For a foodie in search of variety and exquisite delicacies, India’s regional cuisine offers more than a bellyful of dishes that can satiate any epicurean. From the traditional Kashmiri Kesar Murg to the adventurous Kara Kolambu (or Kara Kuzhambu) of the Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu; from steaming hot Khichdi-Kadi in Kutch to the delightful Kumura Aru Rongalur Khar (pumpkin and white gourd khar) of Assam; India’s regional cuisine offers an enchanting range of gastronomic delights.
The increasing popularity of regional cuisines
"Year 2016 will see chefs, foodies and restaurateurs - all experimenting regional cuisines with great gusto. Regional cuisines are slowly making their way into mainstream dining," says Sameer Malkani, co-founder, Food Bloggers Association of India (FBAI). The rise of India’s unusual regional cuisines, with chefs, home chefs, foodies, restaurateurs and even ordinary folk dabbling in and experimenting with some of them, is imminent. In Godrej Nature’s Basket’s Food Trend report, celebrity chef and restaurateur Kunal Kapur referred to the emergence of “a new avatar of Indian cooking” with the emphasis on regional food.
Sameer states, "In metros, little known or rarely tried cuisines are crawling out of the woodwork in the form of restaurants, pop-ups, demos, cooking classes and curated dinners." Asserting the same, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a pioneering food blogger, speaks about the Culinary Legacy Series. Started in her studio, the series features amateur chefs, who cook meals from their region. She notes, "Indians are not only exploring world cuisine but also exploring regional cuisine. For example, north Indians are exploring south Indian food. We are getting curious about our own regional foods as well."
Celebrity chef Ajay Chopra says this is something which should have happened 10 years ago. "India has risen up to its own cuisine in a big way now which is great," he points out. "We all know that India is a land of diversity but people of one state do not know the cuisine of another state. We are more interested in having a Mexican dish than trying out a recipe from Guntur."
Chopra says there is a lot on offer now especially with home chefs showcasing their stuff. "I think this is going to grow really big because people have opened up to eating different things," he observes.
A good time to be a home chef
An increasing number of home chefs in the metros and major cities are cooking up authentic regional fare and offering them at pop-ups in their cosy apartments, even as apps and websites tempt consumers to try these unique meals which are home-delivered to them. Foodie, cookery-consultant and author Ananya Banerjee, who also hosts pop-ups at her central Mumbai apartment, prepares authentic, Bengali food for foodies in love with the cuisine.
Naina Suri from Gurgaon began Naina’s Kitchen to offer home cooked lunches. As her popularity increased, she tied up with Bite Club, a service through which people can order food from home chefs across Gurgaon. With two more tie-ups on the way, Naina’s Kitchen seems set to handle more orders.
Mumbai-based Gitika Saikia specialises in Assamese food and she hosted three pop-ups at her home, offering dishes from the northeastern region. Dubbed Eight North Eastern Sisters, the menu included both the traditional and the exotic.
Nafisa Kapadia set up The Bohri Kitchen along with her son Munaf to offer connoisseurs in Mumbai a taste of home cooked Bohri food. Shabnam Merchant is another home chef whose Khoja Khana and flavourful biriyanis have pampered the palates of Mumbaikars. She recently launched Simmering Pots at Bandra where she offers 180 dishes, mostly regional including home-style Khoja cuisines.
Perzen Patel (who operates under the label Bawi Bride Kitchen) does Parsi food pop-ups, delivers tiffins to homes and caters to events across Mumbai. Trained in New Zealand, she returned to India after living there for 10 years. Perzen says that her blog, Bawi Bride, started as an attempt to document her quest of mastering Parsi food and restoring it back to its former glory.
An appetite for local over global
For a country with 29 states and seven union territories, India has 630 districts, each of which boasts of multiple regional cuisines. Increasingly, food professionals (celebrity chefs, home chefs and others) are specialising in various regional cuisines and offering them at food festivals at 5-star hotels and fancy restaurants, home pop-ups and informal kitchens across India.
These days be it professional chefs or home chefs, gastronomes are wholeheartedly experimenting with indigenous ingredients rather than global ones. Like Sameer says, "Year 2016 in India is poised to be the year of experimenting with our own regional cuisines." More power to that!