The 29 states of India have their individual distinctive cuisines. For example, by state, like Goan; regionally, like Chettinad; by traditional style of preparation such as Dum Pukht; as a description, like Wazwan; by caste, such as Kayastha; or simply named after the community, like Parsi or Jain cuisine. Highlighting characteristics of cuisines of some states, the following is a thumbprint impression of their distinctiveness:
Uttar Pradesh – Dum Pukht cooking such as dum biryani owes its origins to Awadh’s nawabs similar to Mughlai food which took Indian cuisine to new heights. Community wise in Kayastha cuisine, every meat and vegetable dish has specific spice blending. Jains are vegetarians and avoid the use of even root vegetables.
Jammu & Kashmir – Use of spices, dry fruits and saffron add flavour to preparations such as rogan josh and yakhni (soup), all non-vegetarian delicacies. Meat is a vital part of Kashmiri identity. Vegetarian delights are the green-leafed haaq (spinach) and rajmah (red kidney beans). Wazwan is a traditional feast and its preparation is considered an art in which non-vegetarian dishes dominate.
West Bengal – In spite of Mughal, Portuguese, French, Jewish, Chinese and British culinary influences, the local maach-bhaat (rice with fish) did not lose its hold over Bengali taste buds. Accompaniments include vegetables and lentils. Ilish maach (hilsa fish) is a delicacy. Sweets like sondesh, rasgulla and much more are given a special place.
Gujarat – Emphasis is on the sweetness factor. Food of the central region balances the sweet-salt-sour-spicy mix. Saurashtra cuisine is strong on garlic, onions and chillies. Food of Surat and parts of South Gujarat includes a larger variety of vegetables. The state is famous for farsan (snacks) such as khandvi (rolls of gram flour).
Maharashtra – The coastal cuisine is fish-coconut based. Konkani cuisine is a blend of Maharashtrian and Goan cuisines. In the interiors, Varadi cuisine uses spices with coconut powder and gram flour. Parsi cuisine is distinctive and dhansak (lentils, vegetables and mutton) is popular. Mumbai’s street food is vada pao, a mix of boiled, mashed potatoes, peas, tomatoes, onions and green chillies sautéed with spices and butter between pao (soft buns).
Goa – The Portuguese introduced potatoes, tomatoes and chillies to India, giving Goan Christian cuisine a unique character. Along with Goan chillies, other must-use ingredients are tamarind and kokum (red-coloured sour plum). Use of spices creates fiery coconut-based curries like crab and chicken xacuti and prawn balchao.
Andhra Pradesh – Traditional Andhra cuisine is spicier and mostly vegetarian. Rice is eaten with pickles and spicy broth, sambar (lentil-based vegetable stew) and vegetable curries. Mughlai-influenced Hyderabadi biryani differs from its Mughlai and Awadhi varieties. Hyderabadi haleem (thick stew made of pounded wheat, lentils and mutton) is the first non-vegetarian dish in India to get Geographical Indication status.
Kerala –The State’s version of the dosa is the paper-thin appam, a pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. Appam is eaten with vegetarian/non-vegetarian stew. A favourite dish of South Kerala-based Syrian-Christians, ishtew is a derivation of the European stew, flavoured with black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, green chillies, lime juice, shallots and coconut milk.
Tamil Nadu – Chettinad cuisine stands out with its Chettinad Chicken, famed for its “heat” factor, accentuated by the use of freshly roasted, ground spices. Unlike Chettinad cuisine where the food is of only Karaikudi district, Kongunadu region’s cuisine is a collection of recipes from more than 50 cities. Nanjilnadu cuisine is a mix of Kerala and Tamil Nadu culinary traditions.
Sikkim – A popular item is thukpa, noodles in vegetable or meat soup. A well-known item is momos, steamed or fried dumplings with a choice of minced meat, vegetables or cheese filling in flour dough, served with chilli chutney and hot soup. Fermented vegetables are used when fresh vegetables are no longer in season.
North-East – Rice, green vegetables, chicken, duck, geese, beef, pork and fish, and minimal use of spices define the cuisine of the seven North-Eastern States. Chilli, ginger, garlic, sesame and some local herbs give it a distinctive flavour. Maasor tenga is an Assamese sour fish curry slow-cooked in a tangy broth made with tomato, lemon and outenga (sweet-and-sour paste) made of ouu (elephant apple) in jaggery (cane sugar).