Chutneys and pickles
North Indian cuisine, as the name denotes is the cuisine from the Northern states of the country. It is completely different from the South Indian cuisine, where rice is the staple food eaten along with lots of legumes, pulses and vegetables. In the north, however, wheat based food, like chapatti, roti, naan, paratha and puri are more preferred than rice, although rice is sufficiently eaten and relished too. North also has spicy non-vegetarian dish, while in South non-vegetarian food is less compared to its vegetarian counterparts. Food in South is also more pungent due to their lavish use of tamarind, while in the north careful and limited use of amchur (dried and powdered unripe mangoes) is used to lightly give their dishes a subtle sour taste. Both cuisines are very different from each other, and each has its own unique taste, flavour, preparation and ingredients.
Food from North India is characterized by its thick, tasty gravies. North Indians love chillies, Saffron, milk, yoghurt, Paneer, (Cottage cheese) Ghee (clarified butter) and nuts. Their meals are hearty and often include several dishes. Sweets are a huge favorite too.
Different styles of cooking fall under this term – North Indian cuisine. The most popular style is perhaps the Mughlai cuisine, followed closely by Punjabi, Kashmiri, and Awadhi. Food from the hilly states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal are not so popular but they are simple and highly nutritious.
North Indian Thali (Meal Plate)
Mughlai cuisine is a cooking style developed in the Indian sub continent by the imperial kitchens of the Mughal Empire. It has strong influences from Persian and Turkish cuisines, which over the years have influenced and modified the present Mughlai cuisines prevalent in North India, parts of Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The taste of Mughlai cuisine varies from extremely mild to spicy, and is often associated with a distinctive aroma and the taste of ground and whole spices. Chicken tikka and kebabs are synonymous with Mughlai cuisine. Some famous Mughlai dishes are Mughlai Biriyani, Mughlai Paratha, Shahi Paneer, and Malai Kofta. Mughlai cuisine is not only famous for its spicy food but its sweets are also finger-lickingly good, - Kulfi Falooda, Shahi Tukda, to name a few. They are all milk-based desserts laced with cream, sugar, nuts, and saffron.
Punjabi food is not very different from Mughlai food in terms of ingredients or preparation, but the amount of butter, spices, cream and ghee are significantly more in this style of cooking. The main ingredient for their basic masala is always onion, garlic, chillis and ginger. Typical dishes like sarson da saag, Makki di roti and Lassi are the most popular and loved Punjabi dishes. Other famous dishes are Tandoori chicken, fish amritsari, rajma chawal, and chole. Punjabi cuisine has a wide array of flatbreads, - Naan, Kulcha, Chapati, Paratha, and Bhatoora. They form the staple food and are eaten at every meal along with the rest of the vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes. Tandoori food is a Punjabi specialty especially for non-vegetarian dishes and different kinds of breads. Punjabi sweet dishes are not to be missed too, - Jalebi eaten with sweet Rabri is simply sublime.
Awadhi cuisine is from Lucknow and its surrounding regions in Uttar Pradesh. Their cooking style is quite similar to that of Mughlai and Punjabi, although this Awadhi or Lucknowi cuisine has its very own identity and individuality. This Nawabi style cooking requires a very high degree of flair and finesse to cook the elaborate and delicious Lucknow cuisine. The opulence of this particular cuisine is not only in its elaborate menu, but also in its ingredients like mutton, saffron, paneer and cardomom. The trademark of Awadhi cuisine is slow cooking, marinating, and extensive use of tandoor. Its most famous dishes include kebabs, Dum Biryani, kormas, roomali rotis Murg Musallam, and various other mutton recipes. The most famous and relished Lucknowi kebab is the 100-year old Tunde ke Kabab (minced meat kebab) even today. Tunde Kabab is so named because it was a specialty of a one-armed chef. What makes the Tunde Kabab unique is the kabab's masala (homemade spices) which is a zealously guarded family secret and prepared by women in the family. It is said to incorporate 160 spices.
Uttar Pradesh boasts of the varied and delectable assortment of street food, - from spicy to sweet, everything to suit everyone’s preferred palate. Savory items like Chaat, samosa and pakora, Panipuri, among the most popular snacks in all of India. Hot jilebis, chilled kulfis, Gulab jamun, Halva, line up for the sweet lovers at every street corners. And there are numerous stalls and shops of various shapes and sizes catering the ubiquitous tea, many forms and variations of it, - regular Indian tea with milk and sugar, black tea with or without a dash of lime, masala tea, - spiced up with cardamom, ginger and cinnamon. Another popular drink, especially during the hot summer days is Sherbet. Rose Sharbat and Ruh-Afza are very old drinks, which are still popular today. All these cuisines with almost the same ingredients and cooking style might look similar, but once they are individually tasted, they tell a different story, each cuisine tickling the taste buds in different playful manner, each unique in their own distinctiveness, each rekindling a different emotion between the brain and tongue.
Kashmir is not only magnificent and magical in its beauty, but its splendor extents to its exotic cuisine too. Not all Kashmiri dishes might be as popular or known as other North Indian cuisines, but the food is as exceptionally delicious as any other cuisines. Mutton is the predominant ingredient in Kashmiri cooking. Almost all the dishes are profusely laden with saffron, nuts, Asafoetida, Anise and other aromatic spices. The Kashmiri Pundit style of cooking is rather elaborate with heavy use of yogurt, cream and mustard oil, but avoids ingredients like tomato, onion, garlic and chicken. Kashmiri Muslims, on the other hand use the former ingredients lavishly along with meat, but avoids asafetida in their inherent dishes. Kashmiri cuisine also includes recipes based on dried vegetables. The most notable Kashmiri dish is Rogan josh, - a succulent and aromatic lamb preparation, gushtaba, (minced mutton with aromatic spices and yogurt) Tsoek Tsarvan (lamb curry made with liver or kidneys), Gaad (typical fish dish made with radish). The popular veg dishes are Nadier Palak (spinach and lotus stem stew), Dum Oluv (whole potatoes cooked with spices and herbs) and rice items like Kashmiri Pulao and Zafrani Pulao.
Masala Soda and Jaljeera
The epitome of Kashmiri exquisite cuisine is Wazwan, an elaborate meal shared and eaten with family and friends on special occasion. The preparation of Wazwan is considered as a great work or art. At least 36 different dishes are made for Wazwan. The head chef known as Vasta Waza does all the requisite preparations, and the result is sumptuous grand meal consisting of numerous vegetarian, non-vegetarian, rice, bread, pickles, dips, yogurts items. The wazwan is a delight to all the sensory organs, making one yearn for more of such heavenly food ceremonies.
Kashmiri tea is slightly different from the regular Indian tea. Noon chai is the most popular drink in Kashmir, - green tea mixed with milk, salt and baking soda. Noon chai is generally drunk for breakfast, but it is also consumed at other times of the day too. The best accompaniment with noon chai is the layered bread or baqerkhani, which is bought fresh from the baker everyday. Another popular beverage is Kahwah. It is green tea and not coffee as many tends to mistake it for. It is green tea prepared with milk, saffron, crushed nuts, honey or sugar. The varied and unique gastronomy of this beautiful state displays the quintessential elements of the richness of their culture, identity, individuality and passion for everything beautiful and tasteful.
It is a common practice in India to end a meal with some kind of mouth freshener, to get rid of the strong food odours and to aid in digestion. The most common and popular is the Paan – betel leaf along with areca nuts and other ingredients. The holy city of Benaras is not only renowned for its silk weaving, cuisine, art and culture, but it stands top in the list of serving dainty, delectable paan.
Making, folding and serving paan is an elaborate cultural custom, which is still cherished and relished by people from all walks of life. Paans are always custom made, according to the preference of the eater, right in front of the person. A sweet version of the paan will have more rose petals pulp, coconut powder and other sweet ingredients, while spicier paan will be prepared with cinnamon, cloves, and other spicy components. There are simple paan with just the leaf dashed with lime and areca nuts while there are extravagant versions with more than a dozen ingredients, made to perfection and then sealed with silver paper. For anyone who wishes to try the unconventional and unique food, it is definitely worth giving a try, … one cannot say it is nice or not nice, unless it has been tried and tasted. Eating a paan is also a part of experiencing the diverse cultural and gastronomical charms of India and Indians.