Local is Focal: A dip into the regional cuisines of India
Micro-regional specials are rapidly rewriting the narrative with geographic-specific ingredients, powering the palate run
From the ker berries of the Thar desert to the white ant chutney from Chhattisgarh, from the triphal and kokum-laced ambat of Karwar, to the spicy chicken keema methi of Konkani Muslims, region-specific serenaders are filling up menus across eateries and eager kitchens. Forget Mediterranean, Oriental and global fusion plates, the millennials are toasting the home specials on a region-championing mission across tables in the country.
Hussain Shahzad, the Executive Chef at O Pedro and The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai, traces the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin food trail, sojourning through the lesser-bugled communities of Goa in the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, Konkani Muslims, the East Indian community and more. South of Goa, along the coastal parts of Karnataka closer to Mangaluru, resides the Bunt community. The tanginess of imli and the native tartish pick in this region, the onte puli, adds a sourish dimension to the curries.
“The classic bafat from Goa stands fused with the Mangalorean Catholic influence,” he says.
The Gaud Saraswat Brahmins lived along the banks of the Saraswati River that once flowed in northern India and later migrated to the Konkan belt. Dangar or fritters is made of leftover seafood in a Goud Saraswat Brahmin household. On religious days, many of them eat vegetarian. Shahzad serves up the sweet potato in the form of the fried, sweet potato dangar with keri chutney and raw mango chutney topped with knol khol salsa in his new menu. Mori ambo tik stands revised with baby octopus replacing the shark in the seafood special, and the aad-maas in charred chilli tamarind gravy comes in as a wintry special of the pork on the bone.
There is a twist on the traditional, with entire ecosystems pan-Indian being served up on the plate.
“Ber ki chutney adds a new flavourful dimension to the simple kathal ke samosa,” says Ganesh Teli, Executive Chef, The Leela Palace Jaipur.
He revives the region’s khad ka pind using the gaoti fowl, cooking it in a sand pit. The preparation is a twist on the earlier used rabbit meat. Teli prepares a marinade in keeping with the spice quotient of the region, layering the pit with charcoal fire and covering it with dry leaves and stones to seal in the heat. The lazy flavourful infusions then play out in the succulence of the meat.
Chef Amninder Sandhu, brought up in the small village of Jorhat in Assam, says, “I remember going with my siblings and our uncle into the forests, plucking herbs, catching fish from the river, and cooking it there on a makeshift bonfire. My uncle used to marinate the trout and shove it inside the bamboo we picked up there. I have recreated the same flavours.”
The marginal use of byadgi chilli in mainstream cuisine makes it an interesting ingredient. Raghav Simha, Jatin Talreja and Pragun Bajaj of Project Hum are formatting the micro-regional goodness of the Andhra chilli.
“The use of byadgi as a base in several Southern dishes inspired us to bring in kaddi byadgi with lesser seeds,” they say.
You no longer have to stay at heritage properties to soak up the flavours singing through food specific to sub-regions and even family kitchens.