India is a melting pot of different cultures that blend together beautifully, whilst still maintaining their unique flavour. Since the country is divided into states and union territories, each state and region has a distinct culture to call its own. This diversity extends to their cuisines and food traditions, which are strikingly different, yet bound together with the fine thread of Indian-ness – that collective of traits that give us the same identity, despite our diversity. The Akshaya Patra Foundation is present across 10 states in India, and since we, at the Foundation, are fond of vegetarian fare, we bring you a taste of scrumptious fare that comprises the cuisines of these 10 states.
The cuisine of Karnataka can be broadly divided into North Karnataka and South Karnataka. Like most of South India, idlis, dosas, uttappams, sambars and a wide array of chutneys are consumed here. In North Karnataka, jolada rotti (jowar roti) is a staple food item, while in South Karnataka, ragi rotti (made from ragi dough), akki rotti (made from rice flour and comprising onions and chillies) along with ragi mudde (steamed ragi dumplings) are quite popular. Chutneys typically include coconut, but North Karnataka also loves its Shenga (peanut) chutney. Besides these, rice dishes like Bisi Bele Bath and Puliyogare are favourites here, along with Kosambari (vegetable salad). Karnataka also has unique coastal cuisines. Delightfully, as is custom in most of South India, the delicious preparations concocted by people of the state are served on banana leaves.
The cuisine of Gujarat is as sweet as its people. This region is predominantly vegetarian, and vegetable dishes, called shaak in Gujarati, may be dry or prepared as curries and typically include some jaggery or sugar. Gujaratis have a love for all kinds of vegetables, including ladyfinger (bhinda), bitter gourd (karela), bottle gourd (doodhi), fenugreek (methi) and others. Undhiyu (a mixed vegetable dish cooked painstakingly in earthen pots) and the Gujarati kadhi (which makes use of buttermilk and gram flour) are quite popular in the state as well as among those outside it who love Gujarati food. Snacks from Gujarat, like the Kutchi dabeli, dhokla, khakra are extremely popular in neighbouring Maharashtra as well.
Uttar Pradesh, due to its history, has numerous influences – from Central Asia, other regions of North India like Punjab and Kashmir, as well as the Middle East. The chaat, loved across India, calls Uttar Pradesh its home, having originated there. Rotis, puris and parathas are commonly eaten breads in the region. The richness of the cuisine is evident by the generous use of spices and elaborate cooking techniques. Paneer is a hit favourite among the people of Uttar Pradesh, with Navratan Korma, a Mughal delicacy, having come from the region. Besides this, the samosa too was born here, before it went on to conquer all of India. The region is also known for its delicious vegetarian kebabs.
The fragrance of cuisine from Odisha wafts up potently to engulf the senses. Despite going easy on the spices and the oil, food from this region is extremely aromatic and flavourful. Rice is the staple food item in the state and interestingly, fruits like jackfruit, plantain and papaya are commonly used in it. The most famous Odia dish is the Dalma, which includes vegetables, raw papaya and Pigeon Pea (toor dal). Mustard oil is commonly used in the cuisine of the region, along with Panch Phoron masala. Vegetables popular in this state are potatoes, brinjal, yam, drumstick, along with banana flowers and stem. The khechidi (Odia-style khichdi), too is an important component of an Odia meal.
The cuisine of Rajasthan is as lavish as its many famous palaces – rich and loaded with ghee. The first names that come to mind when one mentions Rajasthani food, are Daal Baati Churma and Gatte Ki Subzi. Daal Baati Churma comprises flat, thick, round baked breads (baati), served with dal, along with crushed baati sweetened with jaggery or sugar (churma). Gatte Ki Subzi comes from the kitchens of the Rajputs and includes a number of gatte (balls made from gram flour) in spicy gravy. The state also enjoys a number of scrumptious desserts – Ghevar, a popular dessert in North India, has its roots in this very region.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
The fiery flavours of the cuisine in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (both were formerly part of a single state up to 2014) make for an unforgettable experience. This cuisine has many variants depending on region – Rayalaseema, Uttarandhra, Telangana and coastal Andhra. One aspect that binds cuisines of these two states is the love for sweet-sour-spicy flavours, as tamarind and red chillies are used generously. A variety of dosas, upmas, pohas and bondas are had for breakfast here. The staple diets, however, vary according to the influences of the states bordering them. Rayalaseema has a love for ragi much like Karnataka, which borders it, while rice is the staple food here, along with the rest of Andhra Pradesh. Telangana cuisine has influences from neighbouring Maharashtra, with rotte (roti) taking precedence over rice. In Andhra Pradesh, the curries are called koora and are popular among the people here, along with gravies. In Telangana, the Pulusu, a stew that is quite similar to curries, particularly the Pachi Pulusu, is well-liked. In sweetmeats, the Senaga Pappu Payasam, made with chana dal, coconut and jaggery, is a favourite, and is a fixture during auspicious occasions such as festivals.
Famous all over the world for its teas, Assam also has a lot of aromatic and flavourful delicacies, full of different spices, to offer. Much like Odisha, Assam too has rice as the staple food, along with a love for mustard oil. Assamese food is a vegetarian’s delight, as the climate allows for vegetation to thrive. Therefore, green leafy vegetables and herbs, known as xaak are widely used in the cuisine. The Khar is a particularly unique preparation, which includes water that is filtered through the ashes of banana skins, obtained by drying and burning them. Raw papaya is generally used while making Khar. This is the dish that the Assamese usually start their meal with.
Tamil Nadu, the land of delicious filter coffee, also offers an array of delicacies that predominantly feature rice, lentils and generously use curry leaves, along with whole spices. It is common to find whole pepper, cloves, cinnamon and other spices in Tamil cuisine. Coconut too is a frequently used ingredient. Dosai (dosas), different kinds of chutneys, utthapams, idlis, medhu vadai (medu vada) make up the popular breakfast options. The podi idli (idli coated with spicy podi chutney) is simply delicious. In the main course, Sambar Sadam, Puli Kulambu, Rasam and other gravies, are had with rice. When it comes to sweetmeats, Payasam and Sweet Pongal are the undisputed kings!
Famous over the world as the rice bowl of India, Chhatisgarh unsurprisingly has rice as the staple diet, along with jowar, maize and wheat. Pulses such as toor dal and urad dal are commonly used in cuisine of this state, and much like Assam, green leafy vegetables are quite popular here as well. The chila, a pancake made using rice flour and dal, is quite the coveted breakfast dish in households here. For those with a sweet tooth, a sweetmeat called Bafauri, made with chana dal, is the star of the meal.
Evidently, the states in which Akshaya Patra serves its mid-day meals have some wonderful cuisines. You can help feed children healthy, nutritious mid-day meals too, to keep them in school with your contribution. Donate now!