Indian cuisine is like the English language — a stunning repertoire of its own as the foundation while totally open to new elements. That's why it's so madly eclectic and adventurous while retaining its distinct identity. Arab, Persian, Chinese and Western food have all acquired Indian avatars and purists who can't take the heat just leave the kitchen — to sneak back for a taste. Check out these 60 K2K (Kashmir to Kanyakumari) classics that celebrate the way we are.
GIVEN UP THE GHOSHT
Luchi-Alur Dum: the Bengali maida puri with potato curry in tomato broth that gladdens many a Sunday lunch.
Mattar-ki-kachori: UP's winter treat made with fresh, tender peas tastes better than the oversweet tinned American peas sold all-year round.
Tahiri: basmati rice-and-peas UP-style with a hint of jeera and salt tempered in ghee or butter. A clean fragrance that can't be beat.
Samosa: the original triangle of dough was stuffed with minced meat before being deep-fried. Called a 'sambusa', it was a Mughal import from Central Asia. While the ones in the north are fat and squat, the samosas of Maharashtra and South India are thin, elegant and crunchy-crusted, a direct legacy of the Iranian version. Bengalis call theirs 'singara'.
Mango Kadhi: thin buttermilk-besan soup tempered with curry leaves, grated coconut and mustard seeds. The seasonal treat is the ripe mango sliced and boiled in it.
Gatte-ki-sabzi: Rajasthanis steam up rolls of besan, slice them and spice them dry or in yoghurt gravy.
Nadru: sliced lotus stem cut diagonally for a pretty shape to please the eye, spiced with powders of anise and ginger, a la Kashmir. North India also knows it as kamal-kakkdi (lotus-cucumber) or by the unlovely word 'bhein'.
Paneer-Tsaman: Kashmiri-style pasandas (flat pieces) of paneer fried and dunked in pure tomato gravy without onions and garlic. Eat with Punjabi-style layered parathas to feel you've died and gone to heaven.
Adai: the dal dosa of Tamil Nadu that you won't usually find in restaurants: urad, arhar and chana dal whizzed into a grainy batter, spiked with onion, red chilly, salt and pinched curry leaves. Eat with white butter and jaggery, green chutney, pickle or tomato ketchup. Protein breakfast, anyone?
Bisi-bele-bhaath: literally, 'hot-mixed-rice' in Kannada, this divine glop of sambhar-rice is teamed with crunchy appalam (rice papad) and vadaam (fat papad-straws).
this audacious take on Chicken Manchurian is as
as it gets and no Manchu warlord would recognise it. Nelson Wang, the Bombay restaurant whiz, is said to have invented the chicken
in red gravy.
Undhiyaan: a mixed batch of vegetables cooked in a pot buried underground over live coals, this is a complicated but delicious Gujju version of 'avial', the jhalfrezy or mixed-veg of the south.
Litti: this poor man's food has sanskritised in the last some years, sharing menu space with palak paneer and muttar paneer in most Bihari restaurants; now increasingly outside the state too. Goes well with chokha.
Anarsa: a flaky Maharashtrian matthi made of fermented rice dough rolled in khus-khus (poppy seeds) and fried.
Puttu-kadala-pazham: a grainy broken Kerala rice-mix is steamed with grated coconut into a dry porridge. That's the puttu. A gravy of kala chana (kadala) is ladled over your helping. Small, sweet hill bananas (pazham) are eaten alongside.
Chops: never tried these Bengali bombs? Mashed potatoes mixed with veg/mincemeat/fish flakes, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and fried golden brown.
the pan-Indian equivalent of chicken soup in the west, it's comfort food supreme, with or without kkeema.
Masuru Anna: that's Kannada for Curd Rice with South Indian tadka.
Rajma-Chaval: that rich tomato gravy, those satisfyingly mashy kidney beans, the dancing notes of ginger, garlic and fresh coriander. The fluffy, fragrant rice.
Chhole-Bhature: CBs are part of our hardwiring.
Aapam and Stew: there are chicken versions of this Kerala classic but somehow it's nicer with just veg cooked in thin coconut gravy, poured over spongy rice aapam with crisp, curly edges, made in a little iron chatti (wok).
Pearl Onion Sambhar: also called Madras Onion and Button Onion, these tiny translucent blobs are the devil to peel but a marriage made in sambhar heaven teamed with rice and potato subzi.
Vendekka Pachidi (Bhindi-ka-raita): slice bhindi very finely, fry crunchy-crisp and dunk just before serving in dahi tempered with South Indian tadka.
, both bulb and leaves cooked in a thin watery broth with Kashmiri spices.
Sindhi Kadhi: lots of vegetables, including sambhar-drumsticks, chopped and stewed, with colour and a tart edge from kokum, the red flavouring agent popular all along the west coast from Sindh to Maharashtra as an alternative to tamarind.
Sheermal: flaky, sweetish bread, moistened with saffron-milk, fresh from a tandoor. Lovely if eaten 'just like that' with great gobs of white butter and properly fruity jam.
Khasta Roti (layered roti): freshly made, spiked with saunf, it's another great stand-alone bread, needing nothing but a smear of butter.
Bhaja: called Bajji further down the eastern seaboard, these vegetable fritters taste best the Bengali way, thinly sliced and crisp, in a delicate, tempura-like batter. Pumpkin flower bhaja is particularly scrumptious.
Baigan Boorani: this Afghani 'raita' is special to Bhopal and has acquired poetic names like 'Baadal Jaam' (Cloud Wine). Rounds of baingan are deep-fried and served with thick, creamy globs of garlic-flavoured dahi on each round, topped with crumbled fried onion.
because that's we are: a nation of dosa eaters.
Anishi Gahauri: succulent pork cooked with dried yam leaves in Nagaland.
Salli-boti-zardalu: a Parsi classic, it uses dried fruit in that lovely, lavish Iranian way. Salli are potato straws (alu-ke-lachhe) used as a heavy garnish over meat (boti) cooked with dried apricots (zardalu).
Konju Pulao: check out Ummi Abdullah, queen of Moplah (Malabar Muslim) cookery for this fabulous dish of fried prawns and cashew nuts baked in lightly spiced rice — and eaten with lots more fried prawns.
Spag-Bog: the desi version of Spaghetti Bolognaise can't be bettered. Boil spaghetti, make a rich keema curry with ginger, garlic, onion and green chillies and heaps of tomato puree, bhuno-ed like a Punjabi gravy. Grate Amul cheese on top, it won't taste right else.
Shepherd's Pie: same principle as above in this Indian boarding school classic learnt from the angrez. Desify the keema nicely, top with a Great Wall of buttery mashed potato and bake golden.
Prawn Cocktail: elegantly pink in Thousand Island Dressing, steamed prawns are tossed into a wide-rimmed cocktail glass with a few shreds of lettuce, very tender cabbage, a few sticks of capsicum, onion and olive. It's back.
Mulligatawny Soup: a hearty angrez avatar of rasam (from molagu tanni, Tamil for pepper water), this dal-like soup can have a value-add with bits of boiled chicken. Squeeze some lemon on top and sprinkle a few grains of rice before spooning up.
Railway Cutlets: the Indian Railways does (did?) spicy mutton and veg cutlets best. To be smeared with tomato sauce and squished between two slices of white bread.
Kachnaar-keema: tender blooms of this pretty flowering tree are dry-cooked with minced meat, a Punjabi delicacy.
Pepper Chicken Chettinad:
the subtle flavours of Chettinad food reflect the adventurous spirit of this ancient merchant community that sent its ships to China more than fifteen centuries ago. This chicken fry-up is speckled with black peppercorns, sort of a gourmet chicken
Meen Molee: the Kerala fish dish in a creamy coconut-milk sauce often pops up at parties. Eat with hot rice; rotis NEVER absorb the fabulous gravy properly.
Chicken Cafreal: the splendid Goan green chicken of Portuguese origin that no holiday in Goa tastes complete without.
Chilly Chicken: some people might get really angry if you insult this OTHER national favourite. Punjabi-Chinese is what we really, really like.
Mutton Do-Piaza: this means meat:onion, 2:1. Cooked slowly until the onions have virtually dissolved, and sharpened with lemon, ginger, mint and coriander, the meat should be falling off the bone. Eaten almost like a subzi with soft flaps of naan.
Methi Murgh: chicken curry made extra-special with fresh fenugreek when in season, but better somehow with fragrant dried 'Qasuri' methi. (Qasur is in Pakistan, birthplace of Hindustani vocalist Bade Ghulam Ali Khan).
Malai Chingri: prawn curry in coconut milk, Bengali-style.
Thokpa: Ladakhi/Tibetan noodle soup with meatballs. If you have this in Leh, the meat is faintly scented with the artemisia that the baral (sheep) graze on in the high-altitude desert.
Yakhni: a light Kashmiri summer dish of quenelles (mincemeat fingers) in thin yoghurt gravy.
Safed Maas: the rich Rajasthani mutton dish favoured by the Erstwhiles (former princes), its counterpart is the fiery Lal Maas.
Kakori Kababs: these delicate, soft kababs were invented in the 19th century by the cooks of Kakori near Lucknow for the convenience of toothless old nawabs.
rib-chops Kashmiri-style, fried crisp.
Irani Berry Pulao: best eaten at Britannia restaurant in Ballard Estate, Bombay Fort. A mound of spiced rice hides a cache of mutton/chicken curry. The deliciously sour dried berries dotting the rice are called zereshk in Iran and imported specially for this jewel of a pulao.
Chicken Sixtyfour: not an impossibly athletic position from some old Indian love manual, but a Chettinad-style dish that was apparently Number 64 on the menu of Buhary's, the only decent non-veg restaurant for decades in Chennai.
Karwar Crab: stuffed masala crabs like you only dream of eating, from this pretty coastal town in North Karnataka.
Alu-Ghosht: this is a Sunday lunch special in many urban Indian homes: regular mutton curry embellished with huge chunks of fried potato. The alu absorbs the flavour of meat and masala and is eaten ceremonially by itself, not mashed carelessly with rice or roti.
Hyderabadi Biryani: there's biryani and then there's Hyderabadi Biryani. Don't ask questions, taste to know the difference.
Butter Chicken: okay, so we tried really hard to avoid this obvious one, but a national favourite deserves respect.
Kathi Roll: we're not particular if it's from Nizam's or wherever. Nothing restores morale and flagging spirits like a double-chicken-double-egg.
Kheema/Tandoori Pizza: who cares if pizza was originally American? Indian-style pizza is established since decades as urban comfort food. Or else, eat a Jain Pizza (all veg, no onion, no garlic) if you're a strict vegetarian.
Bun-anda: don't be ridiculous, you know what it is.