The word ‘authentic’ almost suggests there is a fight brewing on the horizon. Of two sides fighting for supremacy of genuineness. Of what is the real original. The real McCoy. India is a little bit of a mystery. But come on! You knew that already. As a young immigrant for a large part of my early years as a novice chef, a foreign jaunt usually meant meeting with strange people and exploring strange cultures and every time I mentioned the fare on the table would be ‘authentic’ Indian, it invariably meant that I would catch a pair of lighted eyes and genuine interest. That is testament to the fact that in the name of authenticity, many a crime has been committed on India cuisine. Meaning that you are quite likely to get a fake Hyderabadi biryani in Birmingham, UK as you are in Saifabad, Andhra Pradesh. That reaction is typical to a country that has as rich a cultural history as India. It is about a fourth or fifth the size of the United States, has roughly 4 times the population, has been plundered and influenced by scores of invaders that have learnt from its people and left their mark and the culinary influences have certainly left a mark. It is as easy to get 30 different recipes of authentic Dal as there are the number of States in this country. So what is authentic Indian cuisine really? How do you test the genuinely original from a string of me-toos? How do you claim to be the real McCoy? For instance have you explored and searched in vain for authentic Andhra Kodi fry? Frowned in frustration because this original claim by a fraud didn’t even mention the smattering of fried ground peanuts like your Mom put in it? Punched Mom’s phone number to ask her where on Earth you can find the original recipe, only to have her tell you “Beta, I learnt it from your Granny”.
Congratulations! You’ve just been introduced to the great stealthy machine of Indian Culinary annals. The ‘hand-me-down’. Here is the truth people. The faster you come to terms with it the lesser will be your disillusionment. Most permutations and combinations of secretive Indian authenticity is locked away in someone’s head. And the only way to unlock the secret is to kill the keeper. I’m kidding of course, but I know tons of people who feel it is the only way. Vahrehvah and your Vah Chef have worked to dispel the fact that there are indeed keepers of these authentic recipes. There are folks that will never tell. And there are folks who will never give up the quest to know, cook, make the dish turn out like they remember. The recipes you see here are authentic to a fault. They are constantly researched, updated and verified and brought to you for your cooking pleasure because I care about authenticity. I want to bring you the truly genuine way to cook a recipe as it is meant to be. India’s cuisine is much like the Australian population – It has been built on the additions and subtractions from several foreign influences that have sometimes enriched it and often killed it or diluted its richness. The net result is of course very unique to a sub-continent. The contrasting topography of this vast land, from tropical deltas to mountainous hills and growing regions, has contributed to the host of varied ingredients that go into a typical Indian dish. The fact that India is largely diverse in religion and food habits and that the cow is sacred to its vast majority, that various religions allow and disallow certain meats and even vegetables (as in the Jains with restrictions to garlic, onion and roots) has carved out variations in the approach to preparing a dish, its ingredients and therefore its eventual taste. Biryani, for instance – a generally described mish-mash of rice and meats, stirs passions on either side of the divide. Actually several divides. Hyderabadis protect the right to its authenticity. Yet in several pre-mixed masalas you will certainly find “Bombay Biryani”, Sindhi, Goan, Luknawi, Malabar, Kashmiri and even perhaps Punjabi in the making and heaven knows how many different authenticities. Who disputes and regulates the genuine one? I doubt any one can because in their own right these variants are genuine! India’s religion and cultural and regional diversity have been strong influencers in the evolution of it’s a dishes claim to ‘genuine’. Spice and the level of spice and combination of ingredients in a dish contributes to its label. The North loves ‘sauf’ or Fennel to the English speaking. The North also generously tips fennel into a dish like biryani and tweaks its flavor to be more appreciated and craved in the North. Similarly the South is heavily reliant on Curry leaves and Cumin and you are more likely to get heavily accented curry leaf tastes in a genuine southern dish. While authentic India cuisine is a debatable area and I could go on and on about the subtle variants that make a dish unique to its region and people, I do not want to dig deeper into the divide. I am only going to attempt to correctly identify the correct way a dish has been traditionally made and at times comment on variances in region – for instance telling you that when Kashmiris make their version of biryani, you are more likely to find plums and cashewnuts in their idea of authentic. But, hey that is unique to the fair mountainous people. They have to find a way to make use of their surplus cashews and plums, don’t they? They threw it into Biryani and Mutton curry one day and Presto, there was born Kashmiri biryani and Roganjosh. How else would you explain variance? All variance was a matter of accidents turning into a great new experience. And that typifies Indian cuisine. A bunch of terribly sweet accidents that taste good and have a ton of loyal followers across the globe!