Mughlai, Awadhi and Punjabi cuisines: North Indian food decoded!

Mughlai, Awadhi and Punjabi cuisines: North Indian food decoded!
North Indian cuisine. Photo: Shutterstock Images

"Indian Food" is the blanket term given to the wide variety of cuisines the Indian subcontinent offers to the world. However, living in India, we know that the plethora of cuisines categorized as Indian food is extremely different in cooking styles, flavour pallets, and dishes.

While the indulgent and rich flavours of North India are drastically different from the mellow flavours of the south, the complication arises in differentiating two cuisines belonging to the same region.

This brings us to our topic of discussion today… how to differentiate between three of the most popular cuisines of North India- Mughlai, Awadhi and Punjabi cuisines!

(Yes, they are very different from one another!)

If you too are perplexed about this, don't worry… rest assured, you are not alone.

Even if you know how to cook an array of dishes from each of the three cuisines, the chances are that you don't identify each cuisine's different flavour nuances and cooking styles.

Allow us to elaborate further on this.

Mughlai Cuisine
As the name suggests, this rich cuisine originated during the reign of the Mughal Empire. You can find traces of the influence of Turkish cuisine (Turkey being where the Mughal kings hailed from) in the bold flavours of Mughlai food.

Mughlai food uses an array of aromatic spices that give the cuisine a spicier palette than the other North-Indian cuisines. The dishes are also a tad heavier compared to other cuisines, given the amount of dry fruits, heavy cream, and milk used to prepare them - a virtue that highlights the cuisine's Persian influence.

Seekh Kebab. Photo: Shutterstock Images

Though the cuisine has a majority of non-vegetarian dishes, some of our favourite (and staple) vegetarian curries (like Shahi Paneer) and lentils belong to this cuisine. Some of the world’s most relished kebabs (like the Galawati kebabs and Seekh Kebabs) belong to this cuisine. The most popular accompaniment to Mughlai cuisine is the delectable Bakarkhani, or a thick biscuit-like bread prepared with molasses and sugar mixed with flour and ghee.

Other popular Mughlai dishes include:
Nihari (A stew prepared by slow-cooking meat and flavoured with long pepper)
Korma (A braised vegetable or meat curry cooked with yoghurt)
Qeema Mattar (A minced lamb or mutton curry prepared with peas)

Awadhi Cuisine
People often confuse Awadhi cuisine with Mughlai food. The confusion is justified, given that even though the flavour profiles and techniques of cooking the dishes of the two cuisines are different, their names are the same! Take seekh kebab, for example; authentic Mughlai cuisine uses minced beef to prepare this delicacy, whereas the Awadhi cuisine uses minced lamb on skewers to make seekh kebabs.

One must note that chronologically Mughlai cuisine came before Awadhi cuisine, and the food of the Mughals greatly influenced the latter.

Awadhi dum biryani. Photo: Shutterstock Images

A quick fact check- Awadhi cuisine’s origin can be traced back to the city of Nawabs, Lucknow. Introduced to India by the Nawabs of Awadh, hailing from Persia, this cuisine's flavour profile is a lot more delicate than its rich inspiration (Mughlai).

One of the most famous techniques of preparing Awadhi food is the process of 'Dum' cooking. In dum-style cooking, the vessel the food is cooked in is sealed using dough between the vessel and its lid; thus, no steam is let out till the food is completely cooked. This technique preserves the aroma and the nutrients of the dish perfectly.

The famous Tunday Kababs of Awadhi cuisine are regarded as the world's softest and most succulent kebabs. They are named after the physical attributes of the famous Chef Haji Murad Ali, who had only one arm. The chef was awarded the patronage of the Nawab because of his culinary aptitude.

Other famous Awadhi Dishes include:
Awadhi Dum Biryani
Zarda- a dessert prepared with rice
Warqi parathas- extremely delicate flaky parathas

Punjabi Cuisine
Hailing from the State of Punjab, this cuisine is represented by millions of home kitchens in the North! This cuisine has dishes made by using the commonly grown crops of this region.

This cuisine is hearty and comforting, with dishes that burst with flavour and are rather indulgent with the heavy utilization of ghee and butter that goes into it.

Paratha. Photo: Shutterstock Images

Unlike the other two northern Indian cuisines, this cuisine has a majority of vegetarian dishes in its portfolio. Therefore, the food is easy to prepare and is the staple cuisine in many north Indian homes. But the one technique that is particular to this cuisine is tandoor cooking. A tandoor is a clay oven used most often to prepare breads like roti and naans. The apparatus renders an earthy taste to the bread because of the coal that's used in it.

Hands down the most popular Punjabi dish is the Paratha - which is nothing but a stuffed roti. The permutations and combinations of Paratha stuffing are endless. Up North, there are restaurants dedicated to only parathas! Dishes like the Sarson ka saag and Makki ki roti are other popular Punjabi dishes that are prepared during the winters, given the seasonal availability of the greens used to make this dish.

Now that you are well versed with the difference between the cuisine, which one would you say are you most familiar with?

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