The Great “Indian” Cuisine

I have been wondering for the past few years; so what is Indian cuisine?

When I first moved to South India to take up my campus job, I had gone there “knowing” that I will need to live with the “Madrasi” cuisine. Hyderabad was my base city and I had to travel across Andhra Pradesh. I was bewildered with the cuisine variety. The stuff in Hyderabad (biryani, haleem, khubani ka meetha etc.) and that in coastal Andhra (the Andhra Meals, Chicken 65, Babai Idli in Vijayawada). And, by the way, you were lucky to get some edible stuff in the remote corners of Telengana (think towns like Belampalli, Mancherial etc)! Often I had to report to the company HQ in Chennai. The MADRAS! Here too the choices were amazing! Food made Iyengar style, Iyer style. “Military hotels” were diagonally opposite the preceding two cuisines. Then Chettinad stuff as well. What is “Madrasi” cuisine?

A large part of my recent life I have lived in Bangalore. I thought I knew all about the variety of state-wise cuisines till I discovered the food served in Bangalore is different from that in Mysore and totally different from the stuff in Mangalore. The Bijapur/ Gulbarga khana is something else. Not to speak of the Coorgi stuff (the meat of wild boar is a coveted delicacy here). I am sure Chikmagalur, Belgaum, Karwar etc would have their own distinctive flavours.

Take Rajasthan for example, a state I worked extensively in. There is the “saatwic” Marwari cuisine, the laal maas favoured by the Rajputs and then the fafdaas served in areas bordering MP.

I could go on-and-on showing-off my knowledge of India’s geography. But I will stop here. Just two more points.

Bihar is where I was born and raised in. Once, I tried a few months ago on my blog to champion the cause of the unheard “Bihari cuisine”. I was (am still) toying with the idea of starting a Bihari speciality restaurant chain. I have, since, realized that there is no such thing as Bihari cuisine. What I was discussing in my blog was Bhojpuri cuisine. Bhojpur is the region in Bihar where my parents hail from. The neighbouring geographies of Bihar; Bengal, Orissa, Nepal and Uttar Pradesh have their own distinct cuisines.

I now live away from India. When I talk to folks here in Hong Kong, or see people ordering food in the restaurants, I hear that they “loooooove” Indian food. And what is that lovely Indian food in their opinion? Naan, tandoori chicken and prawn vindaloo! (Some evolved ones may even mention samosa and “poppadums“.) I would love to know how many Indian households cook and serve naan/ tandoori chicken/ prawn vindaloo! And, pray, what is a vindaloo???

Now I am sticking my neck out here, please bear with me. For most Indians food is like religion. If you were to ask a Hindu to describe what “being-a-Hindu” means, will you get a uniform and cogent answer? If you do, let me know. I am still struggling with my thoughts on this subject. Similarly, if you ask Indians what cuisine they like, most are likely to mention Indian food. Now ask them to describe the cuisine. If you get a uniform and cogent answer out of a diversified sample, please let me know.

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19 Responses to The Great “Indian” Cuisine

  1. Raghav says:

    Hi,
    After long wait , I am delighted to read your latest blog on “Indian” cuisine. In my opinion its utterly difficult to define what “Indian” cuisine is ?

  2. Its nice reading your blog after a long time. I liked your Bhojpuri Food blog very much.

  3. Seema says:

    Welcome into 2012 with Indian Food! Missing it? :) There will not be a uniform answer if you ask Indians but if you ask people outside..it will be naan, curry, etc!

  4. squarecutatul says:

    Welcome back to blogging. So the reason for your absence was that you had shifted out of India ? Hopefully now that you seem to have adjusted there, I hope we will be treated to some nice Indian blogging. :) If you get a uniform and cogent kind of blogging from out of a diversified sample of Indian blogger, please let me know. :)

  5. Debuda says:

    Though different regions of India have different cuisine, there are several common factors. I think the uniqueness of ‘Indian’ food lies in the use of certain spices / herbs / chillies, pulses (dal), cooking oils and cooking methods.

  6. uzma hameed says:

    I believe the variety of spices used in Indian cuisine sets it apart from the rest.Also the used of Curcumin ‘Haldi’ is fairly common.Outside India,in countries like Iran,Egypt & Italy food is mostly dry & the menu consists of 8-9 items only as compared to our bulky restaurant menus.
    Another intrinsically ‘Indian’ food item is ‘chaat’…which is sure to titillate the palate of any gastronome!

  7. Aruna says:

    Really nice to see you back with your writing!!! Last para was quite a bold one…couldnt help but agree with your views on it! :-) Happy New Year and wish u loads of writing this year!!!

  8. gautam kini says:

    Santosh, It was a pleasant surprise to findyour blog in my quest to cook some Bihari cuisine. I am trying to find some regional indian recipes which you normally dont get Bhirai, Coorgi, Parsi, Bohri. Do suggest if there is any good book /site for Bihari food.

    Gautam Kini
    USA

    • santoshojha says:

      Wish I could be of help, I am not aware of any book on Bihari cuisine. I am sure there will be a few. And the Internet definitely has quite a few websites.

  9. Randhir Kumar says:

    Nice to see your blog after a long gap and as always, it’s a pleasure to go through it.

  10. Rajesh says:

    Dear Sir,

    I could see your blog after a long gap. Do you get bihari cuisine there such as litti chokha, dahi chura or sattu?

  11. dilip says:

    I read your blog last week and thought let me come up with an answer. but other than rice and roti I couldn’t find any similarity across the country.

  12. Sachin says:

    Sir, Nice to see after long gap…

    Yes I agree it is difficult to list Indian Cuisine

    But there is no better food then Mother’s cooked food, whether it rice, dal, subzi, roti etc etc

  13. santosh bhaiya,
    forget about indian food, can we say what are the ‘indian’ in definite sense…even it is difficult to define bihari/ bengali in real sense..it is true for other state also….in such a diverse array of living style it’s really difficult to define anything in india :)

  14. Jitu says:

    Your post put a smile one my face. :)

    Another common thread…

    Am a South Indian from Jampot, like I have mentioned in another post, stayed for a while in JKpur( Orissa), Hyderabad(AP) , Baroda( Gujrat), Pune( Maharashtra), Vizag ( AP but the local cuisine is totally different from Hyderabadi cuisine), Bangalore( Karnataka).

    And you know what… Now I am in California.

    I cringe when I see restaurants selling the same list of popular stuff like paneer curries, dum biryani or naan under the names … “authentic” “Indian” etc etc

    One thing is for sure… no single person or state or restaurant can define “Indian Cuisine” or for that matter any cuisine. :)

    Btw… Jamshedpur mein bees saal rehkar bhii all I learnt about Bihari cuisine ( if these can even be called Bihari cuisine) are a few names like Thekua, Malpua, bhujiya… like aalu bhujiya, bhindi bhujiya… ( we were so used this word for stir fry) that when I moved out of Jampot… I had to unlearn and relearn the local words for bhujiya. A plethora of achaars I had only in Jampot… bhindi ka achaar, ber ka achaar. gaajar, mooli ke achar… and the rarest one .. amdaa ka achaar. :)

  15. Jitu says:

    Waise… Jamshedpur aur khaanein ki baat yaad karte hi pehle Fakeera chanachur yaad aata hai… fir Sakchi ka woh Kulfi … :)

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