September 7, 2018

THE FRESHNESS QUOTIENT

Words: Chef Sabyasachi Gorai

An award-winning chef hailing from Asansol, Chef Sabyasachi Gorai is the President of the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations’ (IFCA) Young Chefs Forum.

‘PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE, HENCE THE FOCUS HAS ONCE AGAIN SHIFTED TO BASICS’

THE REGIONAL FOOD STORY JUST GOT BIGGER AND BETTER BY MAKING INROADS INTO NOT JUST PAN INDIA BUT ALSO FINDING A GLOBAL AUDIENCE THAT SWEARS BY THE TASTE! A LITTLE PUSH AT BUILDING THIS UP CAN MEAN A MORE VARIED GLOBAL PRESENCE FOR INDIA’S DYNAMIC AND TASTEFUL CUISINES

When I saw the hindi movie ‘Chef,’ it was clear that the protagonist played by Saif Ali Khan wanted to roll out a fusion fare with a mega regional twist. The result was ‘rotzza’ which essentially was a pizza wrapped up in a roti. While the dish may not have been all that original, the idea of bringing forth the regional flavour in his new culinary innovation drove home the point aptly enough. To say that India is a melting pot of cultures with each region representing its diverse set of cuisines is to say the very least. The amalgam of unique spices, vegetables, grains, and fruits found all over the country implies that the vast array of regional dishes have a distinct character of their own.

What makes it so unique:

India’s 29 states mean a medley of cuisines that not only appeal to one’s taste buds but also offer an insight into the fascinating culture across the length and breadth of the country. Every region brings forth its signature style of cooking based on the geography, climatic conditions, and the kind of local flavour that the food is embellished in. Be it dollops of the delicious Sarson Da Saag as part of North Indian cuisine, the soft fluffy idlis of South India that melt into the mouth or the coastal delights of Western India – there is enough to keep any food lover hooked! Getting into specifics and in a nutshell, the cuisine in Northern India is characterized by a lot of breads, dairy based food items, curries as well as non-vegetarian fare such as mutton, tandoori chicken, and kebabs.

This directly contrasts with the South Indian cuisine where rice is the essential component of any meal. Popular dishes such as idli, dosa, uttapam, and appam are all rice based. Rice, lentils and stews can be found in the southern part as some of the predominant dishes. Also, a lot of coconut is used in the preparation of their food items. If we talk of Western India which includes states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa, items such as fish and coconut milk-based dishes find favour. Goan cuisine which is a novelty among all food lovers, in fact, is a unique mix of East and West. Prawns, pomfrets, crabs, lobsters, fish will entice all those who crave for seafood time and again! While rice and fish are also commonly found on the menu in Eastern India, this part of the country has its desserts as the primary attraction. After all, who could possible give the savoury Rasogulla a miss or skip a bite of the delicious Sondesh?

© Image: Structuresxx/ shutterstock.com

Finding flavour in foreign land:

Such is the pull of these region-specific cuisines of the country that they have also found a comfortable place of their own on foreign shores! Interestingly, a lot of fusion can be seen of the Indian food outside to appeal to the international palate. Be it tikka masala burritos, naan-stuffed delectables, Kathi rolls or all the popular South Indian chains hogging the limelight outside – it is no longer regional anymore with a guest list that extends all across the world. There is ‘Little India’ in Singapore where people can choose from a vast array of Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare on offer. And we are not just talking about the popular food items here. You can see even the street food being replicated in swish restaurants in New York such as pav bhaji, crunchy samosas, or the spicy gol gappas!

Future forward:

Future wise, the ‘regional’ food growth story is only expected to get bigger and better. Smaller cities will dish out more exotic fares that can be sampled in restaurants in the metro cities or even globally. Interestingly, now people are wanting to know more about the locally grown produce and hence the focus has once again shifted to such basics that reflect on our ancient traditions and cultural practices. The heartening part is that people want to be more aware about what they eat. Hence the brimming enthusiasm is evident when wanting to learn more about the cuisines of Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab, Assam or any other part of the country. What could perhaps propel this revolution forward is a concerted effort by the government and private players to create more awareness and help India’s ‘region specific’ cuisines find a strong foothold on the world map in the times to come.

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