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Cuisines on a comeback

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Cuisines on a comeback

Over the last decade, there's been a change in the way we look at food. We now live in a world where, instant deliveries help satiate our craving for a certain dish the moment we have one. But when we think of it, casualties in the Indian food domain are regional cuisines that are hard to find.

Restaurants that specialise in it, food festivals, as well as digital platforms have allowed people to reconnect with such food. The global trend for local ingredients or going back to half-forgotten family recipes has also helped. With all these factors in place, lost cuisines are not so lost anymore.

DISHES FADING AWAY

Chef Ashwini Kumar of The Leela Ambience Convention Hotel, Delhi says royal cuisines are only found in regal households. Kumar, who started his career in Jodhpur, has observed such cuisine closely. "Sula (softest part of the meat) of deer or rabbit is hard to find there. Even jungle fish is difficult to get."

Citing an example of Patiala cuisine, he says, "Amarinder Singh's family is from there, and authentic dishes such as pulao with chicken breast, are only prepared in his kitchen. In UP's Mahmudabad, dishes like noor mali pulao are only found in the royal court."

Even the knowledge of preparing such dishes is disappearing, partly because their preparation methods are elaborate. "Awadhi meat dishes were prepared in pits dug in the ground. We now cook it in a dish or on stoves." He says because of a lack of documentation, such cuisines are lost, and new generations are unable to learn how to prepare it.

KAYASTHA NOSTALGIA

Food writer Anoothi Vishal is making an effort to bring back the dishes from her grandmother's table. "The Kayastha community is spread over India, though its genesis can be traced to Mathura and Agra. The cuisine of the Mathur Kayasthas of Shahjahanabad, Lucknow and Hyderabad is regarded as refined," says Vishal.

She mentions that this cuisine is perishing as only a handful of people cook it regularly. "Even the wedding cooks who knew how to prepare it are no longer alive," Vishal adds.

Badam pasanda is one such loss. Pasande is a lean cut of meat that butchers don't know how to slice any longer. Earlier, in old Delhi Mathur homes, pasande (flat escalopes) topped with pista and badam were rolled, tied with strings and dropped into gravy to cook. This process is now a lost art even within homes.

Vishal adds, "Kofte (minced meat poached in gravy), margul (colocasia), kele ki machhli (mock fish), moong dal ki kaleji, are lost too."

RAMPUR'S LOST DISHES

Someone who has not just worked on Bihari cuisine, but is successfully promoting the revival of Rampuri cuisine is food historian Osama Jalali. Earlier, Nawabi and Mughlai food was easy to find in Rampur. Later Lucknowi cuisine, which was documented under the Nawabs, overshadowed it.

"I'm from Rampur, and along with many others, we've been successful in promoting the cuisine. Rampur has a library with the largest collection of Mughal recipes. Ain-i-Akbari, a book of cuisines from Akbar's court was found also here," says Jalali.

Gosht ka halwa or mutton halwa, and adrak ka halwa, are dishes from Rampur, which Jalali is trying to revive. His Facebook group Lost Cuisines of India, was launched to promote lesser-known regional cuisines. "12,000 members who're from across the country share old recipes here," he says.

MUMBAI TO DELHI

Parsi food has been popular in Delhi for the past 15 years. As Kainaz Contractor, co-owner of Rustom's Parsi Bhanu, points out, "Focus on Parsi cuisine was in Mumbai and Pune, as the community is large there. In these cities, traditional dishes such as dhansak and sali boti were found mostly in Irani cafes.

Now, with Parsi restaurants and food festivals, there's a demand for Akuri (scrambled eggs)." Benaifer Bagli of Mrs Bagli's Kitchen adds, "Faluda, lagan nu custard, kulfi, ravo, have always been favourites across India. Now in Delhi, dhansak with pulao or kebab is in demand as is patrani machchi."

HEALTH RULES

Sikkimese cuisine is more than just momos. They have a host of healthy dishes as Binita Chamling, co-founder of GK-based restaurant Nimtho and founder of Organic Sikkim points out, "Certain ingredients are making a comeback - ragi, for instance, has been revived by people promoting organic food across India."

Dishes such as gundrak (made with fermented mustard) were shunned as ingredients were cheap. Chamling says, "Dishes containing such as Phapar ko Roti (buckwheat roti) has proteins, less carbs, is gluten-free, and provided heat. These are things people in the hills needed."

Now, people are more health conscious but wonder why their grandparents were healthier than they are. Regional food revival could be the answer. As long as there are people who remember old cuisines, and efforts are made to revive these, such cuisines will not remain lost for long.