The popularity of global cuisines notwithstanding, gastronomes today are showing an increasing interest in the lesser-known cuisines of India like Odia, Bihari, Kathiawadi
Let’s check out the new Italian restaurant that has just opened across the street. I’ve heard they have amazing Ravioli.”
“Don’t we always eat Italian food? You know what, let’s check out that new restaurant dedicated to Uttarakhandi cuisine that serves Tor ki Dal, Til ki Chutney, Mandua Roti and other delicacies from the region.”
“I haven’t heard of these dishes. Besides, is there even a cuisine called Uttarakhandi?”
“That gives us all the more reasons to try it. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out more about our own regional cuisines? I have seen many people gram pictures of an Uttarakhandi thali from Garhwal region and it looks mouthwatering.”
Such discussions are happening more frequently in India including Pune. Food isn’t merely a way to fill the stomach or a means to get nutrition — people have an emotional connection with food and that is what is connecting them to their roots in a way which wasn’t evident earlier.
About five years ago, food connoisseurs and critics expressed their concerns about losing some of the ancient regional dishes, ingredients and cooking methods. Today, however, that does not seem to be a threat. Yes, we are in love with the South Indian and Punjabi food, but we are willingly going beyond these two that the world think makes Indian cuisine. In the last couple of years, the popularity of lesser-known cuisines seems to have grown immensely among food lovers and those who love to experiment and try out new things.
Lasaniya Batata (potatoes cooked with garlic and chillies), Sev Tamatar Sabzi (curry made from tomatoes and spices, topped with sev) and local Bhakri Bread from Kathiawad; Parsi community’s Dhansak (mutton served with a mixture of lentils and vegetables) and Emli-Goor-no Kuchumbar (paste made out of tamarind); Basi Pakhala (cooked rice soaked in water and fermented overnight) and Badi Chuda Fried Vadi (dried lentil pellets) from Odisha; Konkan region’s Sol Kadhi (tangy kokum or aamsul and coconut milk mix), Shark Ambotic (shark meat cooked with loads of local masalas, tamarind and red chillies), and Bangda Masala Fry (Bangda fish cooked in a spicy masala); Indori Pohe etc are gaining a lot of prominence, not just in Tier II cities like Pune and but also in metropolitan cities.
There are a number of reasons why regional cuisines, which weren’t so popular or well-known in the recent past, are becoming a craze today. Chef Ujjwal Gogoi, head chef, North Eastern Paradise, Wakad, says that because of factors like Instagram or YouTube, people are intrigued to discover our regional cuisines. “Momo was the only dish people thought was consumed by those living in the North Eastern parts of the country, but today they know about Hinkejvu, a simple dish from Nagaland, made with colocasia, shredded cabbage leaves, mustard leaves and some French beans and they really love it. It is all possible because of people travelling a lot these days. Also, Instagram has played a major role in bringing to the fore not just North Eastern cuisines, but also many not-so-prominent dishes from other regions too,” adds Gogoi, who hails from Nagaland.
Another reason why people are shifting to regional food is that it is made with locally grown and sourced ingredients which is chemical free and therefore healthier, he states.
City-based homemaker Sujata Gaikwad, 38, who has recently been to Patna along with her family, says she got a chance to taste Litti Chokha, Malpua and Thekua there and since then, has become a fan of the dishes. “It is an interesting way to know other cultures and subcultures of our country. We have been eating continental food for years, but getting to taste Bihari food made me realise that there’s still so much to explore in our country itself. My two sons too loved the food and now, in Pune, we have found a few tiny joints which make Litti Chokha and other Bihari dishes. I am also trying to make them at home,” says Gaikwad.
Ishita Lakhani, food consultant, and home chef, says that food festivals happening in the city have also added to the awareness of Indian regional cuisines. “Pune is a melting pot — people of various cultures, regions and faith are living here and restaurants and hotels too are taking efforts to make sure they get a slice of India through their promotions and food fests. People are very excited to explore new cuisines and they love to know about the specialities of other regions in India. In fact, today’s youngsters are more than willing to try out a Nasi Goreng from Nagaland or a Pappu Charu from Telangana, or Dum Olav from Kashmir. They aren’t hesitant to post the picture of a food from regional or tribal India; rather they are proud that they tasted it,” says Lakhani.
So while the craze for Pastas, Pizzas, Burritos, French Fries etc will not fade away, it is interesting, and heartening, to see how the lesser-known Indian cuisines are being lapped up by all, including Instagram.