoori cooking, as mentioned in a previous blog, is very popular; in fact, some of the most popular dishes in Indian cuisine are native to the Punjabi region, such as Chicken Makhni and Chicken Tikka Masala, which can be found on the India Chef menu. Breads, such as Chapati, Makki ki Roti, Baajre ki Roti and Jowar ki Roti are a common staple in Punjab cuisine, thanks to the many whole grains grown there. Seasonal vegetables play a big part in Punjabi foods, and are often spiced and/or sautéed with black cloves, cumin, coriander, turmeric and powdered red chili. Non-vegetarian dishes are often made with fish or goat meat; biriyani, a rice dish commonly prepared with chicken or lamb, is very popular both in Punjab and here in America. Punjabi masalas are traditionally made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, salt, turmeric and ginger, and sautéed in mustard oil. Due to the high number of people who follow the Sikh religion, vegetarian dishes are very popular in Punjab. Dal Makhni, Paneer Tikka Masala, Vegetable Kurma and non-meat curry dishes are also favorites in this region. The next time you visit India Chef, ask your waiter which Punjabi-influenced dish is highly recommended that day!
Delhi, which at one time was the Mughal Empire capital, is primarily known for its Punjabi-influenced fusion dishes. The end of British rule in India brought about its partition, or division of land, which resulted in India’s independence and the creation of Pakistan. During the partition, Delhi was inundated with hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of people from the Punjab region specifically, and other parts of northern India to a lesser extent. Dishes evolved in varying ways during and after partition, including how the dishes are prepared, and what spices are used for flavor; many of the fusions of cuisines remain unique to the Delhi region. Paranthas (stuffed flatbread), kababs, kulfi (Indian ice cream), kachauri and chaat are quite common in Delhi; patties and sandwiches are two of the most popular hold-overs from Western rule, and they too are prepared in styles that are unique to the region.
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Gujarat is home to many vegetarians, hence the emphasis on fruits and vegetables in Gujarati cuisine. One of the thing that makes dishes from Gujarat unique is the blend of spicy, sweet and salty flavors that often occur simultaneously. Gujarati sabzi, for example, can be spicy or sweet when stir-fried, thanks to the many combinations of vegetables and spices used. When in season, keri no ras, or fresh mango pulp, is often added to meals. Roti, daal, kadhi, shaak, chaas (buttermilk) and papad factor heavily in the Gujarati diet.
Dairy-based foods accentuate Haryana cuisine, thanks to the high numbers of cattle in the region. Typical meals in Haryana include bajra aloo roti, churma, kadhi, besan masala roti, pakora, singri ki sabzi, kheer and methi gajar; tamatar chutney is very popular in the region, as well.
Seafood is key to the traditional Kerala cuisine, due to its coastal location. Popular are the rice curry dishes that feature anchovy, sole, shrimp, king fish, mackerel, parrotfish, oysters, squid, scallops, mussels and seer fish; and because Kerala has numerous inland bodies of water, freshwater fishes are also cooked in abundance. Thanks to the high number of coconut trees in Kerala, coconut and its milk are often used to thicken and flavor sauces. Thalassery biryani is native to Kerala.
In Maharashtra, spicy meat dishes, such as Kolhapuri Sukka mutton, pandhra rassa and tabmda rassa, rule the dinner table. Typical meals are also punctuated by rice, poli, roti, bhakar, varan and aamtee, or lentils and spiced vegetables. Maharashtra is well-known for its savji dishes, which are usually oily and spicy. Cashews and peanuts are often served with vegetables, and peanut oil is most popular to cook with.
Because the Rajasthan region is so arid, the availability of ingredients is key to what is typically served. Daal-baati is a very popular dish in Rajasthan that is usually made with choorma that consists of ghee, sugar, and finely-ground baked rotis. The region’s cuisine is influenced by the Rajputs, whose diet consisted of game meat that created dishes such as khad khargosh, as well as laal maas, safed maas and jungle maas. Because water is difficult to come by, many meals are prepared with milk or ghee, creating rich and hearty dishes.
What sets foods from West Bengal apart from other regions in India is the way in which meals are served: in courses, similar to how French cuisine is presented. Featured prominently in West Bengal cuisine is the use of chili pepper, mustard oils and multiple spices in dishes made mostly from fish, vegetables, lentils and rice. Native to West Bengal is Rasgulla, a sweet dish made with fresh ground cheese.
Indian Chinese cuisine, or Indo-Chinese cuisine as it’s commonly known, first appeared in the 19th century in Calcutta’s Chinese community, as Hakka Chinese immigrants from Canton (now Guangzhou) fled to India to avoid the First and Second Opium Wars. Following India’s partition, a second wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in India, due to the oppressive rule of China’s Mao Zedong; many of the refugees became restaurateurs in Calcutta. Thanks to these waves of Chinese immigrants, cooks fused many of the local cooking techniques and spices into their own dishes. Popular dishes that were borne from the Indo-Chinese fusion include Szechwan fried rice, Chicken Manchurian, Hakka noodles, Chow Mein, Hunan Chicken and Chili Chicken.
Thanks to the Western influence associated with British rule, Anglo-Indian cuisine was created. Featured on the menus of many Anglo-Indian-inspired restaurants is a wide variety of chutneys, as well as kedgeree, salted beef tongue, fish rissoles, ball curry and mulligatawny soup.