Food History

Why Pasta Is an Essential Part of Indian Regional Cuisine

And why it deserves a place in your cooking repertoire, too.

by:
October  1, 2020
Photo by Juss by Sindhful

When I visited Leh, a dusty Himalayan town and the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Ladakh, it was at the onset of winter. Tiny cafes serving Himalayan meals to weary trekkers had begun wrapping up for the season. On my last night after an arduous pine forest walk, when I couldn’t be bothered about what to get for dinner (I just want something hot and spicy!, I thought to myself) I spotted a three-letter dish called kev.

Resembling strozzapreti, a Tuscan pasta variety that looks like chopped pieces of a thin rope, a bowl of kev is just that, except it’s made of whole wheat flour and tempered with a handful of Indian spices and mountain beans. And this is just one example of the range of Himalayan pastas that are common in this part of the country. Their skyu is an orecchiette look-alike; chutagi feels like a distant cousin of minestrone; and bhatsa marku, a Tibetan version of mac and cheese comes topped with dri (female yak) cheese.

Down south, the Malabari Muslims cook something known as kakka roti. The gnocchi-shaped dumplings are kneaded with rice flour and water, and dished out mainly during Ramadan. The nuggets are poached in a combination of boiling thick and light coconut milk sauce and they are eaten soft and pillowy, not al dente, just like the Roman variety. The Konkani Muslims' pasta, saravle, is ring-shaped and often gifted to a new bride by her parents during her going-away ceremony. The tradition calls for lugging it to her new home, in case unexpected guests show up!

Besides made-from-scratch varieties, certain communities make use of store-bought spaghetti and macaroni—like the Dawoodi Bohra community from the west coast of India, and the Sindhis from Gujarat and Rajasthan. These aren’t modern fusion recipes, but adaptations based on immigration, trade, and, yes, colonial influence, that have been a part of their regional repertoire for years.

Take for instance the classic Bohra specialty, dabba gosht (which translates to "boxed meat"): It can be best described as an Indian-style casserole, wherein spaghetti is tempered with curry leaves, mixed with a milk sauce and meat, and baked in an oven like a gratin. Before ovens became more common in Indian kitchens, the dish was cooked in heavy tin boxes on a stove, giving the recipe its name.

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Top Comment:
“I started wondering about it when I saw Sindhi friends eat it in their tiffins. I thought it was one of those brown mum fusion recipes. Turns out it is as original and authentically Indian as palak panner!”
— Sonal V.
Comment

Similarly, the Sindhi delicacy, maronyul patata, is a lesson in history. Sindhi Workies, who were early merchant traders in British India, often brought back from their travels unique ingredients for their families to experiment with. After a trip likely to Europe or the Americas, this dish was born out of one such experiment.

Yet however they might have come to be, my opinion is that Indian-style pastas should be celebrated for bringing together some untapped flavors—all combined into a vibrant bowl I like to call happiness.


Macronyul Patata


Mutton chutagi

Recipe by chef Nilza Wangmo, founder of Alchi Kitchen

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 3 to 4

Ingredients

  • 200 grams all-purpose flour
  • 80 grams cold water, plus more to cook the mutton and vegetables
  • 100 grams cubed mutton (boneless and bone-in)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic, plus 2 whole cloves
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder (like cayenne)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons mustard oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cauliflower florets, roughly chopped

Method

  1. To a large mixing bowl, add the flour and water. Knead it into a soft dough.
  2. Dust the kitchen table with additional flour and turn out the dough onto the counter. Roll it into a thin sheet (ensure it’s not see-through).
  3. Using a cookie cutter, cut small rounds out of the pasta sheet. Wind the circle around your index finger and pinch to join the edges. It should look like a tube.
  4. Pull the finger out and pinch the open corners of this tube closed, to resemble two cones joined together.
  5. In a Dutch oven, add the mutton, whole cloves of garlic, salt, and enough water to cover the meat. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes until the meat is tender.
  6. In a separate large sauté pan, heat mustard oil and add the onion. Add turmeric, chile powder, chopped garlic, and tomatoes and sauté well.
  7. Add black pepper and garam masala and sauté for another minute. Add the vegetables with a splash of water.
  8. Allow this mixture to bubble until vegetables are completely cooked, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the pasta pieces, cooked mutton, and some mutton stock if you like.
  9. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes until the pasta is al dente.
  10. Plate and serve hot.

Have you ever tried Indian regional pasta? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Niya
    Niya
  • Sonal Ved
    Sonal Ved
Sonal Ved

Written by: Sonal Ved

Author of Tiffin, 500 recipes celebrating Indian cuisine

2 Comments

Niya October 1, 2020
As a child of the Sindhi diaspora I've been trying to make sense of why we (over)cooked macaroni and potatoes (who combines two starches and thinks it's a good idea for a people who are prone to diabetes?) and decided it was a great idea. Thank you for shedding light on something that has puzzled me for decades.
 
Author Comment
Sonal V. October 2, 2020
I started wondering about it when I saw Sindhi friends eat it in their tiffins. I thought it was one of those brown mum fusion recipes. Turns out it is as original and authentically Indian as palak panner!