By Divya Patwari
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food,” said the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. And I cannot agree more. As someone who has lived in India all her life, I’ve been blessed to enjoy a range of local cuisines that explode with a palette of gorgeous flavors. My love of food is also one that is spread across the length and breadth of India.
It is the same love that drives me to take you through the best of Indian food.
Given the range of diversity in soil type, climate and typography the local cuisines significantly vary from each other and use locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits and meat.
Indian food is heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices. Broadly, the cuisine can be divided into North, South, East and West. These are some quintessential North Indian dishes:
Photo by nebulux
Butter chicken, or as we say here in India “˜Murgh Makhani’ is among the best-known Indian foods the world over. It is the godfather of North Indian cuisine.
The dish originated in Punjab, India. Its evolution is traced back to Kundan Lal Gujral, the owner of Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryangaj, Delhi.
Kundan Lal Gujral, a Hindu, originally from the undivided India’s Peshawar in Punjab, fled to India following the partition. He was ingenious enough to overcome the times of political upheaval and open a restaurant in Old Delhi- Moti Mahal. The restaurant became a landmark in Delhi, and was sought after by famous visitors including world leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Bhutto, Kennedy, and the like. Thus began the popularity of butter chicken.
There are many versions of Butter Chicken, but the one that is most well-known is chicken marinated overnight in a yogurt and spice mixture, which includes garam masala, ginger, garlic paste, lemon, pepper, coriander, pepper and fenugreek and fresh cream.
Cashew paste can also be added, which will make the gravy thicker.
Of all the spices added to the dish, it is dried fenugreek leaves that make the best contribution to the characteristic flavor of the meal. Once the sauce is prepared, the prepared chicken is chopped and cooked until the gravy and chicken have blended.
The dish is then garnished with butter, fresh cream and green chillies. Butter chicken is usually served with flatbreads like naan (oven baked flat bread), roti, parathas and roomali roti, or steamed rice.
Best places to try it in Delhi:
Moti Mahal in Daryaganj, near Chandni Chowk
Punjabi by Nature, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi
Colonel Kebabz, Defence Colony, New Delhi
Kake Da Hotel, Cannaught place, New Delhi
Indian food is also known for its beautiful vegetarian dishes. Chole Bhature is one such example.
Chole Bhature is a combination of Spicy chickpeas (Chole) and fried bread (Bhature).
Here is an authentic Indian recipe for this simple, yet delightful dish all the way from India:
Ingredients for Chole: (Serves 6 people)
- 2 cup chickpeas (channa)
- 2 tsp oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3-4 cloves
- 1 tsp whole peppercorn
- 3 green cardamom
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp ginger (chopped)
- 1 tsp garlic
- 1 tsp ajwain
- 1 tsp lime juice
- ½ tsp asafoetida (heeng in Hindi)
- 1 green chili (chopped)
For the Bhaturas
- 2 cups maida (refined flour)
- ½ tsp yeast, dissolved for ten minutes in lukewarm water
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- A pinch of salt
- Water to knead
- Oil for frying the Bhatura
- In a pan, add oil, bayleaf, cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves, whole peppercorns, green and black cardamom
- After ingredients brown, add chopped onions and sauté
- After sautéing, add chopped ginger and garlic
- Then add turmeric, chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, asafoetida, salt and fry well
- To deglaze the pan add a little water
- Now add chole (soaked overnight and pressure cooked)
- After stirring well, add tomatoes, a pinch of sugar and salt to the chole
- Now add ajwain, chopped green chilies and water for the base
- Simmer the chole gently for 15 minutes and cover
- Garnish the chole with coriander and butter
- Serve the chole hot with bhaturas
METHOD FOR BHATURAS:
- Knead the whole wheat flour, maida and salt together with adequate amount of water
- Sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit for 2-3 hours for the yeast to rise
- Divide it into equal portions. Roll out in an oval or round shape
- Deep fry till golden brown
Chole Bhature incorporates many spices ““ a trademark of Indian cuisine — so much so that the vegetables (and meat) seem like an afterthought. There are no rules in spice usage, as long as it results in something delicious.
Photo by meltoledo
The next Indian dish that is very popular globally is “˜Chicken Tikka.‘ Tikka, in English means “bits” or “pieces”.
It is small pieces of boneless chicken baked using skewers in a clay-based oven called Tandoor. (The Punjabi version of the dish does not necessarily include boneless pieces.) The pieces are brushed with ghee (clarified butter) at intervals to increase its flavors, while being continuously fanned. It is eaten with green coriander chutney and tamarind chutney served with onion rings and lemon.
Where to eat
Khan Chacha in Khan market, New Delhi
Karims, Old Delhi (a definite must!)
But why wait for your trip to India?
Of course no place abroad can rival the experience of Delhi’s local cuisine, though there are many globally that come quite close.
Through my “˜Golden Thread’ (friends and family whose opinions and tastes I can vouch for), I managed to gather the names of a few excellent Indian restaurants in New York and London that almost do justice to the legacy of “˜Murgh Makhani’ and all that goes with it.
In London, one should definitely try “˜Punjab’ in Covent Garden. It was established in 1946 and is the oldest North Indian restaurant in the UK.
You should also try East is East, on Commercial Road, London for its Tandoori Chicken and Dal Makhani (black lentils).
In New York, Dawat on 210 E 58th St is a must if one wants an authentic experience with North Indian food.
Also Tamarind on 41-43 East 22nd Street is a must for classic Chicken Tikka Masala.
Chola on 232 E. 58th St is a worth a try for an all around perfect Indian meal.
In India, food is culture and vice versa. To experience Indian food is to taste India in all its colorful and vibrant forms.
What’s not to love about that?
ABOUT THE WRITER
Hailing from Assam, India, Divya Patwari is an avid tea drinker who holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science and a Masters in Fashion Management. She is always “˜in pursuit of happiness’ and wishes to travel all across Europe. Patwari’s studied John Locke and Rousseau, loves Julius Caesar and has a knack for reading minds. She’s always in love and welcomes you to join her in finding out the “˜Joie De Vivre’ together.