A Guide To The Regional Foods of India


photo by Jason Taylor

photo by Jason Taylor

I still recall vividly driving the winding roads away from the Himalayan village of McLeod Ganj, headquarters of the Dalai Lama and catching a glimpse of a familiar spring vegetable being sold along the roadside. Wanting to make sure I wasn’t suffering from altitude sickness, I asked my wife for reassurance that I had just seen a bunch of fiddleheads. Soon I was chatting with the vendor trying to explain in broken Hindi that we had the same seasonal delicacy in Canada.

This brief experience, seeing the familiar in a foreign context, provided both comfort and intrigue. It forced me to shift my thinking of what “local”, “seasonal”, and “regional” are. As I travelled around India I soon found myself searching for more local and regional Indian dishes. Whether I was in Amritsar to check out one of the oldest dhabas or visit the kitchen of the Golden Temple that feeds up to 100,000 people a day or cooking some of the tastiest food I have eaten in India at Philipkutty’s Farm I was, and continue to be, amazed by the vast variety of local ingredients and regional dishes that are found in India.

Four years ago, while touring tea plantations in Darjeeling I noticed a small comment in the food section of a newspaper that an Australian, Charmaine O’Brien, was researching a book on regional Indian food. I kept my eye out for it in the bookstores and online but did not come across it until my most recent visit to India, which coincidentally overlapped with the launch of her efforts titled The Penguin Food Guide to India.

I have read through the book once, and wrote a review posted on Zester Daily, and know that I will be diving in there a lot for years to come as there is such great information provided. At the end of the review is a delicious recipe for a regional Konkan dish called tambdi bhaji, or greens sautéed with fresh coconut introduced to me a few years while I was travelling with photographer Jason Taylor, who shot the above photo. It is a very versatile dish as it can easily be adapted for all sorts of greens, like beet, amaranth, spinach, swiss chard and even kale.

India’s Influence On A Few Vietnamese Dishes

Vietnamese Goat Curry

I’ve always liked it when you’re having a friendly, let’s catch up with each other, conversation and something unexpected materializes and puts you on a path that leads you to a destination you’ve been searching for. This happened in early 2013 while having lunch with a friend, and long time Vietnam resident. In between bites of delicious vegetarian Vietnamese food I shared with him that I suspected there were some food related connections between India and Vietnam. A visit to Pondicherry in the state of Tamil Nadu sparked this curiosity when a chef I was speaking with mentioned that there were some older women who sold Vietnamese spring rolls door to door in the older part of the city.  My friend shared with me that one of his closest friends, now living in England, had done her PhD about the Tamil community in Saigon and he would happily connect us. I had found some solid food leads on my own but there were some holes that needed to be filled and small parts of her thesis helped me with some minor, yet, important connections. Finally, this past autumn I spent some time in Saigon and was able to investigate the Indian community there and learn about how they influenced a few dishes in the Vietnamese kitchen.

This result was this article that I wrote for Zester Daily. At the end of the article there is a goat curry recipe Chef Tracey Lister of the Hanoi Cooking Centre learned from a Vietnamese chef in Saigon that she has included in her upcoming book title Real Vietnamese Cooking (to be released in April 2014 by Hardie Grant).

Add Some Citrus and Spice to Enhance Classic Shortbread

Shortbread and ingredientsButtery, crisp, melt in the mouth shortbread is a wonderful classic cookie at any time of year. My mother would make them at Christmas and garnish them with half a maraschino cherry. Sometimes it’s great just to have something simple like this with a tea but other times I like to look at shortbread as a canvas in which you can add different flavors using citrus zests, herbs or spices. Click here for a link to a few shortbread recipes I provided for the holidays on Zester Daily.

Preparing Thanksgiving In Asia – Some Tips

Ingredients for Thanksgiving in AsiaBeing away from your friends and family on Thanksgiving is possibly the loneliest day of the year for a North American expat. Once you have been able to find and organize some others to celebrate this harvest festival the next challenge is to figure out what you are going to make as a lot of the time, particularly in Asia, it can be like a difficult treasure hunt to find those all important must have ingredients to recreate family Thanksgiving recipes. Having prepared 8 Thanksgivings overseas for close to 1000 people I have had to become creative when ingredients are unavailable. I recently wrote an article for Zester Daily highlighting some tips for preparing Thanksgiving in Asia.

School Lunches In India

Schoolgirls having lunch at school outside of Puri, Orissa, India

Photo by Biswarajan Rout

In the fall of 2008 I travelled from Delhi to Turin, Italy to participate in Terra Madre, Slow Food’s conference that happens every few years and brings together food artisans, activists and many others concerned about safeguarding and promoting all aspects of food cultures from around the world. There I met some of the Slow Food Canada contingent, one of them being Lulu Cohen-Farnell of Real Food for Real Kids (check them out as they are doing great work with school lunches in Toronto). She told me about an article that she had recently read about a group of monks in India feeding schoolchildren in different states throughout India. Upon my return I found the article online and read that the foundation was called Akshaya Patra and it originated and was associated with the ISKCON temple in Bangalore. I was unable to visit any of their cooking centres until a few years later on a trip to the city of Puri, in the eastern state of Orissa. Here is an article, with a photo slideshow, I wrote about their school lunch program for the online website Zester Daily.