Indian Cuisines - The Taste of India
'Ghranena ardhabhojana (inhaling is half the meal)'- what could be more evocative of the ethos of an Indian feast, redolent with a myriad spices? As you travel India, a land of infinite cultural nuances, what strikes you is the sheer variety of natural produce and of the chef's indispensable spice box. Cardamom, cinnamom, cloves, ginger, turmeric, saffron, tamarind, bay, coriander, cumin, anise, fenugreek, asafetida, peppercorns, chillies, nutmeg, mace, mango powder, poppy, mustard, garlic, 'ajwain', nigella.. Ground and pounded and whole, dried and fresh and roasted, their magic touch transforms the humblest leaves, the cheapest cuts into culinary masterpieces.
Speaking of spices, let's debunk the myth of curry powder. This favourite of the Western larder finds no counterpart in India kitchens. As curries across the land vary from the lightest broth to eye-wateringly pungent and unctuously creamy, so do their spices.
Derived from the old Tamil 'kaikaari (gravy)', 'curry' now embraces saucy dishes of every description. Kashmir alone boasts a spectrum from cool yoghurt-based 'yakhni' to paprika-laden 'rogan josh'. If you are lucky, you will be served a 'wazawan' (multi-course banquet) culminating in the legendary 'gushtaba' (pounded meatballs).
Cuisines of Bengal - The Taste of Bengal
Bengal's estuarine palate roams from simple 'maach-bhaja' (fried fish) to delicately seasoned 'jhol' (light strew) and 'bhaapa' (streamed fish), to sharp 'jhaal' (mustard-paste marinated), milky 'malai-kari' (with coconut cream), sweetly rich 'kalia' and tangy 'doi (yoghurt) maach'.
As in Bengal, the geography encourages paddy plantations further south, but it is more than steamed rice you mop up curries with- rice and lentil batters are fermented, flavoured, steamed or griddled for the assortment of 'unleavened rice breads', counterparts to the Northern wheat-based rotis.
Cuisines of Kerala - The Taste of Kerala
Kerala's Syrian Christians offer 'ishtew' (cardamom flavoured coconut milk) with 'appams' (rice pancakes). . Try a classic Allepey fish curry, tart with tamarind or 'kokum' berries. When you tire of sea food, choose spicy meat 'fry' (really a drier curry) or 'pathiri' dished up with 'parottas' (fried flatbreads). The vegetarian 'saddya' (meal) with its dazzling array of 'thoran' (dry veggies), 'olan' (beans and gourd in coconut milk), 'aviyal' (coconutty, tangy), 'kalan' (yoghurt-based), 'erisseri' (lentils and yam) will not disappoint, accompanied by 'rasam' (peppery tamarind-water) and 'sambar'.
Cuisines of Tamil Nadu - The Taste of Tamil Nadu
Though Tamilian cuisine is inextricably bound to visions of 'dosas', 'idlis', 'uttapams' and 'vadas', these are mere snacks. Brahmins dish up a blander 'saapad', aromatic yet divinely easy on the plate. Their Chettiar cousins incorporate in their repertoire just about everything that grows or moves: sun-dried legumes, berries and 'kalpasi' fungi make their way into curries, as do every kind of game-rabbit, quail, pigeon. Their signature dish is Chettinad chicken (with whole peppercorns). Sit down for a Mudaliar meal- 'vazhaipoo vadai' (fried banana-blossom rissoles), with perhaps 'kathirikkai varuval' (masala-stuffed brinjal in sour gravy), a plethora of 'kozhambu' (curries) with green masala, tamarind and pepper, and 'pakoda kurma' (dumpling curry)
Cuisines of Goa - The Taste of Goa
Goan curries of Portuguese antecedent yield fierier dishes still. Konkani cuisine often uses the indigenous cashew liquor, 'feni', for marinade. Pickling and drying are common techniques (as in the famed prawn 'balchao', dried Bombay Duck and spicy 'choriz' sausages), with liberal use of chillies and garlic. Pork dishes are a dime a dozen when a fierce monsoon interrupts fishing: jiggery-alleviated 'vindaloo', 'sorpotel', 'aad maas', and 'trpas' literally go the whole hog. Christmas week celebrates the best seafood - 'xinanio' (oysters) breaded and fried; pomfret, mackerel and kingfish stuffed with spicy-sour 'recheado' masala; 'zawb' (mussels) and 'cawrpa' (clams) in their shells.
Cuisines of Maharashtra - The Taste of Maharashtra
Maharashtra bridges the North-South divide: as with Goan 'pao' (sourdough), 'puris' and 'polis' (fried breads) punctuate the staple of rice. Foods are lighter than ghee-drenched North Indian and chilly-pungent Southern spices.
Cuisines of Karnataka - The Taste of Karnataka
Neighbouring Karnataka offers less coconut and seafood, producing sweet-sour vegetable and lentil curries. Gram-flour makes an insistent appearance, as a thickening agent and in batters and dumplings. Nilgiri spices are undercut by 'kokam' and jiggery.
Cuisines of Andhra Pradesh - The Taste of Andhra Pradesh
On the far side of the peninsula, Hyderabadi cuisine derives from the kitchens of the Nizam rulers.Richer Andhra spice mixes feature saffron and mace in stellat biryanis, meat curries about, but a notable partiality for brinjal results in such dishes as the mustard-tempered 'baghaare baingan'.
Cuisines of Gujarat - The Taste of Gujarat
Gujarat remains a vegetarian bastion, despite the piscetarian Parsis with their banana-leaf bound 'patra nu machhi'. Sweet-sour curries make liberal use of peanuts and chickpeas. Fresh vegetables are none too varied here or in neighbouring Rajasthan, but locals take full and delicious advantage of what is to hand. Witness the popular 'kadhi', gramflour dumplings in yoghurt gravy; and 'dhokla'.
Cuisines of Rajasthan - The Taste of Rajasthan
On the whole, drier dishes are the rule in a region with fresh water at a premium. Rajasthan eats epitomize this. Rice gives way to 'rotis' of millet, wheat or corn. Spicy 'gatta', cousin of 'kadhi', accompanies the regional specialty of 'ker-sangri' (desert berries with beans). Experience the satisfying simplicity of 'daal-baati-churma'- charcoal-baked dough balls with 'daal' and sweetened wheat crumble. Game is a rare feast, with the famed 'lal maas', sunset-hued from a paste of red chillies.
Cuisines of Punjab - The Taste of Punjab
In the Land of the Five Rivers- Punjab- milk, curds and 'panner' (cottage cheese) dishes abound. Punjabi foods feature uncomplicated combinations of herbs and the smoky aroma of a clay tandoor. 'Tandoori roti' and butter chicken at roadside dhabas remain crowd-pleasures, but the piece de resistance is the winter special of 'sarson ka saag' (pureed mustard greens) and 'makke di roti' (cornflour flatbread).
Cuisines of Uttar Pradesh - The Taste of Uttar Pradesh
In the sharp contrast are the elaborate marinades and layered aromas of UP. There are the many exquisite 'kebabs', each typical cut bathed in a different 'masala' (spices): 'galauti' (melt-in-the-mouth morsels created for a dentitionally- challenged nawab), 'pasanda', 'shammy' (flanky-layered 'lacchedar' parathas), 'rumali (kerchief) rotis' and 'naan'. 'Dum Pukht (sweated in dough-sealed 'handis') pulaos' and vegetables are the norm in side dishes; creamy saffron scented 'kormas' the counterpoint. Sudtly-tempered 'daals' each have their own specific 'tadka'. The Eastern UP boasts of 'litti-chkka'.