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India on a plate

India on a plate
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First Published: Sat, Sep 10 2011. 01 30 AM IST

Updated: Sat, Sep 10 2011. 01 30 AM IST
It all started with an innocuous remark by a Bengali colleague. It seems fried okra, a must on any Punjabi party table, is frowned upon by Bengalis. The poor dharosh (okra) is so looked down upon among Bengalis that the term is synonymous with incompetency. The Kayastha community, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, considers paneer (cottage cheese) in any form a down-market dish at a banquet table. Kashmiris do think beyond phirni and, in fact, are likely to serve only shufta at weddings and during festivities. Biharis are not just sattu-crazy and forever baking little littis for their teatime snack. In fact, they love keema (minced meat) and stuff it in mashed potato balls to make a cutlet that is dipped not in eggs and breadcrumbs, but in refined flour batter and suji (semolina). The Coorgis have found a way to eat their rice in a roti form. Try the akki otti(rice chapatis made from a dough of cooked rice and rice flour) if you are bored of the wheat chapati.
A festive dessert: The shufta from Kashmir.
As we exchanged notes on what to serve the next time someone from a particular community or state visited, we realized that Indian food changes not just colour, ingredients and flavours from one state to another, but that even within states, every community has its own list of dos and don’ts. While some state cuisines have become a part and parcel of our lives, there is so much that remains unexplored as far as the Indian platter is concerned.
So we decided to go in search of snacks and sweets that would take us beyond payasam, rasmalai, samosa and dal bati churma, and also plan menus that would appeal to a Sindhi, Bohri, Anglo-Indian or Khasi. The curry and chutney culture had to be decoded, and we found out why the curry usually gets thinner, darker and tangier as we head south. The cuisine of the Seven Sisters, or the North-Eastern states, is unexplored territory and we tried to understand some aspects of these no-spices, all-flavour foods. And we also learnt how urban India eats.
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Next time, we intend to find out more about the egg halwa some Biharis patronize, or the bhutte ki kiss (a corn dish) that is a staple snack in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Meanwhile, enjoy the discoveries we made on this culinary journey. PS: Don’t miss out the 12 videos (www.livemint.com/communityfood.htm and www.livemint.com/foodmap.htm) that will help you cook these delicacies.
Also Read | What we eat
We profiled the dietary habits of four urban households, largely representative of their economic class, to see if there were any telling differencesArati Rao
We identified a few communities—Sindhi, Bunt, Bene Israeli, Anglo-Indian, Bohri, Khasi, Coorgi, Kayastha—and asked authors, chefs, consultants and food aficionados to tell us what makes these cuisines unique, how they came about, and what the must-use ingredients are
Just go through our collection of snacks and sweets from various states and dazzle your guests with your new-found culinary expertise
Chefs and food consultants tell us how to serve Indian food right
It might be uniform in its international avatar, but in India it’s a different colour wherever you go
Two recent books hark back to the authors’ family kitchens, attempting to keep alive two little documented cuisines
Guided by a single spice note, food from the North-East is healthy and easy to prepare
Lamps, tables, bead partitions— unique decor ideas spotted at restaurants that you can adapt for your home
Sindhi food is distinct in flavour and ingredients from its more well-known north Indian counterparts
Seema Chowdhry, Issue editor
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First Published: Sat, Sep 10 2011. 01 30 AM IST
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