Life is like a sandwich, and it is up to us to fill it with the right ingredients. To me, the right sandwich is the one pleasing to the eye and the palate. Malay sandwich, club sandwich, rainbow sandwich. Some sweet, some heavy, some stuffed with preserves and what else. There is the deep-fried sandwich that’s common to street-side vendors, with Chinese names that spell an overload of trans fats and monosodium glutamate. Of course, the word “sandwich” here is used metaphorically speaking.
A self-confessed foodie, there is so much about local Indian food to fascinate and makes me want to explore the less-known ones. India, in particular, is a country with a delightful oddity when it comes to defining its national cuisine. Most international countries would have a few staples popular throughout the country, irrespective of the region. Fortunately, the same cannot be said of us who live in India. Our culture and cuisine change with the regions, and no one food defines the nation as a whole. Narrowing down to the regions helps a bit with dishes like the Idli and the Dosa which are specific to the South Indian fraternity while the North Indian Naans are unmatched. I picked 7 local Indian dishes to introduce to you if you haven’t met them yet.
Hailing from a metropolitan city, it’s easy to get the best of the nationwide cuisine. However, less known secrets are divulged only when you travel outside your terrain. Visiting these regions can open up a host of delectable hidden treats that aren’t hyped or easily available otherwise. I have done a significant amount of exploration on the subject and have narrowed it down to seven local Indian food dishes that need more exposure. I am pretty sure there are many more, but I have yet to get down to all those diverse regions within India. Summarised below is a list of 7 dishes from India that I could term distinctive.
1. “Potoler Dolma” – West Bengal
With a language that oozes sweetness, West Bengal is known for its sweet dishes like Rosgulla and Sandesh. The state has the fourth-largest population in the country, and its people are not the primary reason to visit this state. West Bengal has always been artistically and literary inclined, with many scholars hailing from that region. The city, which was once known as Calcutta also served as the capital of the British empire in India, reflecting much of its architecture. While you are in Kolkata, which is its present name, you would do well in admiring the sights along the Hoogly River and the majestic Howrah Bridge. Or, taking in the aroma at the Mallick Ghat flower market and a food tour as well.
After you tick off the Bengali sweets and the fish curries from your list, you shouldn’t forget to sample their “Potoler Dolma”. The dish is made from “Potol”, commonly known as a pointed gourd. The speciality of these region-wise cuisines is that you learn how to make different dishes out of a single vegetable. In a Bengali household, Potol is the second-most used vegetable after potato. The gourd is usually stuffed with tasty fillings like minced meat, prawns, potato, and cottage cheese. You could go as creative in choosing the stuffing, as far as your imagination lets you. You could shallow or deep fry the gourd before adding it to the gravy. The thick sauce could be tomato or onion-based. This dish goes best with rice or roti. Bhojohori Manna in Kolkata falls among the recommended places for Potoler Dolma.
2. “Locho” – Gujarat
Talk of Gujarat, and you would know only too well that this state of India is local Indian foodie’s paradise, with more variety than one would imagine. Each sub-region of Gujarat appeals to different people. From the spicy kathiyawadi cuisine to the sweetish one of Ahmedabad, you will be spoilt for choice. Most of us have our favourites in Khandvi, Dhokla, and Shrikhand, which are available in plenty in the state. You would, in all probability, be making your way to Gir to catch a glimpse of the Asiatic Lion, which is indigenous to the area. Or you could be marvelling at the Statue of Unity or one of the few sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Not forgetting the road to the city of Surat, where the breakfast menu must include none other than local Indian cuisine in the form of “Locho”.
Locho is a steamed dish made from gram flour also known as channa dal. Locho in Gujarati means irregular consistency. The snack does not have a particular shape and resembles dumplings. It is mixed with butter or ghee, when served, to make it soft. A spicy chutney usually accompanies the dish. Talking from personal experience, one can’t stop at one helping. In modern times there are other accompanying additions available, like Cheese and Szechuan sauce. To get lucky with a locho, you may have to start your day early as most places stop serving it after lunch. An excellent place to try it out is Gopal Locho Khaman House, but you could get it at every street corner as well.
3. “Gons” – Goa
If India had a party capital, the honour would go to Goa! In addition to it being tagged as among the best places for seafood. No trip to Goa is complete without ‘chilling‘ in the shacks by the beach while you munch on snacks and end the day with a meal of prawn curry. Goan cuisine stands apart because, unlike most parts of India, they had a Portuguese influence. There are not enough words to describe the serenity that you feel when you visit the various churches in Goa or the not-so-crowded beaches of South Goa. What we do have words for is one of its must-try sweet delicacies.
Gons are known as Concad and are made from stripped tender coconut and sugar. This is one of the recipes borrowed from the Portuguese. They call it Teis De Aranhas, which translates to cobwebs. Most of Goa’s food and sweet preparations incline towards coconut additives, be it their sanna, bebinca, dodol, or patoleo. The taste of this sweet is far from the given name and only refers to its appearance. The crunch of coconut in a sugary bed is unmistakable as you sink your teeth into this sweet which is often wrapped in butter paper. Commonly made at Christmas time, it is available at St. Joseph’s Bakery and the popular Simona’s at Mapusa Market, Goa.
No one will say that Goa is a part of India going by its cuisine, but there’s no mistaking the fact that it is a part of independent India.
4. “Chiroti” – Karnataka
With Karnataka starts the region we know as South India with its spectacular share of Indian regional dishes. While there are a few dishes that are attributed to this whole region, each of its four states has specialities of its own. Karnataka was earlier known as the State of Mysore. It is the only place where we still preserve the origins of our base language – Sanskrit. Only in Karnataka will you find villages that even speak this language. You might want to go a-visiting here to enjoy hill stations like Coorg and Ooty. Or you would want to visit one of the fastest-growing cities like Bangalore or step into its past by marvelling at the palaces in Mysore. While on your excursions, you might also want some food for your soul. I mean food that would complete your food ecstasy by indulging in South India’s local Indian cuisine.
One of them is the popular Mysore Pak known for its delightful sweetness that will charm your mouth. Talking about tempting sweets, none of them will please you as much as Chiroti. Made from maida, ghee, and sugar, this sweet is served in a plate with powdered sugar and warm badam milk. The pastry itself is not too sweet, but with plating as this one, it will make you feel that you’ve had a royal dessert. So, after a hearty meal at any restaurant, don’t forget to order Chiroti for dessert – among the scintillating local Indian foods to vie for.
5. “Dal Bafla” – Madhya Pradesh
At some point, you would have seen the early advertisement promoting tourism in Madhya Pradesh. They talk about the various monuments and other amazing sights of Madhya Pradesh. The ads were enchanting enough, but if you are looking for more reasons to visit Madhya Pradesh, you don’t need to go any further. While poha-jalebi is your ideal breakfast before you take in the sights of the region, there is a lot more than they have to offer in terms of local Indian food. Whether it is the encounter with a tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve or visiting the still majestic Gwalior Fort, you should ideally end the day with Dal Bafla.
While the name may sound familiar to the Rajasthani staple Dal Baati, the dish cannot be more different. While the Baati is usually fried, the Baflas made from wheat and maize flour are first boiled and then baked. They are incredibly savoury and deserve all the adulation they get. Prithvilok Restaurant in Indore is one of the oldest and renowned restaurants for serving this delectable dish. You know what you will be doing the next time you visit the state to sample its many Indian regional foods.
6. “Mandige” – Maharashtra
There are two kinds of people, ones who love Mumbai and others who can’t stand it. You either love it or hate it. While Mumbai is the most cosmopolitan part of the region, it draws its flavour from the rest of the areas. You sure would know about the staple Vada Pav and the Misal Pav, which is everyone’s induction into Maharashtrian food. There is still a lot more that people don’t know about this local Indian cuisine. If you happen to visit more parts of this region like the Sahyadri ghats or smaller towns like Pune and Nagpur, you will be introduced to a cuisine that is unlike any in the country. There is a hint of more flavours and coconut involved in the local Indian food and the desserts as well.
At first sight, Mandige will look like a form of tacos to you. The base of this dish is fried maida flour and is stuffed with freshly grated coconut and a pinch of cardamom powder. Usually, this sweet is served during the festival of Diwali and will feel like a flavour bomb in the mouth. If you get a chance, you should watch the chefs at work on this dessert. Some say it is therapeutic to see them add stuffing to the bread. If you are visiting Maharashtra during any festivities, you are sure to find this delicacy at prominent street corners.
7. “Choor Choor Naan” – Punjab
Punjab is the heartland of India with local Indian cuisine that has put us on the map throughout the world. The Indian cuisine is typically known for its creamy curries, and there is scarcely anyone who would not recognize the words Butter Chicken. If you find yourself visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar or the beautiful sunflower fields, you are sure to find yourself making your way to the nearest Dhaba for a hearty meal. My favourite dish – one that makes me feel good every time I dig into it – is the Naan and the Dal Tadka. Little did I know that my preference would change soon after I’d tried the Choor Choor Naan.
Imagine a naan made out of whole wheat stuffed with onions, potatoes, and dry mango powder. Is your mouth watering already? Now imagine chomping on this naan with a chhole curry. I am sure that, hearing this, you’d want to book your next flight to the fertile land of Punjab. When you do find yourself there, don’t forget to try the Choor Choor Naan even if you have to go on a detox diet after the trip.
The more you explore this rich and diverse country, our Sone Ki Chidiya, there are more such delicacies to find. There is perhaps no one person who will know about all of them. If you are as much of a food lover as I am, you should be adding these destinations to your future trips and start exploring new dishes on your own. Check out these 7 regional Indian dishes and more. Don’t forget to share your experiences and extraordinary tips with me too!
Check out more Veg Recipes you can try out at home!