Learn the fascinating history behind eight well-known Indian dishes. These dishes, which range from the fiery Ratlami Sev to the regal Shahi Paneer, showcase the varied culinary history of India. Discover the origins of Silav Khaja, Bebinca, Pindi Chole, and Murg Makhni, as well as how dishes like Malabar Fish Curry and Gujiya fit into local customs.
Indian food is a multi-colored kaleidoscope of tastes, ingredients, and culinary customs that have developed over countless years. In this culinary journey, we'll explore the histories and anecdotes of eight famous Indian dishes that have won over people's palates and hearts all over the world. Each dish in Indian cuisine tells a story, fusing history, culture, and tradition into a mouth-watering culinary creation. It is a treasure trove of flavours.
1. Ratlami Sev: Sprucing Up Madhya Pradesh
The story behind Ratlami Sev is a fiery one that takes place in Madhya Pradesh, in the centre of India. The town of Ratlam, famous for its hot flavours, is where its origins can be found. According to legend, the crispy, peppery snack we know today was created by a local vendor who experimented with gram flour and spices in an effort to make a novel snack. Ratlami Sev quickly became well-known throughout India for its irresistible heat and crunch, making it a favourite snack not just in Ratlam.
2. Shahi Paneer: The Royal Connection
Shahi Paneer, a rich and decadent North Indian curry, is fit for kings. Its beginnings can be found in the Mughal era, when Mughal emperors looked for the most exquisite foods to satisfy their palates. Shahi Paneer, a dish made with tender paneer (Indian cottage cheese) and a rich gravy made of cream, tomatoes, and a variety of flavorful spices, was created to live up to their regal expectations. Even in modern times, this dish is still served on special occasions as a mark of opulence.
3. Agra Ka Petha: Mughal’s Sweet Treat
The Taj Mahal was built during the Mughal Empire, which is how Agra ka Petha came to be. Around 21,000 workers who were building the enormous monument grew tired of eating dal and roti every day. Master builder Ustad Isa Effendi was informed of Shah Jahan's worry by the Mughal Emperor at the time, and he asked Pir Naqshbandi Sahib to provide a solution. The Pir is said to have entered a trance while praying one day and received the recipe for Petha from the Almighty. The workers were then served Petha by about 500 cooks.
4. Gujiya: The Sweet Embrace of Holi
The story goes that in India, the festival of Holi is inextricably linked to the sweet dumpling known as Gujiya. Its origins can be found in the ancient Indian celebrations, where sweets were an integral part of the festive rites. Gujiya is thought to have originated in the kitchens of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where women would make these crescent-shaped treats and fill them with a mixture of khoya (reduced milk), nuts, and flavorful spices. These homemade treats took on a symbol of love and celebration as Holi drew near, encapsulating the festive mood of the festival.
5. Silav Khaja: Bihar’s Sweet Symphony
An old-fashioned treat from Bihar, India, is called Silav Khaja. Its preparation as an offering during religious ceremonies dates back to ancient times, when it first appeared. Refined wheat flour, ghee (clarified butter), and sugar are the ingredients in this flaky, deep-fried pastry. Festivals and special events are perfect times to enjoy silav khaja, which has a distinctive spiral shape. In addition to continuing to be a beloved dessert in Bihar, it has also become well-known throughout India due to its delightful flavour and historical significance.
6. Bebinca: Goa's Portuguese Legacies
The Bebinca, a decadent dessert from the tropical coastal state of Goa, has a fascinating history that has been significantly influenced by Portuguese colonisation. The dish has many similarities to Portuguese Pasteis, but has a spiced twist that is distinctly Indian. The multi-layered pudding is baked to perfection using coconut milk, sugar, and eggs, and it’s thought that Portuguese nuns contrived the dessert in an effort to use up all their leftover egg yolks while they were baking. Bebinca, a delectable reminder of the state's distinctive cultural fusion, has grown to be an essential component of Goan festivities.
7. Dal Baati Churma: Rajasthani Delectation
It's worth telling the tale of how the Dal Baati Churma recipe came to be. The renowned Chittorgarh Fort in Mewar is where this traditional Rajasthani dish originated. The Rajput kings of Mewar needed long-lasting food like Baati wheat dough dipped in ghee to survive in harsh conditions during battle. In the dry regions of Rajasthan, Baati could be made with the few ingredients and the meagre water supply. With the addition of two other dishes over the years, Dal and Churma, this culinary creation developed into a delight.
8. Murgh Makhni: The Buttery Saga
Butter Chicken, also referred to as Murgh Makhni, is probably one of India's most well-known dishes outside of its own country. Its beginnings can be found in Delhi's kitchens, more specifically, at the fabled Moti Mahal restaurant. As the story goes, the creamy, buttery treat we know today was created by three friends fleeing from Peshawar after Partition. They started a restaurant in Delhi and had the brilliant idea to incorporate leftover tandoori chicken into a tomato-based gravy to minimise leftovers. Butter Chicken quickly became well-liked, capturing the tastes of both locals and visitors. It has become a well-known icon of Indian cuisine all over the world thanks to its rich history and connections to Delhi's thriving culinary scene.
9. Kolkata Biryani: Necessity Became Identity
According to historical accounts, many attribute the origins of Bengal's Biryani to the kitchen of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. When the Awadh king ventured into Bengal, he brought along his royal chefs, or Khansamas. However, their financial resources dwindled, prompting them to introduce potatoes and eggs into the dish to ensure it could sustain a larger audience and spices became less. The red meats were also more often replaced with chicken.
10. Chhena Poda: A Happy Accident
Chhenapoda has its roots in the Odia village of Dasapalla, dating back to the early twentieth century. Sudarsan Sahu, the proprietor of a confectionery, innovatively combined sugar and seasonings with surplus chhena one evening. He placed this mixture in the Indian Chulha, which was still radiating warmth from its earlier use.
11. Khorisa: Assamese Bamboo Delicacy
Bamboo Shoot Curry, also known as "Khorisa" in Assamese, is a revered dish in Northeast Indian cuisine with a long history. Indigenous groups in Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur have long used bamboo shoots as a basic ingredient. This curry is a prime example of the agricultural ingenuity of the area because it is made with bamboo shoots that are locally sourced and frequently fermented for a distinctive flavor. The shoots are prepared by cooking them with a variety of herbs, spices, and occasionally meat or fish to add protein. The end result is a fragrant and flavorful curry that highlights Northeast India's rich cultural heritage and biological diversity.
12. Rasam: Tamil Nadu’s Loved Broth
Rasam, a timeless South Indian staple, traces its origins to ancient Tamil Nadu. Its history dates back over 2,000 years when it was known as "rasavādam" or "essence of taste." Initially, rasam was a simple concoction of tamarind, pepper, and other local spices. Over time, it evolved, influenced by trade and invasions. Arab traders introduced tamarind, and the Chola dynasty further refined the recipe. Rasam gained popularity during the Vijayanagara Empire, celebrated for its digestive and medicinal properties. Today, it symbolizes South India's culinary heritage, a testament to centuries of flavor evolution and cultural exchange.
These twelve dishes are a window into the rich history and culture of India. Each dish tells a different tale of innovation, tradition, and culinary artistry in Indian cuisine. This history is one that is ever-evolving and delightful.