Flavours of India: 8 specialities from around the country
Lip-smacking Indian delicacies you absolutely must try (if you haven't already).
Idlis in the south, butter chicken in the north, dhoklas in the west and fish in the east.
Not only is India a melting pot of culture but it also a literal melting pot of the most divine cuisines.
Here are eight must-haves from around India.
Appam and chicken stew in Kerala
Appams are pancakes made from fermented rice and coconut milk. They usually accompany a vegetable, fish, meat, or chicken curry. Their pairing with a spicy curry that is cooked with garlic and coconut milk, and loaded with chunks of chicken is a regular feature at traditional Keralite weddings and even funerals. Fortunately, you can enjoy appams in the South with your choice of stew for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.
Other dishes to try: After a packed meal, dig into Kerala's answer to kheer -- Payasam (sweet, semi-solid, and full of dry fruits). Also, local banana chips taste nothing like anything from another part of the country. They are positively fried in magic!
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons
Malvani food in the Konkan coast
From the edges of Karnataka all the way up to Mumbai, there isn't a use of coconut in some form or the other that has been missed in Malvani recipes. One of the clear winners on the menu from this part of the world is the fried Bombay Duck or Bombil -- flattened strips of fish that are deep fried until crispy and golden brown.
A bite of this reveals the soft white flesh inside with thin strands of easily edible fish bones.
Also, the prawn or fish koliwada (native of Sindh but localised to our palates), which is basically fried pieces of fish in the most fiery red and typically Indian spicy masala, rank high on the list. It is the perfect starter or snack to be had with drinks.
Other dishes to try: Wash down whatever you eat with a glass or two of sol kadhi, a kokum-based cooling drink.
Image: Bangda Fried Black Mackeral
Photographs: Deepa Netto/A Sense for Spice by Tara Deshpande Tennebaum
Undhiyu in Gujarat
Winters are synonymous with this vegetable-packed Gujarati delicacy.
An amalgamation of methi (fenugreek), besan (chickpea flour), haldi (turmeric), other condiments and at least five types of peas, Undhiyu was traditionally cooked in upside down clay pots.
Don't be deceived by the hotchpotch of fresh greens with floating fried/steamed dumplings (locally called muthias) that make this dish.
It is known to floor the most discerning foodie with its bursts of myriad tastes—and for keeping the eater guessing the ingredients.
Other dishes to try: Munch on rolls of paper-thin khandvi for breakfast or during tea time and break into traditional Surti ghari, made with generously amounts of ghee and mava, after a hearty meal.
Thukpa in Arunachal Pradesh/Jammu and Kashmir
With roots in China and Tibet, thukpa is a watery broth or soup that comprises generous helpings of noodles, vegetables, and meat or poultry of choice.
The Indianised version of this dish is cooked and garnished with pepper and chillies to suit the palate, whereas the original version is rather bland.
Thukpa is savoured particularly in winters in North as well as North East India as it is warms the body, and is definitely soup for the soup!
Other dishes to try: If you find yourself in Ladakh, Maggi cooked in melted ice with a dash of egg and cheese should be your pick.
Photographs: M Louis/Wikimedia Creative Commons
Dhansak and Patra ni machchi in Mumbai
You can look all around India, but Mumbai -- and parts of South Gujarat -- win when it comes to authentic Parsi cuisine.
A heavy lentil feast that includes at least five types of dals, numerous vegetables, and a concoction of ten to fifteen spices, Dhansak tastes best with chunks of meat cooked with the mixture but can be made vegetarian too.
It is eaten with rice.
Another delectable dish that is synonymous with the Parsi community is steamed fish coated with dollops of green chutney wrapped in a banana leaf.
You can whiff the aroma of this one from at least a mile away.
Other dishes to try: Though any cuisine can be found in Mumbai, scout an Irani cafE to devour some papeta par eedu (eggs on potatoes) followed by the decadent sweet caramel custard.
Gatte ki Sabji in Rajasthan
For a land with the most unrelenting weather and dearth of water, Rajasthan has redeemed itself through its cuisine. A typical meal—generally the famous thali that includes various vegetable preparations, curds, pickles, rice or roti, and a dessert -- is made for the kings.
A regular feature in the thali is the Gatte ki Sabji.
Basically chunks of gram flour, gattas are cooked and then mixed in a spicy (there is no avoiding the spices in India!) curry, which is a blend of onions, tomatoes, spices, and condiments.
It is best relished with rice or bajra (millet) roti.
Other dishes to try: The true pioneers of the deep-fried, hard-and-soft kachori, Rajasthanis make this snack with tangy or spicy fillings.
Image: Gatte ki Sabji
Pork with bamboo shoots in North East India
An amalgamations of everything meat and mustard, North East Indian cuisine is replete with the most tantalizing combinations of flavours and curries.
One of the dishes that stand out in this geography, especially in Nagaland, is the tender parts of the pig stewed in bamboo shoots and ginger/garlic pastes -- with a generous helping of chillies.
Eat it hot with steamed rice.
Other dishes to try: Dip a piece of bread/chappati or your finger into the delicious bean and bamboo local chutney called thatu.
Got a recipe for a pork and bamboo shoots curry? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with a picture and we will publish the recipe right here on Rediff.com!
Image: Pork with bamboo shoots
Photographs: Duc N/Creative Commons
Shikumpur kebabs in Hyderabad
True to the meaning of their name, Shikumpur kebabs will leave you with a "full and satisfied stomach".
A favourite in the Deccan Plateau, these minced-meat flat patties are a fusion of the meat of your choice, spices, onions, coriander, and sometimes cottage cheese.
Best relished with a rumali roti, these can also be devoured alongside authentic Hyderabadi biryani.
Other dishes to try: Satiate your sweet tooth with the city's famous fruit and Osmania biscuits.
Image: Kebabs (picture used here for representational purposes only)
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons