Punjabi cuisine is a culinary style originating in the Punjab, a region in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided between Punjab, India and Punjab, Pakistan. This cuisine has a rich tradition of many distinct and local ways of cooking. One is a special form of tandoori cooking that is now famous in other parts of India, UK, Canada, and in many parts of the world.
The local cuisine of Punjab is heavily influenced by the agriculture and farming lifestyle prevalent from the times of the ancient Harappan Civilization. Locally grown staple foods form the major part of the local cuisine. Distinctively Punjabi cuisine is known for its rich, buttery flavours along with the extensive vegetarian and meat dishes. Main dishes include Sarson ka saag (a stew whose main ingredient is mustard greens) and makki ki roti (flatbreads made with cornmeal).
Basmati rice is the indigenous variety of Punjab and many varieties of rice dishes have been developed with this variety. Many vegetable and meat based dishes are developed for this type of rice.
There are many styles of cooking in Punjab. In the villages many people still employ the traditional infrastructure for cooking purposes. This includes wood-fired and masonry ovens. Modern methods include cooking on gas cookers. Tandoori style of cooking involves use of the tandoor. In India, tandoori cooking is traditionally associated with Punjab as Punjabis embraced the tandoor on a regional level. This style of cooking became popular in the mainstream after the 1947 partition when Punjabis resettled in places such as Delhi. In rural Punjab, it is common to have communal tandoors, which are also called Kathtadoors in Punjabi.
Punjab is a major producer of wheat, rice and dairy products. These products also form the staple diet of the Punjabi people. The state of Punjab has one of the highest capita usage of dairy products in India. Therefore, dairy products form an important component of Punjabi diet.
Some north Punjab villages have also developed a local cheese variant known as dhaag, but the tradition of making dhaag is dying out.
Food additives and condiments
Food additives and condiments are usually added to enhance the flavor of the food. The most common additives is vinegar . Food coloring as additive is used in sweet dishes and desserts. Starch is used as a bulking agent.
Since Punjab is the land of five rivers, freshwater fish is an important part in its cuisine. However, sea fish are not consumed since Punjab is not close to the sea.Carp, rohu and catfish are the most commonly prepared fish. Other fish types include thela machi and tilapia. Recently shrimp has been introduced. Fish tikka is an Amritsari speciality.
Paneer (freshly made cottage cheese) Recipes like Shahi Paneer; Khoya Paneer, Paneer Kofta (paneer chunks battered and fried, then simmered in a spicy gravy), Amritsari Paneer, Matar Paneer (paneer with green peas), paneer paratha (wheat flatbread stuffed with paneer)
Panjiri: This is a traditional Punjabi dessert dish which has a generous amount of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, dry dates, cashew nuts along with whole wheat flour, sugar, edible gum, poppy seeds and fennel seeds to make the traditional dish of ‘panjri’ or also known as ‘dabra’.
Saag: a variety of leafy greens (including spinach and mustard greens), typically cooked down to a stew, seasoned with ginger, garlic, chilies and other spices, and often enriched with paneer or cream.
Eggplant: Baingan bharta is similar to baba ghanoush in the way the eggplant is prepared by roasting and peeling the skin off, but much richer, with the incorporation of lots of cooked tomato, browned onion and a variety of spices instead of tahini.
Punj Ratani Dal: A thick gravy that uses 5 legumes, with tomato, browned onion and spices.
Punjabi Kadhi Pakora (traditional curry with rice. Kadhi is a type of curry made with yogurt or buttermilk, which is thickened with chickpea flour and seasoned with ginger, turmeric, chilies, and tempered spices. Deep-fried lumps of spiced chickpea-flour batter (pakoras)are also added.
Punjabi Lassi paneer: In the Punjab, it is traditional to prepare lassi and then extract the paneer which would then be consumed by adding water, salt and chili. Lassi paneer can also be added to potatoes and spices to make a curry which resembles scrambled eggs. Lassi paneer cannot be cut into cubes as paneer from milk can be.
Punjabis eat a variety of Breads. Flatbreads and raised breads are eaten on a daily basis. Raised breads are known as khamiri roti. Sunflower and flax seeds are also added in some breads occasionally. The breads may be made of different types of flour and can be made in various ways:
Salt-rising bread: Salt rising bread is a unique bread found only in the Salt Range region of Punjab, Pakistan. Since rock salt is readily available in salt range so many people in the past made use of salt instead of yeast to leaven the bread.
Sattu is a traditional North Indian drink which is also traditionally consumed in the Punjab. Sattu is made by roasting barley grains and then grinding them into powder, mixed with salt and turmeric and water.
The local regional drinks in Punjab also include Doodh soda (milk soda) and Bantay (local soda drink) in Pakistan.
Canning and bottling for preservation purpose is a common practice in houses. It increase the longevity of the food products for many months. Also in the old infrastructure smoke houses are a common occurrence that are used for smoking the meat products that increase the shelf life of the meat and also add taste in it as well. Smoked meat is known as Bhaapi gosht as well.
In Punjabi cuisine both traditional and modern methods are employed for cooking. The traditional stoves and ovens used to cook Punjabi food include:
Chulla, Punjabi bhathi and tandoor
A Traditional Punjabi stove (Chulla) and oven (Bharolli).
The traditional name of the stove in the Punjabi language is chulla. Traditional houses also have ovens (wadda chulla or band chulla) that are made from bricks, stones, and in many cases clay. Older communities in Punjab also used earth ovens (khadda chulla), but this tradition is dying out now.
Etiquette of eating is considered a major part of the cuisine. Every Punjabi household follows certain regional etiquette. The word etiquette has many local names depending on the particular region of Punjab. Though certain etiquette varies regionally, there are many etiquette practices that are common throughout Punjab. Communal dining is a norm in Punjabi families.
Bringing and sending fresh fruits, sweets and food items as gifts to family members is a common practice in Punjab, particularly during the spring season. Food items are distributed among neighbors as well on special occasions and as a sign to show hospitality. Mango is considered a delicacy and produced widely in Punjab, and mango parties are common during the fruit's harvest season. Watermelon and radish at food stalls are shared among friends and relatives.
Major features of etiquette
Invitation to dine
Invitation to a meal or tea is generally distributed few days beforehand.
Denying the invitation for no major reason is considered a breach of etiquette.
Family members or any occupants within one home make sure to eat together during the dinner.
If any other person is present in the vicinity then they are offered meals as a way of giving respect. It is considered rude to start eating food without asking others to participate in a meal. It is customary to offer food to anyone in your vicinity before eating.
Chewing food with one's mouth open and burping in front of others is considered rude.
In the villages of Punjab, an additional common plate is usually placed on the table for any bones left from the consumption of bone meat. Placing left overs on the floor or on the table floor is considered bad etiquette.
Punjabi families use a hybrid style of South Asia and European utensil etiquette most of the times. The bread is eaten with the hands. Rice and desserts are eaten with spoons. Soup spoons are used for consuming soup and forks are used for eating noodles.