14 incredible regional cookbooks to help you eat your way through India
Sindhi curry to oxtail soup and everything in between
I could live on dosa and coconut chutney for the rest of my life. It tends to surprise people that a full-blooded North Indian like myself was initiated into cooking with an English translation of S. Meenakshi Ammal’s phenomenal cookbook, Samaithu Paar. For them, it was akin to Remy the rat’s experiments with Chef Gusteau’s cookbook Anyone Can Cook in Ratatouille. Now, there’s always a box of homemade rasam mix next to the stove, ready to whip up when comfort yearns for it. That’s the amazing thing about regional cookbooks.
Your background and level of expertise scarcely matter (unless of course, you’re like Rachel Green, cooking up a dubious meat-filled dessert). A few pages and instructions followed with military precision can take you on a journey through community histories and traditions, satisfy endless cravings and help you create the perfect Instagram #flatlay.
Considering India’s diversity, each region throws up a carnival of flavours featuring a generous dose of local tadka. The addition of gud that lends Gujarati dal its subtle sweetness, bhut jolokia that turns into tongue-tingling, sweat-inducing chutney in Nagaland… and kadi patta that gives curd rice from Tamil Nadu its subtle zing. Each state and community of India offers up an endless range of food choices. And a plethora of regional cookbooks to experiment with.
The Bhojpuri Kitchen by Pallavi Nigam Sahay
Chef Sahay’s love affair with Bhojpuri cuisine began soon after she married into a family from Bihar. Like most readers, she didn’t grow up with these flavours—they were introduced to her palate later in life. And as you prepare each new dish, you can imagine her first time too, perhaps with the same trials, errors and disasters.
This book is her ode to Bhojpuri kitchens, their customs and traditions (festivals included) through recipes she learned along the way. From choora mattar and Bihari halwai-style mutton to parwal ki kithai – the recipes are easy to follow even for lesser-skilled cooks who want to experiment with Bihar’s culinary delights.
Rasachandrika: Saraswat Cookery Book by The Saraswat Mahila Samaj
Adapted from the landmark Marathi cookbook Rasachandrika, this book has preserved the recipes of classic dishes, snacks and accompaniments that honour the individuality of the Saraswat community—and we particularly love the home remedies’ section. The use of fresh ingredients is a nod to a time before imports—when what was on our plates largely depended on what grew around us.
Malabar Muslim Cookery by Ummi Abdulla
“This book explodes the myth that food from Kerala is just mountains of rice, coconut and fish curry” proclaims a descriptor of the book. And as invested as I am in fish curry-rice, Mrs Abdulla’s compilation of more than a 100 recipes from the Malayalam-speaking Muslim community gives you a rather tantalising peek into lesser-known Mappila, (or Moplah) kitchen treasures, like Neichoru and Mutta Mala. The detailed recipes can seem a little tricky for a noob—but if you’re up for the challenge, neither you nor your stomach will be disappointed with the final result.
Flavours of the Spice Coast by KM Mathew
While the mouth-watering images accompanying the recipes might lead you to overestimate your cooking capabilities, Flavours of the Spice Coast truly lives up to its name. Compiled over fifty years, the recipes from Kerala, (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian), include traditional favourites like appam and stew, to street-side specialities like Trivandrum Chicken, and even addictive snacks like murukku. With twenty bestselling cookery titles in Malayalam and English under her belt, Mrs Mathew alias Annamma hads more than earned her expert status—ace murukku and you’ll likely be anointed expert snack maker at your next game night, at the very least.
Chachi’s Kitchen: Khoja Cooking from Kutch by Sajeda Meghji
‘There wasn’t a book about Khoja cooking from Kutch so I wrote one,’ writes Meghji. Here, Chachi is Amina Pyarali Meghji, the author’s mother and the book features her traditional Ismaili recipes of soups, stews, rice dishes and more. Bringing the lesser-known Khoja cuisine to a wider audience through recipes from a family, three generations of which lived in Uganda, the East African influence and Kutchi history of the community live on through the dishes, ingredients and how they come together.
Rare Gems: A Non-Vegetarian Gourmet Collection from Maharashtra by Āditya Mehendale
While vada pav will always be our hero, Mehendale’s exploration of non-vegetarian gems from the state has us rethinking our pav-wer players of Mahashtrian cuisine (Saoiji mutton, I’m looking at you). Mehendale’s collection comprises lesser-known dishes of the state that take you into the homes of the nobility as well as rural and coastal communities. Through the stories of his family, the Raste clan, Mehendale takes readers on a journey through the state using the flavours of the Warhadi and Saraswat, spicy Kolhapuri curries and Pathare Prabhu delicacies.
The Essential Sindhi Cookbook by Aroona Reejhsinghani
If you haven’t heard of Sindhi curry-tuk, may we know the address of the rock you’ve been hiding under? The classic Sunday lunch at home for most Sindhis is like a warm hug in a vati.
The community’s cuisine has influences of Mughlai and Punjabi dishes, but it still retains flavours and fragrances that scream of Sindhi uniqueness. People displaced from their homeland, Reejsinghani’s cookery book takes a deep-dive into the journey of Sindhi people through its food.
For ‘outsiders’ this book provides insight into the dishes, spice preparations and tastes of Sindhi culture. For its own people, it’s almost like a security blanket of memories that they can hold close to their hearts.
Bangla Ranna: The Bengal Cookbook by Minakshie Das Gupta
From chochories and doi maachh to shukto and sandesh, attempting to recreate Bengali dishes by non-Bengalis can be a hit or a miss. Or as my Punjabi grandma’s recent tryst with sandesh proved, a ‘disaster’. Ms Das Gupta’s book was among the very first ones on Bengali cooking in English with step-by-step instructions for outsiders to follow with ease. The dishes stick to their Bengali roots and the flavours and aromas will transport you back to your grandmother’s kitchen.
Karwar Cuisine by Sindhu Dubhashi
Karwar, Karnataka has managed to hold on to its culinary traditions despite Portuguese influence in the region. Local produce is the star of this cuisine, predominantly fresh coconut, fish, rice and vegetables like drumstick and jackfruit. A Karwar-local, Dubhashi has put together sumptuous vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes for savants and beginners alike. As outside influence makes its way into the region and the younger generation travels far and wide for new opportunities, a book like Dubhashi serves as a reminder of Karwar’s roots.
The Chettinad Cookbook by Meyyammai Murugappan & Visalakshi Ramaswamy
If Chettinad chicken is the first thing that springs to mind, that makes two of us. It’s delicious, but Chettiar kitchens are a repository of spices, flavours and aromas that tend to go unexplored. Murugappan and Ramaswamy put together 276 recipes of both simpler, everyday recipes that are easy for beginners to follow, to the more elaborate and complex dishes that are served during special occasions. With evocative illustrations that capture the ethos of Chettiar Kitchens, this book allows you to explore sumptuous and wholesome Chettinad food at home.
The East Indian Kitchen by Michael Swamy
From capsicum foogath too oxtail soup – Cordon Bleu chef, food stylist and writer, Swamy turns part historian in The East Indian Kitchen. He gives readers a glimpse of the history and influences of East India, one that is rarely read and written about. The fusion of Maharashtrian and Portuguese flavours are a distinct marker of the community’s cuisine, with the banger being the ever-so-famous, yet slightly secretive Bottle Masala. Dive into the culinary traditions of a community that remained tight-lipped about their methods for far too long.
Multiple Flavours of Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine by Annapurna Chak
While Kashmiri Wazwan is known of far and wide, the food of the Kashmiri Pandits is a lesser-explored cuisine. Even being a Hindu community, goat meat plays a big role in the Pandits’ menu. Chak traces the evolution of the Pandit cuisine over the years as aspects of Awadhi cooking were incorporated. The book includes traditional Kashmiri dishes like Shufta and Kabargah, while some others, unheard of outside of the community, surprise readers – Keeme ki Barfi, for example.
The Seven Sisters: Kitchen Tales from the North East by Purabi Shridhar & Sanghita Singh.
Journalists by profession, Shridhar and Singh collected recipes and stories, not from their kitchens but of people from the respective states, with the duo acting as a bridge that connects their tales with readers. Contributors share their recipes, permutations of traditional recipes and personal narratives in the book with feelings of nostalgia that is easy to connect with. Flipping through the book, it comes as no surprise how little we know about the North East beyond what pop-culture and the media tell us. And yes, the Raja Mirchi (bhut jolokia) from Nagaland makes an appearance.
Photo credit: French Embassy, New Delhi
The Pondicherry Kitchen by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis
Unearthing culinary secrets from the elders in the community, dipping into family recipes and long-forgotten food lore, Dr.Tirouvanziam-Louis’s easy-to-follow cookbook presents a potpourri of cultures. Tamilian flavours brew with French influences, and even borrow from Indian, Moghul, French, Portuguese and Malaysian cuisines, offering an insight into the unique culinary heritage of Pondi. We particularly love the Maraval Kujangu Cake (Tapioca Cake), Athu Kary Roll and Pachaiy Patani Curry recipes.
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