Friday, September 26, 2008

INDIAN COOKING 101- REGIONAL FOODS PART 3


The part 3 actually took a while to show up, I must agree. As per the schedule I was suppose to post this a week back but as the story goes the household commitments and entertaining guests took the better of me.
But again as I always say, its better late than never.
Today I will talk about the EAST,that is the eastern part of India. The land that is rich in culture, history and literture. The soil rich and fertile, with lush green trees, marshes and paddy fields.
West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Orrisa make up for most of the eatern part of India, with a few spreading into north east. With so many different states, the food is as vaired and different, as the culture.

The staple

The area is home to cherapunji, the city with the highest levels of rainfall in the world. With wet marsh lands and hot summers, the eastern region provides ideal conditions for flourishing paddy fields.It can safely be called the rice bowl of India. Thus making it a staple of the people of this region. Puffed rice or muri, flat rice or chedva and a lot of other varieties of rice can be found in the region and in peoples homes. Accompained by a lot of locally grown fruits and vegetables, this region has a balanced mix of vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
The other most staple taste you would find here is "sweet".People simply love their sweets here.
The use of mustard oil, as a cooking medium is in abundance. "PANCH PHORAN" which simply means a mix of five different spices, is commonly used in all vegetarian preparations. Milk and jaggery are widely used for all the sweet treats.

A little about each region


BENGAL
The first region that strikes us when we talk about the east. I actually have this special connection with this region, as I was born and bought up there. well in kolkatta to be more precise. I remeber the rains in kolkatta, the street foods of kolkatta, the macher jhol, the mishti doi, the rasgullas,the warmth, the durgapuja. writting about it I miss it so much.......
Coming back to our main topic. Well, before I divulge any further, if incase in the course of this post, there is any hint of favourism to bengali food, its simply because of this invisible cord that connects me to the place of my birth and where I spent some of the best days of my life.
Bengalis are the agrarian types. Hence their food includes a lot of rice, vegetables, dals, and freshwater fish. Over forty varieties of these fishes are available. Traditionally bengali meals would include dals like mung dal, masur dal, chana dal. the cooking medium used is mostly mustard oil and posto or poppy seeds. A typical bengal meal would start with a bitter course. the portion size of this course is very small.



The idea is to simply cleanse the palate. bitter gourd or karela, is usally served. an other very famous items served under this course is SUKTA. a fine blend of various gourd vegetables, made in a ginger-mustard sauce. I love the taste of this dish with rice. The next course is the vegetable or SHAK course. The most common vegetables used are, spinach, pumpkin, fenugreek, amaranth. these vegetables are usually steamed and served with a mustard paste.
dal course is the next course, where one is served different dals. this is followed by the fish and the meat course. along with these bajhas, or vegetble fritters are served to add texture to the meal.then comes the chutney course, where vrious chutneys are served, like tomato, mango, papaya, tamarind. finally followed by the sweet course. this course holds a very important place for a bengali. no meal is complete without a sweet. usually made with cottage cheese, and jaggery it comprises mainly of mishti doi or sweet yogurt the all time famous rasgulla, chomchom, sandeesh.

macher jhol

mishti doi

snacks usually include jhal-muri or spicy puffed rice. the bengali cuisine saw the influnece of other cultures like the mughuls, the christians, and the chinese.
the all time famous chinese food in india actually originated in bengal. the famous rolls (my all time favourite), razala (a spicy stew like prepartion on meat), chap (ribs cooked on a griddle), are some of the delicacies that are best avaialable in bengal. to know about the cultural influence in bengal click here.
famous bengali dishes include

macher jhol
baigan bhaja
Doi machh
sukta
mishti doi
sandesh
chumchum
rasgolla
jaggery
petha

ORISSA



very close to bengal, this region is home to the world famous JAGANATH TEMPLE in puri. the staple is pretty similar to that of bengal. rice, lots of pulses and fish.
a surprising fact of this cuisine that I came across was, that the famous rasgolla, actually originated in orissa. That's something which I did not know.Apart from the regular staples of rice and dal, the rural people of orissa have a dish made out of rice, water and yogurt fermented overnight called Pakhala.people of orissa love their sweets too.
some of the famous dishes are

Dalma
Moong Dal
Besara
Chhencheda
Chhena Gaja
Chhenna Poda
Malpua

BIHAR

This cuisine is predominently vegetarian. the staples include simply prepared rice, lentils, chapati and vegetables. A dish that is typical of the bihar region is called CHOKA. Boiled, mashed vegetables mixed with finely chopped onions and green chillies,is often served with the regular meals. this is mainly prepared with potato and eggplants. another popular dish of this region is SATTU. this is roasted chickpea flour. it is made into items like "liti", or kneaded into a dough to make chapatis. it is a food item high in protein and is often consumed as a power food, that provides energy. sweets in bihar are more of the dry variety, unlike their neighbors, bengal and orissa. some of them are Khurma,Balushahi,Anarasa, Khaja, Motichoor ka Ladoo, Kala Jamun, Kesaria Peda, Parwal ka Mithai, just to name a few.

ASSAM

the famous tea gardens of assam

an area more in the north east,the assam cuisine is marked with the use of exotic herbs that are locally grown. they do not use a lot of spices, but their flavours are strong.talking about strong exotic flavours, how can we not mention about the world famous darjeeling tea. home to the tea gardens of india, assam produces some of the most exotic varieties of tea.another exotic food worth mentioning is the "bhooth jolokia". The hottest chilli that has made its way into the guinees book of world records.
Rice, rice and more rice is the staple here too. they are eaten roasted, boiled, steamed. the most famour rice preparation is called "PITHA",which is often made on the occasion called BIHU. Made usually with soaked and ground rice they are either fried in oil with a sesame filling ,roasted in young green bamboo over a slow fire or baked and rolled over a hot plate with a filling.
other preparations include, pork, varieties of fish,and greens. Traditional preparations can be read here.

AT THE END
That some what summarizes a few broad areas of the eastern part of India. With so many similarities, yet each one with their own unique specialities, these regions provide culinary awakening. be it exotic flavours, speciality spices, or simply the way of cooking.
I must admit, that the amount of information that is available, is impossible to summarize into this one post. I always begin writting and as I come to the end I feel I could have done better. As I wrote in my previous posts, I would love to share recipes and any other information about the various regions of india through this series.Do link back with recipes famous to anyone of the above mentioned areas, I would also be going through blogs and compiling a list of various recipes and putting up a list soon. would love all the help I can get.
hope we can all exchange some good culinary knowledge and spread the flavours of India.
enjoy
have a great weekend.

3 comments:

Uma said...

Wow, great info again dear! You're doing a good job.

Jaya said...

Great write-up here .
Karuna you can link to my fish curry post and here wish you all the best .
hugs and smiles

karuna said...

thanks a lot uma. and thanks jaya, i put a link to ure recipe soon.