Books & Authors | PREMIUM CONTENT

Delicacies From Across India

Dec/01/2021 / by Pratika Yashaswi

One of the big attractions of India is that no two towns, even those just a few miles away from each other, are the same. The cooking of Andhra Pradesh, for example, varies from mini-region to mini-region. The coastal preparations in the Rayalaseema region and Visakhapatnam district are dissimilar. Just a few hours by train away from Visakhapatnam, the city of Vijayawada serves up a level of heat and spice that can make the smoke come out of your ears, and tears run down your nose. Hyderabad in the next state is influenced by the region’s centuries-old Nizami rule, and so the biryani is unlike any other in the country. The same goes for every town and every region in the country: meaning that in its plurality and diversity, a whole lifetime could go into sampling the meals of every single region, small town, and large city in India. The myriad communities drive the difference. So to know India’s communities, as intimidating an endeavor as that is, is to know India.

Food tells stories of winners and losers, the oppressors and the oppressed. Of where nomads come from and the geography of the region. Thus, regional cooking can teach us a lot about the culture that shapes the land and the country it is a part of. So for this issue’s food special, we’ve decided to explore the regional cooking of India, through cookbooks! Each cookbook tells a story. Let’s dive in.

1. “East Indian Kitchen” by Michael Swamy

East Indian Kitchen by Michael Swamy

The Maharashtrian-Portuguese community of India is one that fuses influences through the ages of Mumbai’s history, bringing together flavors of the Portuguese, Greek, British, Arab, Mughal and Chinese traders and residents of the area. Multiple-time Gourmand awardee Michael Swamy highlights the history behind the various flavors in the cuisine, going through the steps right from how to purchase meat and seafood all the way to a glossary of food-related terms in the East Indian dialect for greater ease. Recipes that stand out are capsicum foogath, balchow cutlets, bottle masala and Bandra-style hot cross buns.

2. “Seven Sisters Kitchen Tales” by Purabi Shridhar and Sangitha Singh

The northeast of India, also known as the Seven Sisters, comprise seven states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura connected by the Siliguri corridor, is a region of India that remains vastly under-documented and under-explored. There are actually eight states, the last being Sikkim, which is not connected by this corridor. So is its culinary history, which involves slow cooking, seasonal products and a no-oil, no-sugar diet. This book, although comprising recipes from these states, tells stories of north-easterners living across India who remember their past through memories of food. Quite a wonderful book to spend an afternoon with.

3. “The Pondicherry Kitchen” by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis

The Pondicherry Kitchen by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis

The history of Pondicherry (aka Puducherry) is recorded only after the arrival of Dutch, Portuguese, British and French traders, although historical records state that it was a thriving point along trade routes long before their arrival. A part of Tamil Nadu, with distinct French influence (they’ve been there since the 1600s), the cuisine reflects both cultures. Several years of research—digging out old recipes, collecting the culinary secrets of senior people, and oral food lore have gone into this book, written by a Pondicherrian author of Tamil and Vietnamese descent.

4. “The Art of Parsi Cooking: Reviving an Ancient Cuisine” by Niloufer Mavalvala

Parsis first migrated to the Indian subcontinent in the 7th century, as they faced persecution in the Persia of that era. Parsis, since then scattered all over Pakistan and India, are now few in number, but have managed to carry their customs and cuisine with them over the centuries. In “The Art of Parsi Cooking,” a Parsi cookbook author now settled in Canada reflects on the Parsis’ culinary heritage underpinned by the holy trinity of flavors— tikhu-khatu-mithu (spicy-sour-sweet) and provides easy-to-make traditional recipes for much-loved dishes such as dhansak and pak.

5. “Spice & Kosher – Exotic Cuisine of the Cochin Jews” by Essie Sassoon, Bala Menon, Kenny Salem

Cochin Jews, also known as Malabar Jews or Kochinim, have roots in Kerala, with records dating their arrival back to 68 CE. Almost every single member of this community has either migrated abroad, or made aliyah to Israel. Yet, their cuisine endures in their memories — which have gone into the writing of this book. Some in this book appear to be traditional Hindu, Christian and Muslim ones, for Cochinis have cooked them for ages. However, there are other, more traditional ones, like parippuvada (split pea rissole) polappam and chikkiyathu (made of black gram, and pumpkin), chikund (baked/fried rice balls served during shavout) and pastel (kind of like Israeli boureka, except with a cheese filling).

6. “The Bangala Table” by Sumeet Nair and Meenakshi Meyyappan

The Bangala Table by Sumeet Nair and Meenakshi Meyyappan

It is said, “One is lucky to eat like a Chettiar.” This is because the Chettinad, historically part of a thriving trade route, was a melting pot of food cultures from southeast and west Asia, other parts of India, and parts of Arabia and Iran. The Chettiars also travelled to different places, bringing their culture with them. Thus, spices like Tellicherry peppers, star anise and even lichens — not very common in their vegetarian Hindu cuisine prior — made their way into the cooking, leading to one of the most subtle and aromatic food in the whole country. In this book, the authors collect recipes from The Bangala, a boutique luxury hotel in Chettinad where chefs and gourmands from across the world throng to.

7. “Kashmiri Cooking” by Sarla Razdan

Lodged in a line of fire between India and Pakistan, Kashmir is a battle-and-violence weary region known for its verdant mountains and the beauty of its culture and people. Its food, fragrant, challenging for those outside the community to attempt, yet ultimately rewarding, is outlined in easy-to-follow recipes. Like with any food culture, there is a long history shaping its flavors. Through gorgeous photographs: old and new, and a retelling of parts of history you may not know, Sarla Razdan takes you by the hand through the preparation of Kashmiri recipes, and also its stories of invasions, its people and its splendor.

8. “Chachi’s Kitchen” by Sajeda Meghji

Chachi's Kitchen Khoja cooking from Kutch by Sajeda Meghji

The Khoja is a Shia’ite Muslim community originating mainly in the Sindh and Gujarat regions of Pakistan and India, respectively. While today’s Khojas are more spread out — in parts of East Africa, the UAE, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America — they have retained some of their roots in the culture of their homeland as well as their rich cuisine. Throughout the book, Meghji recalls the recipes of her mother, Amina Pyarali Meghji, who cooked from memory. She has another book out that focuses on East African influences on Khoja cooking. There are recipes for hondwo, a savory vegetable cake, and bharela karela (stuffed bitter gourd), and stews like muthiya, a dish made of lamb and vegetables.