Sunday, August 22, 2010

Uttar Pradesh

 Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi (Benares) all lie in the state of Uttar Pradesh, testimony to the cultural and historical richness of the region which was the setting for two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Agra, of course has the Taj Mahal. Lucknow is famed for its refined Moghali court cuisine and Varanasi is where all Hindus hope to die, cleansed by the Ganges. The fertile plains are watered by two mighty river systems—the Indus and Ganga-Brahmaputra plus there are vast underground water reserves for irrigation. Temperatures are extreme—searing hot, dusty and dry in summer, moderate in spring and freezing cold and windy in winter. Mid-July brings torrents of monsoon rains. Hardy millet, barley, corn and jowar, a type of sorghum are grown across the plains as are pulses and many types of fruits and vegetables. Foods of the northern plain are a contrast of rich, complex meat-heavy, cream and nut enriched Moghul-Muslim and Maharaja palace dishes with the hearty peasant fare of rural villagers and farmers based on grains, breads, and pulses. Moghuls married into the neighboring Rajput warrior kingdoms, a clever move to keep the provinces united, prevent clashes and free both parties for the pleasantries of game hunting.  Nowhere was the cuisine more refined than in Awadh, in what is now the Lucknow district of Uttar Pradesh. Here dum pukht , a method of slowly steaming food in a pot sealed shut with bread dough came into style near the end of the Moghul empire. The Nawabs of Lucknow left a legacy of extravagant foods, flowery language and a gentrified way of life that still lingers today. Delhi is India’s capital and third largest city. Here, the food is a babble of North Indian, Punjabi and Mughali fare. Behind the gates of Old Delhi are congested lanes spiraling around the Jama Masjid, or Friday mosque built by Emperor Shah Jahan. Nearby are venerable restaurants serving whole roast leg of lamb (raan), lamb kebabs and kheema (ground meat curry). The original inhabitants of the city were the Hindi-speaking warrior-Brahmin Kayasthas, a well-educated class who became administrators to the Muslim rulers.  Their cooking reflects the food of Uttar Pradesh with distinct Muslim influences. Typical dishes include mutton and potatoes in rich gravy, lamb do piaza (with double the amount of onions) and vegetables stuffed with green mango powder, chilies, coriander and aniseed, then fried with onions, spices and tomatoes.

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