Punjabi, Gujrati, Goan, North, South – we are always demarcated by area, even caste and religion but one thing that brings us all together regardless of our lineage is our discerning love for good food. Each area is proud of its edible gift to the nation and in some odd way contributing to national integration.Punjabis were the first to spread their tastes not only to the rest of the country but to the rest of the world. Chicken tikka masala, alu gobi, and dal makhani are items that most Indians are familiar with and can be found in most cities in the country. The queen of England knighted chicken tikka as the national dish and NRIs in the U.S. are proud to find chole masala, dal tadka, naan, and the like in the take-out sections of local supermarkets. Indian food is one of the most diverse, delicious, aromatic cuisines in the world – something to be proud of, especially on this Independence Day.

Our culture teaches us to adjust to our surroundings. Whether it is marriage or moving to a new city for work, we learn to ‘adjust.’ Taste buds too, must embrace the flavours of the new environment. When a person from Pune gets a job in Bangalore they have to adjust to eating local food in the office mess – lots of rice or chapattis that are very different than our local “polis.”

Inter-state migration has created a demand for food from the state of origin. A few years ago there was only one Bengali restaurant in Pune and now there are several. The same goes with Goan and Awadhi cuisine. The out-of-towners get their foods and the locals also get to taste something new – one more benefit of Globalization and Nationalization.

My mother told me that growing up in a small town in Karnataka she had never even heard of chaat such as SPDP(shev-dahi-batata-puri), pani puri or butter chicken. The standard garam masala was not common in their cooking, however the same elaichis, dalchinis, lavangs were used whole—all in different permutations and combinations. Today the same town has several restaurants serving chaat and Punjabi food. Ladies in the same town try out recipes from all over the country by watching Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal’s assorted television shows, as do millions throughout the country.

Finding varied Indian cuisine locally however, does not deter culinary tourism — when you travel to Calcutta you still want to find the best rasgollas, appams and stew are just as important as the backwaters when you visit Cochin and when someone visits you from out of town, you must take them to Bedekar misal.

We are a nation that loves our food but we are also on the quest for improvements. Resting with just regional cuisines is not the end to our food expeditions – there is experimentation taking place in kitchens, both restaurant and home, all over India. New dishes using the ingredients and expertise from regions all over are being created and integrated into our food repertoires. Local ingredients and methods are being incorporated in non-local foods. Traditional South Indian sambhar for instance does not have any sugar or jaggery in the recipe, but in Pune you will find not only jaggery in the sambhar but at times a touch of goda masala as well! There are some shacks in Goa that will serve you a masala omelet with a dollop of coconut inside, in Delhi you will find besan atta added to traditional dosas.

The most common of Indian food fusion is dosas eaten with all sorts of curries including butter chicken and kheema. This is a great addition to your menu planning repertoire. Tandoori idli is fried idli with butter paneer masala on top – very rich and indulgent. Dahi idli, on the other hand, is like dahi bhalla but using plain idli instead of the bhalla – tastes almost as good, and you save a few calories as well. Chaat foods are quintessential Indian food – tangy, sweet, cold, spicy – there is really nothing like it in the world. Spicy hot is a taste we Indians are known for and demand as is evident with the creation of foods such as Chinese bhel, tandoori paneer pizza and chilli chicken.

The traditional slogan of “Unity through Diversity” is especially evident in our food culture. It is heartening to know that our country stands united today and every day, and that the future is bright for us Indians as we have so many more meals to explore!

Jai Hind!

Idli Chaat

Ingredients
10 to 12 Idlis , cooled and cut into small pieces(leftovers work best)
2 potatoes, boiled
2 onions, cut finely
sev used for bhel
dhania leaves, chopped
Green Chutney used for bhel
Tamarind Chutney
1 cup sweetened dahi
1-2 green chillies finely cut
Chaat masala to taste

Method
Arrange the idlis on the plate. Add potatoes, onions and chillies. Add dahi and chutneys. Top with sev, coriander leaves and chaat masala.

Published in Pune Mirror, August 15, 2011

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