India’s Rich Cuisine: From Delhi and Punjab to Rajasthan

We are in culinary heaven.  We’ve not only tasted some of the best Indian food of our lives, but some of the best food we’ve ever had, period.

It started at Delhi’s Pindi restaurant, in Pandara Market.  The hottest, juiciest cardamom flecked onion kulcha, with rich tomato butter chicken and vegetable pullao, with mustard seed oily potatoes from northern province of Punjab, were our kickoff into ecstasy with this panoply of northern Indian dishes.

We were surprised to learn of the wide spectrum of Indian regional cuisines.  For example, in many American Indian restaurants, northern Indian cuisine is featured.  Yet, the famous Rogan Josh red lamb curry is actually from Kashmir and didn’t appear on any menu in the state of Rajasthan, where we were traveling.  Korma is from a different region, near Lucknow.  Tandoori ovens are not a staple of households in Rajasthan, but in northerly Punjab.  So we set out with a sense of excitement to enjoy and discover exactly what constitutes Rajasthan cuisine.

Rajasthani cuisine is the cuisine of a semi-desert state.  To avoid using scarce water, meats and vegetables are cooked in butter, buttermilk, yogurt, or clarified butter (ghee).  Fresh vegetables were once scarce, but now appear on every menu.  There is ample use of dal, dried lentils, then cooked in a sauce.  Breads are roasted in the local equivalent of a tandoor or griddle.  Chick pea flour (gram flour) is formed into balls, and set into the coals from water buffalo dung, and eaten by country people for breakfast or lunch.

Along the road we stopped for tandoori chicken and a thali.  The thali is a system of organizing a complete meal, using either a tray upon which are set little steel dishes full of foods, or a dish in which are sunk wells to contain the food.  Our first thali offered dishes of white rice, mint coriander yogurt sauce, fresh vegetables, cabbage curry, cooked vegetables, lentils, and rice pudding.  In the middle of the tray were stacked pappadum, crispy thin pepper flatbreads, and naan, tandoori bread.

Up next: Breakfast in Jaipur and Thanksgiving in Jodhpur.

Culinary regards,

Claudia and Gail

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