Food from Indian states is healthy and varied. (File photo)

Healthy and delicious: India’s regional food widens reach, appeal

Be it Bihari Champaran meat sold in roadside eateries or Mumbai Pao served to G20 leaders, state delicacies are going places

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

President Droupadi Murmu’s dinner on Saturday for visiting G20 leaders served Mumbai Pao, jackfruit galette with glazed forest mushrooms, and Kashmiri Kahwa. The menu beautifully represented India’s states and regions.

India’s regional foods, from ragi roti to Champaran meat, have long travelled all corners of the country: what is new is the discovery of the exotic and acknowledgement of their diverse taste and health value. As the government promotes millets, indigenous ingredients such as yellow Himalayan chillies, tree tomatoes, black garlic, and kaitha or elephant apple have found place in restaurant menus and home kitchens.

“Indian regional cuisines such as South Indian Street dishes, Bengali specialties as well as North Eastern offerings, including pork and bamboo shoot dishes are now famous amongst the locals and global diners,” says Delhi based chef Ajay Chopra.

“There is a growing interest in authentic flavours and culinary exploration, with chefs and food enthusiasts playing a pivotal role in introducing these diverse cuisines to a wider audience,” he says.

Indians eschewing processed and packaged foods are eating what was cooked in their home traditionally.
“We had given importance to nutritional value of each item and our ancestors created a beautiful full meal that consisted of everything from carbohydrates to protein to anything essential for human body. Also we have alternative to every harmful product – such as honey or jaggery instead of processed sugar; rock salt instead of iodine salt,” says Karishma Bhalla, a food blogger in Noida.

Eating Indian Food The Right Way And To Stay Healthy

“Follow the practice of eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, which aligns with the wisdom of Ayurveda. It is believed that it is best to consume fruits and vegetables according to their seasons,” says Delhi based Dr. Sangeeta Tiwari, Clinical Dietician, Artemis Lite at New Friends Colony.

One should focus on incorporating wholegrains such as millets, maize, and cereals like sorghum and pearl millet into your diet. They are not only healthy but also versatile for various dishes. By incorporating whole grains into your diet, you can have healthy meals without compromising on taste.

Indian cooking uses herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cumin for health benefits. “We must learn about the medicinal properties of spices like hing (asafoetida), ajwain (carom seeds), and fenugreek. Use them judiciously for flavour and digestive benefits,” says Tiwari.

Ragi: The forgotten superhero

Celebrity chef Kunal Kapur recently took to Instagram to share the millet-based meal he served the First Ladies at G-20 summit. “India can teach the world about better cereals like millets as well as slow cooking. This is also the year of millets which are rich in minerals, iron. All our cuisine started with millets but the world uses highly refined flour which is not great for health,” he says.

“Ragi, also known as finger millet, is a great source of calcium and potassium. Ragi rotis are high in fibre and minerals and have many other health benefits,” says Prashant Parameswaran, chief executive officer and managing director of Soulfull, an FMCG company.

Ragi’s high fibre content makes it easier to digest; its natural fat content is lower than other grains, and it has unsaturated fat. Eating ragi and giving up wheat and rice is a good choice for people trying to lose weight.

Millet Express, a company, said its bestselling products like Millet Poori, Ragi Dosa, and Millet Khichdi have a customer repeat rate of 72 per cent. “We have the middle aged (diabetic/pre-diabetic) who were suggested to avoid rice from their diet. They order frequently (4-5 times a week). The second category is fitness enthusiasts and elites who are trying to adopt millets into their diet. They order 2-3 times a week. Frankly speaking, it’s not an easy change. One has to overcome the perception that millets aren’t as tasty as rice, which has a big placebo effect,” says Pavan K, cofounder of Millet Express.

What’s Trending

Mango lassi is the fastest moving Indian beverage outside of India. The next decade belongs to Indian food, especially regional food. For instance, the Champaran meat is a very typical Bihari dish, but it has become so popular and everyone from top restaurants to humble dhabas are doing it. Ditto with biryani which is bursting with so much flavour and punch that the world loves it.

According to Chef Rakesh Sethi, Corporate Executive Chef, South Asia – Radisson Hotel Group, “Bihar boasts a rich heritage of culture and learning. From this historical region, culinary treasures like Champaran Meat emerged. Originating in the district of Champaran, it is a beloved dish that has captured the hearts and palates of people across the subcontinent. Over the years, this dish has evolved, and its popularity gradually spread to some adjoining places/states like Uttar Pradesh.” Sethi shares the recipe in detail- Goat meat for Champaran Meat is traditionally marinated with onions, garlic, and spices. While some recipes use a mix of mustard oil and desi ghee, others opt for just mustard oil. The meat is then placed in an earthenware pot, sealed tightly with whole wheat dough, preventing steam escape. This dish doesn’t require water; it slowly cooks in its juices, dum style, for 1.5 to 2 hours. Slowly cooked over wood embers or hot charcoal, the handi is carefully shaken to prevent sticking. This culinary delight is a must-try, offering a taste of Bihar’s rich gastronomic heritage.”

Finally, a caveat. Don’t overindulge in Indian fat, food and spices. “It’s a lot about timing,” says Chef Kunal Kapur- “If you are eating healthy food at midnight, it will do more harm than good. Have your last meal before sunset.”

Balance rich, creamy dishes by combining them with lighter options like daal (lentils) or grilled vegetables. Limit consumption of deep-fried snacks, as they can be high in unhealthy fats. Rather than deep frying, you can also consider shallow frying. Be cautious of sugary Indian sweets and desserts. To keep yourself away from health issues, you can opt for alternatives with reduced sugar or natural sweeteners.

“There are two things to watch out for- the nature of oil and the kind of heat you subject your food to. One should use good oil such as cold pressed oil, ghee, butter. Go for slow cooking, stir fry, pressure cooking and cooking styles which involve the minimum heating,” says Ishi Khosla, a renowned Delhi based clinical nutritionist. Talking about what is healthy in Indian non vegetarian, she says “fish is the best of the lot” in meats. “Grills, kebabs and tandoori non-veg are great too. In curries, so long as it is light gravy not using too much of oil, it is fine. A good way of taking non veg is to combine them with vegetables. What is not good is poultry with hormones. In India, red meat is ok and isn’t subject to too much contamination and it’s fine to have it once or twice a week.”

A potential downside of Indian food is its high calorie and fat content. “Indian dishes can be calorie-dense, so practice portion control to avoid overeating,” says clinical dietician Dr Sangeeta Tiwari.

Price chart

An Indian meal for two will approximately cost Rs 700-1,500 in restaurants

Dish Price (in Rs)
Lotus stem ships  355
Mumbai Masala Pav  475
Mini Chutney Idlis  495
Masala Khichdi  495
Champaran Meat  685
Dal Makhani  535

Source: Business Standard

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