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Culture

What’s on my plate: The food of Uttar Pradesh

14th July 2020

By Shirin Mehrotra

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Uttar Pradesh’s food is largely known for its Awadhi fare – the cuisine that was developed in the kitchens of the Nawabs. It is, however, just one variation of the food eaten by the people of this region.

The food of this region definitely reflects influences from different religions and communities, but there are certain commonalities in what’s eaten on a day-to-day basis.

A typical meal at my home consists of daal with a tempering of ghee, asafoetida and cumin seeds, a dry preparation of seasonal vegetable, roti and rice with an accompaniment of chutneys, pickles, salad and raita – curd mixed with chopped onion, tomato and cucumber, or boondi (deep-fried chickpea flour balls); seasonally we add grated beetroot, bottle gourd or pigweed leaves to it.

During summers the meal is usually followed by a glass of chaach or mattha (buttermilk) seasoned with rock salt, cumin powder and fresh mint leaves. This is perfect to ease digestion.

Summer usually has a bounty of gourds – bottle gourd, apple gourd, pointed gourd, ridge gourd, snake gourd, bitter gourd – and okra; they’re stir fried, stuffed whole with a mix of spices. A range of whole spices are added for flavour – cumin, nigella, mustard, fenugreek, fennel, coriander seeds being some of the common ones.

My favourite memory has been eating jackfruit stir-fried with chickpea flour with daal and rice. At home, lunch used to be heavier than dinner. Lunch being a daal or some kind of gravied dish with roti, dry vegetable, rice, and condiments. Whereas dinner was usually a simple bottle gourd or pointed gourd subzi with parathi (a smaller version of the paratha – the Indian flat-bread pan-fried in ghee).

Vegetarian kofte were often made as a substitute for meat, for the days when non-vegetarian food would be off-bounds. Bottle-gourd, jackfruit, lotus stem would be boiled and mixed with chickpea flour to make fritters which were deep-fried and dunked into a curry made with onion and tomato paste, seasoned with garam masala.

Food Uttar Pradesh is famous for…

Sunday meals

Sundays were meant for khade masale ka meat – goat meat slow-cooked in onions and whole spices – cooked by my father, or shaami kebabs made with minced meat, split chickpeas and whole spices.

Kebabs

Melt-in-mouth kebabs are the legacy of the royal kitchens of Awadh. It goes without saying, this is alongside biryani, stews, kormas and the famous galouti kebabs. The meals on religious/auspicious occasions are generally cooked without onion and garlic.

Celebratory meals

A standard celebratory meal consists of kachauri – deep-fried bread stuffed with split black lentil, a watery potato preparation, dry pumpkin preparation, bottle gourd raita, and tamarind and jaggery chutney. This meal tends to be heavy and so a lot of asafoetida is added to ease the digestion.

Pakodas

There’s also a variety of pakodas (deep-fried fritters) where vegetables like onion, potato, brinjal, spinach, cauliflower, snake gourd are dipped in a thin batter of chickpea flour and deep-fried in mustard oil; a ritual evening tea-time snack especially when it’s raining.

Sweet treats

Then there is mithai – the sweets – made with milk and milk products. We love our sweets in the morning especially jalebi – deep-fried swirls of flour deliciously soaked in sugar syrup. Evenings are meant for imarti, a more intricately designed swirls of split black lentil dipped in sugar syrup. Halwa – semolina, sugar and ghee – and kheer (rice or vermicelli pudding) are often cooked at home on religious occasions.

Check out our new dish straight from the Uttar Pradesh: Adrak ke Punjey. A roasted rack of lamb with ginger, toasted cumin, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.⁠

Food in India, it’s said, changes at every few miles – I’ve only scratched the surface of the rich culinary heritage of this region. There’s so much more to the food of Uttar Pradesh, including the street-food which has its own character and importance.

The most comforting meal for me will always be daal, chawal, stir-fried okra, raita with a smattering of mango pickle.