Geography of Taste: the many GI tagged foods of India

geographical indication foods of india
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An indicator of exclusivity, Geographical Indication is a tag that which specially identifies products and commodities and goods as native to a particular region. Even for food, the accreditation of this tag is a definite marker of specialty. Exploring the taste of such food products occurring over the entire expanse of India is definitely an exercise in geography as well as gastronomy. Taking a look therefore at such food experiences that celebrates also the diverse identity of the country-

Bikaneri Bhujia, Rajasthan

A much loved crispy snack that Indians indulge in with fervor, the Bikaneri Bhujia of Rajasthan was endowed the Geographical Indication tag in 2010. With a history that draws back to 1877, this particular variant of bhujia is a preparation of moth beans and besan and spices with a characteristic light yellow color and aromatic flavour that which renders it distinctive. Taking its name from the town of Bikaner where it originated, this is indeed a unique specimen of the very Indian snack and is popular enough to trespass amalgamating territories to emerge as a generic identity in itself.

Odisha Rasagola, Odisha

One of the sweets widely contending for the GI tag that would lend it a venerable identity is the healthy and delicious rasgulla. With the states of West Bengal and Odisha both laying their claim to these syrupy roundels of whiteness, Odisha finally managed to obtain the tag as recently as in 2019 for a version of the sweet unique to it. Claimed by Odia historians to have originated in the state’s temple town of Puri where it had been traditionally offered as bhog to goddess Lakshmi at the Jagannath Temple there, the sweet is famous as the rasagola here. Quite different from the Bengali variant in colour, texture, taste, juice content and method of manufacturing, the Odisha Rasagola dwells therefore in a sweet dimension of its own heritage standing.

Darjeeling Tea, West Bengal

Famed as the Champagne of Teas, Darjeeling Tea is a flavorful and aromatic blend of tea exclusive to the regions of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal. The first product of India to have been awarded the Geographical Indication tag way back in 2004, the status alludes only to the tea grown at an elevation ranging from 600 to 2000 metres above sea level, in 87 identified gardens and tea estates in both the aforementioned districts of the state.

Bandar Laddu, Andhra Pradesh

The most famous of sweet stemmings from the state of Andhra Pradesh is the bandar laddoo or thokkudu ladoo. In its surprisingly smooth and creamy texture, it might be hard to believe that this particular sweetmeat is just another variant of the besan ke laddoo that finds wide relish throughout the length and breadth of the country. A tedious process lasting for some six to seven hours yields these ghee laden balls of deliciousness that originated in Rajasthan but are today a staple of the city of Machilipatnam or Bandar of which it has been recognised as a GI product since 2017.

Naga Mircha, Nagaland

One of the hottest known chili peppers, the Naga Mircha is a product from the north eastern part of the country. Native to Nagaland, with a sweet and slightly tart flavor, followed by slight undertones of woody, smoky flavors, this particular chili variant received the GI tag between April 2008 – March 2009 as the first such recognised product of the state.

Banglar Rasogolla, West Bengal

Notwithstanding the adages of victory and defeat in the sweet battle between West Bengal and Odisha, rasgullas from each state managed to get itself enlisted as GI products of India. The Banglar rasogollas were the first to make themselves clear in their definite breed as they received the tag in 2017, for a version of the iconic sweet popular throughout the country despite its disputed history.

Khaje, Goa

Khaje
Source: SodaMonk

A centuries old festive sweet that is a staple of temple zatras and church feasts in Goa, Khaje is yet another delectable presence in the GI list of foodstuff native to India. Finger sized sticks of gram flour that come encrusted with ginger infused jaggery and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, these are deep fried traditional sweets of a state more popular however for its offerings of bebinca and feni. Boasting of a unique taste that which derives from its infusion of the Goan ginger, local salt and potable well water that goes into making it, mountain high stacks of khaje are a very common sight at fairs and festivals in the state.

Srivilliputtur Palkova, Tamil Nadu

Srivilliputtur Palkova
Source: Twitter

An authentic sweetmeat of Tamil Nadu, Srivilliputtur Palkova is a piece of pure milk deliciousness. Cow’s milk is boiled for hours on end on a slow wood fire to reduce it to the desired consistency before it is let its sweet sheen with the addition of sugar. What makes this particularly sweet so lipsmacking among the many other milk based sweets so prevalent in India is the quality of the ingredient. With more fat content, the milk in this region makes for sweets that are understandably richer in taste, with the natural saccharine content of it indeed making for an enhanced experience with the flavours. Instantly decipherable in its milky yellow color and noted for its smooth texture, the very defining nature of this sweet that found its way to south India from the northern part of the country granted it the coveted Geographical Indication tag in 2019.

Jaynagarer Moa, West Bengal

Among the many sweets that West Bengal is so famous for and that which lends the state an identity of its own is also the rather unique Jaynagarer moa. A seasonal delicacy of the winters that which makes for a sinful bite resplendent with the deliciousness of date palm jaggery or more popularly, nolen gur. Jaynagarer Moa got its Geographical Indication tag in 2015 and makes for a distinctive sweetmeat in also making use of the Kanakchur Khoi with ghee, elaichi and poppy seeds being the other ingredients.

Chak- Hao, Manipur

A glutinous rice variant from Manipur in India, chak hao or black rice has received inclusion as a GI product of India in 2020. Fragrant and healthier than white rice, chak hao is particularly popular in the north east Indian state where it sees wide incorporation especially in a number of sweet dishes.

Hyderabadi Haleem, Telangana

Hyderabadi Haleem
Source: The Hindu

The only meat based dish with a Geographical Indication tag to its name, Hyderabadi haleem is the Indian version of an otherwise authentically Arabic food preparation. With an array of ingredients ranging from meat and wheat to butter and milk to lentils and dry fruits and of course a wide assortment of spices, it is the taste and aroma of the Hyderabadi preparation that lends the dish its immense popularity. A staple at celebratory events as well as a dish commonly consumed as part of iftar and at Eid feasts, the Hyderabadi haleem rode on its mind blowing infusion of flavours and taste to gain the coveted status in 2010.

Dharwad Pera, Karnataka

Native to the city of Dharwad in Karnataka is its famous namesake sweet treat, the Dharwad peda. With a history that spans some hundred and seventy five years, the sweet is a delectable mouthful of milk, sugar and dharwadi buffalo milk. Originating from one Ram Ratan Singh Thakur who fled Unnao in Uttar Pradesh to come and settle down in Dharwad after a plague outbreak in the former, this really iconic Indian sweet ended up getting its GI status in 2007 in its signature caramel flavour and also its enticing coffee brown color.

Kovilpatti kadalai mittai, Tamil Nadu

Kovilpatti kadalai mittai
Source: IndiaMART

A rather delicious peanut candy from Tamil Nadu, the Kovilpatti kadalai mittai is another of the recent food additions to the Geographical Indication tag list catering to India. Originally made from palm jaggery and groundnut that were shaped into balls, the sweet in its current form is rather a rectangular cut of sugarcane jaggery and peanuts. It is the use of the fresh and pale, organic and special Theni jaggery that lends this mithai its unique taste. Also prominent is the use of water from the Thamirabarani river along with the local variants of its primary ingredients that makes this fare from Tamil Nadu even more distinctive in taste.

Mysore Betel leaf, Karnataka

Mysore Betel leaf
Source: Wikipedia

Native to the Indian subcontinent, betel leaves anyway occupy an important place in the cultural traditions of India. But Mysore has even its own variant of the betel leaf known as the Mysore betel leaf or ‘Mysore Chigurele’ (Mysore sprout leaf). Having been granted the Geographical Indication status in 2005, this variety of the betel leaf is unique as far as its texture and taste is concerned. Grown first in the gardens of the Mysore Maharaja, these betel leaves became noted for their smooth texture and hot taste that which is a derivant from the soil qualities of the region. Specifically, it is the presence of black clay in the soil along with the hot, humid climate of Mysore that gives this namesake betel leaf its special characteristics deserving of the GI status.

Tirupati Laddu, Andhra Pradesh

The many foods of India that have received the Geographic Indication tag include also an array of such names that hold religious significance. And the famous Tirupati Laddu of Andhra Pradesh is one such name that occupies place of reverence both as a sweet and as a religious offering. Offered as Naivedhyam to Venkateswara at Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in the state and later offered as prasadam to devotees, the laddu is made from gram flour, cashew nuts, cardamom, ghee, sugar, sugar candy and raisins in the temple kitchen known as Potu. A tradition that goes back to 1716, the offering of these laddus take the form of three variants. With an average churning of 2.8 lakh laddus per day, the immensely popular sweet received its Geographic Indication tag way back in 2009.

Bardhaman Sitabhog and Mihidana, West Bengal

Sitabhog and Mihidana
Source: Moha-mushkil

While West Bengal might not be the state with the most GI tags to its name, it sure is the clear winner when it comes to claiming similar status in respect of sweets. In steps an iconic duo from the region of Bardhaman that which makes for an irresistible combination of sweetness- the sitabhog and mihidana. While sitabhog is a cottage cheese based dessert, akin to a pulao in its white and grainy appearance, mihidana happens to be a rice flour and gram flour based preparation, reminiscent almost of boondi pearls in also its yellow color though smaller in size and stickier in texture. Receiving the Geographical Indication status simultaneously in 2017, both these sweet dishes had their origins during the reign of Maharaja Late Mahatabchand Bahadur sometime during the British rule in India.

‘Panchamirtham’ of Palani Murugan Temple, Tamil Nadu

Like Andhra Pradesh’s Tirupati ladoo, Tamil Nadu also has its own holy offering finding place among the list of GI tagged foods of India. That distinction goes to the offering of Panchamirtham of the Palani Murugan Temple in the state that which was accorded the recognition in 2019. A concoction of banana, cow ghee, cardamom, jaggery and honey in which dates and sugar candies also make for additions, the panchamritam is a semi solid sweet tasting preparation more religious than culinary in significance.

Basmati

Perhaps the most popular GI tagged food product of India is a variant of rice known as basmati. Long grained and slender, and known for its fluffiness when cooked this aromatic rice received a GI tag that which makes it cultivable only in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Western Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir within the country.


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