Food: Chefs pick Indian dishes that should be on the UNESCO cultural heritage list
As Italy nominates the Neapolitan Pizza as contender to make it to the UNESCO cultural heritage list, Krutika Behrawala asks popular chefs which Indian culinary creations deserve a nomination
My pick: Tandoori Chicken
Tandoori Chicken served at chef Atul Kochhar's outposts, Benares in London and NRI in Mumbai
My vote would go to Tandoori Chicken. The dish has its origin in the Indian subcontinent, and according to me, it is by far, the best dish that the world associates Indian cuisine with. It is widely popular across South Asia — including Singapore, Indonesia, but also the Middle East, and the Western world.
It’s essentially roasted chicken prepared with yogurt and spices; amazingly simple and very versatile, the delicate flavour gels well with the spicing. At Benares (Kochhar’s restaurant) in London, we make a ceremony of serving it — presenting the whole bird at the table, straight from the tandoor oven, and then taking it away for carving before re-presenting it.
My pick: Baked Boondi Gulab Jamun Cheesecake
Baked Boondi Gulab Jamun Cheese cake
India’s festivals are mithai-centric, and the variety at sweet shops is irresistible. Though chocolates and pastries have taken over conventional sweets for many occasions, traditional mithais rule.
You can also play with mithai to create fusion desserts. For instance, my signature dessert, the Baked Boondi Gulab Jamun Cheesecake, gives New York’s baked cheesecake an Indian twist, with biscuit layer and boondi as the base and a cheesecake filling encrusted with bites of Gulab Jamun. Mithais can also be compiled into dessert jars to last longer.
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My pick: Awadhi Dum Biryani
Dum Biryani. Representation Pic
I’m no expert in the vast expanse of Indian food possibilities. However, if I were to nominate one of the many dishes I’ve had the good fortune of experiencing throughout my time here, it would have to be a traditional Awadhi Dum Biryani.
Like with pizza, there is great stuff and not-so-great stuff. But when you eat the perfect biryani, you feel it in your bones. I won’t forget the first time I ate a great biryani (at Dum Pukht at The ITC Maurya in Delhi) and I consider it worth adding to the UNESCO cultural heritage list.
My picks: Dosa and samosa
Samosas at a streetside stall
A fermented rice and lentil pancake, the indigenous dosa originated in Udupi, Karnataka, according to historians. It’s an integral part of South Indian culture and preferred as a light meal by every household in the rest of India too. In Tamil Nadu, it’s thick; in Karnataka, it’s thin and crispy, accompanied by coconut chutney and sambar.
It is also accepted globally, especially in Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. Another item that has been part of our culture for centuries is the samosa — a crunchy thin crust that holds a spiced filling of potatoes and peas. Its heritage dates back to the Mughul era of Emperor Akbar. It’s accepted across castes, creed and religions, making it a national snack. It is consumed by both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Marketed as a street food item, morning or evening tea snack, its consumption is in millions across the globe too.
My picks: Kadi Patta, Goa Sausage
Goa Sausage Skillet at The Sassy Spoon
I would nominate two ingredients — Kadi Patta and Goa sausage. Kadi Patta can be used them crispy fried, in a tadka, or in a masala, or even for crusting a fish. You’ll find it in chivda, mutton sukha, dahi kadi, dal; the list is endless.
The Goa Sausage can be stuffed in naans or even made into a pulao. At The Sassy Spoon, we make Goa Sausage Skillet with mac and homemade Queso (cheese sauce). It’s a dish with the perfect balance.
My pick: Bottle gourd
Goa Sausage Skillet at The Sassy Spoon
Bottle Gourd has long held a significant place in Indian cuisine, even though it isn’t always celebrated or popular. With its unobtrusive taste, the vegetable is versatile enough to be used in many dishes, both savoury and sweet.
Bottle gourd also has numerous health benefits and holds a special place in the Indian Ayurvedic medicinal system. I’ve created a pasta recipe (with bottle gourd peeled and cut as noodles), which is light and flavourful. The bottle gourd noodles allow the simple, fresh ingredients to do the talking.
Chef Kelvin Cheung's Bottlegourd Pasta recipe:
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
2 kgs peeled, cut bottle gourd noodles
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped or sliced nuts of your choice
1/3 cup shredded parmesan
1. In a hot pan add olive oil and saute bottle gourd until almost cooked
2. Add garlic, shallots and chili flakes, cherry tomatoes and sweat for 3 min
3. Deglaze with white wine and reduce till almost dry.
4. Toss in fresh herbs and nuts and toss with cheese and serve immediately.
My pick: Tandoori chicken
If there is one dish that exudes Indian culture, it is Tandoori Chicken. Popular the world over and loved throughout India, the unique dish will always be known as India’s greatest recipe. Simply marinated and roasted in a searingly hot clay oven, this dish has seen many a transformation over the years.
UNESCO cultural heritage list
A counterpart of the World Heritage List, UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which was established in 2008, focuses on traditions, practices, skills and expressions (also known as living heritages), with an aim to ensure better protection and awareness of their significance. It comprises two lists: a representative list featuring cultural aspects that help demonstrate the country’s heritage, and a shorter list featuring those elements that require urgent safeguarding.
Culinary traditions around the world on UNESCO’s cultural heritage list
Lavash making in Armenia: The practice of making the traditional thin bread, that’s an integral part of Armenian cuisine, was inscribed in the Representative list in 2014. It’s a group effort, largely undertaken by women, which requires effort, coordination, skills and experience, passed on via generations. Lavash also plays a ritual role in weddings, where it is placed on the shoulders of newlyweds to bring fertility and prosperity.
Georgian Qveri wine-making method: Practised throughout Georgia, the ancient wine-making process involves families participating in pressing the grapes, pouring the juice, grape skins, stalks and pips into the Qvevri, an egg-shaped earthern vessel, which is then sealed and buried in the ground for five-six months to aid fermentation of the wine. The tradition was inscribed on the list in 2013.
Turkish coffee tradition: Made with freshly roasted beans ground into a fine powder, then brewed with cold water and sugar, Turkish coffee traditionally plays an integral part of social occasions as well as a must-have during rendezvous with friends and families. The dredges left in the cup are often used to tell a person’s fortune too.
Shrimp fishing on horseback: In a small place called Oostduinkerke in Belgium, 12 households engage in shrimp fishing, twice a week, except in winter months, on the strong Brabant horses. Using funnel-shaped nets, the shrimpers place the catch n baskets tied at horses’ sides. The community also holds a two-day shrimp festival that attracts over 10,000 visitors every year.
Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia: Originating in certain European monasteries during the Middle Ages, the gingerbread making tradition arrived in Croatia where it became a craft. Using their skill, passed via generations, and speed, the craftspeople make and decorate gingerbread in a specific way. Each gingerbread maker operates within a certain area without interfering with that of another craftsperson. The tradition made it to the list in 2010.