Taste of India: Savour these lesser known cuisines

  • Radhika Mohan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 12, 2015 08:09 IST
Identified with liberal use of coconut, whole spices, coconut oil and beef / fish, the Moplah cuisine exudes a heady flavour. (Photo courtesy: Zomato)

The Indian chicken tikka masala may have seen a meteoric rise on the global food map of late, but there's more to Indian food than just that. Some lesser known, but equally delicious, cuisines also dot the culinary trail in India. Join us as we savour some lesser known cuisines of India.

Moplah melting pot
This is heavenly food straight from God's own country. The magical mix of Arab and Yemeni influences, local spices, rice, meats and ingredients grown along the lush Malabar Coast creates a simmering melting pot of cultures.

With Arab traders having settled along the lucrative spice trail, it led to the birth of a distinctive cuisine peculiar to Moplah Muslims. Identified with liberal use of coconut, whole spices, coconut oil and beef / fish, the Moplah cuisine exudes a heady flavour. Traditionally cooked on wood and coal, Moplah dishes are churned out by women cooks (Ethathas) wearing white head scarves and long earrings.

The Moplah platter offers aromatic fish biryani, whole goat stuffed with nuts, mutton stew (isshtoo), a local delicacy of stuffed mussels Arikkadukka and Kerala style lasagne with layered rice pancakes (chatti patthiri). Muttamala (an egg garland dessert made with egg yolks and sugar) or Pinnananathappam (whipped egg whites, cardamom powder and sugar syrup) makes for a befitting end to a sumptuous feast. The meat and coconut rich food is usually washed down with the mildly spiced Suleimani tea (a known digestive), served black, with just a hint of lemon, cinnamon and cardamom.

Malvani magic
An indigenous cuisine that evolved along the palm-fringed Sindhudurg region of the silver ribbon-like Konkan coast is known as Malvani cuisine.


(Photo courtesy: Chef Sanjeev Kapoor)

It uses coconut in any and every possible form: Paste, milk, desiccated, grated etc. Predominantly spicy and non-vegetarian, the pungent cuisine is liberally laced with kokum, raw mango, tamarind, nuts and whole spices. Most of the dishes are eaten with soft poli or rice pancakes (amboli). Best known for the pink coloured Sol Kadhi -- a drink made from kokum and coconut milk, there's more to Malvani cuisine.

Tender cashew nuts are spiced up into a curry known as Kaju ni Aamti while Malvani mutton curry is a "hot" favourite. The fresh catch off the jagged Konkan coastline swims its way into Malvani cuisine: Mori masala (shark), tisrya (prawns) or gaboli (fish eggs) in green masala, Paplet saar (pomfret), Bombil fry (Bombay duck) and Bangda (mackerel) which is beheaded and fried to a crisp crunch. Khapar poli (soft, porous pancakes with sinful coconut syrup) and ghee-infused puran poli add the perfectly sweet touch to the finale.

Coorg cuisine
Tracing their descent from Alexander the Great, the Kodavas of Coorgs are strict non-vegetarians with their food being strongly influenced by the geography of the region. Liberal use of spices, locally hunted game, preserves, pickles, rice and dishes drenched with kachampuli -- a tart, dark vinegar -- all add to the authenticity of Coorg cuisine. The accompaniments include puttu, sannas, pulao, yellow flavoured rice, egg biryani and nei kool (ghee-infused rice garnished with nuts and raisins). Akki Otti is the local bread, perfect to mop up spicy curries with!


(Photo courtesy: Zomato)

Best known for pandi curry (pork), the Coorgs love to be different. Culinary popularity charts also include liver masala, venison, fried quail, parande (gizzard) fry and pork cubes served with lemon and buttery kadambuttu. Other favourites include kori earchi curry (mutton) and sesame chicken curry. Vegetarian delicacies range from beimbale (bamboo shoot) curry, chekke kuru curry (jackfruit), bolleri fry (cucumber), nehale kumme (wild mushrooms) aale kumme (umbrella mushrooms) bale kaamb (banana stem) curry. The Coorgi version of kheer is Thari payasa.

Udipi flavours
In strict contrast to all of the above, Udipi cuisine from Karnataka is not only pure vegetarian but also strictly adheres to the satvik style of cooking, abstaining from onion and garlic. It follows the principles laid down in Ashtamathas of udipi, founded by Madhavacharya. Borrowing its name from the town of Udipi, in Karnataka, it is this cuisine which gave birth to the humble masala dosa. An Udipi meal is traditionally served in sequence on a plantain leaf. Popular vegetable choices include pumpkin, jackfruit, cucumber, yam, beans and greens often tempered with the splutter of mustard / sesame seeds, raw bananas, coconut, tamarind pulp and red chillies.

The Udipi sambar Koddelu is mildly spiced and cooked with a hint of jaggery. After the dosa, Udipi cuisine is renowned for Bissibelle bhaat (spicy mix of rice, vegetables and lentils). Saaru is the spicy Udipi rasam, while fresh lentils and greens salad is tangy Kosambari. A variety of chutneys form an integral part of Udipi cuisine, as also fiery pickles.


(Photo courtesy: Zomato)

Other favourites include Udinnahittu (seasoned mashed potatoes), patrode (colaccasia leaves dipped in batter and steamed), Sajjige and Bajil (upma), chitranna (spicy rice). Rice forms the staple, but adai (dumplings) are also typical of Udipi cuisine. Desserts include kashi (pumpkin) halwa and kheer (paramanna and payasaa).

Even though these cuisines may not be well known, each comes with its own distinct flavours and aroma. Often locally grown fresh vegetables, available spices and ingredients are used in these lesser known cuisines of India. Closely guarded recipes, traditional methods of cooking and cooks who take an immense pride in whipping up these dishes is what makes them exclusive to their location.

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