Times Kitchen Tales 2: could baingan ka bharta be our elusive national dish?

What is the national dish of India? Butter Chicken: The Omnipresent Dish in Indian Restaurants? There was a strong discussion in favor of Khichdi. Kitchens across India have versions of it, even if they are called by other names, for example bisibelebhaat in Karnataka. In Bengal, Khichuri evokes memories of the precious ashgamirbhog Durga Puja. In Gujarat, it is often the last main dish of a soul-satisfying thali. For some, it should be eaten when it is not right without associated joy.

A strong case for Biryani

Is khichuri too simple a dish? How about Biryani? It is found on restaurant menus across the country. Put five Biryanis from different parts of the country, for example Hyderabadi, Awadhi from Kolkata, Irani from Mumbai, Thalassery from Kerala and Dindigul from Tamil Nadu, and you will see that each one has a different look and taste. National dish yet?

Some of the dishes known as biryani today are not even biryanis, some say. The Donne Biryani from Bangalore, for example. Or the biryani from Lucknow! The term biryani was used for these pulaos to make them sound more catchy commercially. Just as risotto is used today for rice-based dishes in modern Indian bistros.

Don't forget dosa

What about dosa? The Shettys joints of Udupi led by Mangalore have made the dosa ubiquitous. The most popular breakfast option in Jamshedpur. You will see more people eating dosas than in cholebhatures in New Delhi's sweet shops, such as Nathu’s or Evergreen Sweets. The dosa has variations in texture (thick and crunchy benne dosa from Bengaluru), or composition (green moong pesarattu from Andhra or ragidoa from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu), but it is the Udupi restaurant that is the cookie cutter option ... even Mumbai happened and the Gujaratis took over. The Sai SwadDosa cart in Ghatkopar in Mumbai offers more than 40 varieties of dosas; jini (without garlic onion, with grated vegetables and mixed with crumbled paneer and green chutney), Manchurian pasta and chocolate cheese, for example.

One could make a strong case for puri. Most parts of India have versions of this puffy fried bread. The combination to have it varies too. The maida-based luchi with chholar dal from Bengal, which my grandmother makes, is my favorite.

Don't beat the bharta!

What about baingan kabharta as our national dish? Surprised? Unlike the boy fond of vegetables, potatoes and aubergines are indigenous to India. Versions of smoked aubergine dishes are found everywhere. Ringda no odo/olo from Gujarat, vanguardyachebharit from Maharashtra (regional variations include added ground peanuts in Khandesh, grated coconut with dahi/tomato in Malvan). It started by Bengal, bengenapoorapitika from Assam, baingan chokha from Bihar and baingan bhorta from Odisha.Badanekayipalya in Karnataka (here coconut oil is used and not special round mustard). Tamarind chutney, green chilies, and coriander paste are added to Andhra's vankayabhaaji. In Tamil Nadu, smoked aubergine is called suttakathirikkai, and is more of a hot sauce on the side or as a base for the raita. And let's not forget the good old dhabe-walabaigankabharta!

I have presented my case.

By: Kalyan Karmakar

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