West Indian Cuisine
Not to be confused with cuisine from the West Indies, West Indian Cuisine consists of food that is normally consumed in the western states of India. This includes the states of Rajasthan, Maharasthra, Goa, Gujarat as well as some smaller Union Territories. In terms of food, this is one of the most fascinating regions in the country as the proximity to the Arabian Sea, the primary sea-route to Europe, meant that a lot of traders made their way to India through these waters.
That meant, local food and culture, over time, had an influence of these trading, as well as invading, cultures. Then, over time, the evolution process, for these states, has been a crucial determining factor in creating recipes. West Indian Cuisine has developed a unique identity unlike anything else you might see across the country. The key feature of this cuisine is that there is almost no link between the food of each of these states, despite their proximity to each other and to common geographical features.
Different Influences on West Indian Cuisine
To understand how the cuisine in these West Indian states has developed, you need to look at the lay of the land as well as their history. The states of Gujarat and Rajasthan are extremely similar - they are both arid lands, with most of Rajasthan being covered by a desert. In Rajasthan, a region dominated by war and harsh conditions, cuisine was aimed at preserving food for the longer possible duration. A lot of milk is used in the preparation of Rajasthani cuisine, a feature that was implemented to counter for the scarcity of water in the region.
In Gujarat, despite the long and winding coastline, food is primarily vegetarian and fish rarely features on traditional Gujarati dishes. There are a lot of spice and sweet dishes that make up Gujarati food, and it is mostly vegetarian. The state of Goa, on the other hand, leans heavily towards non-vegetarian food and there is a lot of sea-food involved in their cuisine. The state was a Portuguese colony well into the 20th century, and that influence is clearly visible in most of the food coming out of the region.
Maharashtrian cuisine is the last major segment of West Indian Cuisine and its' beauty lies in the variety of spices and vegetables that form its base. However, unlike the food of Gujarat and Rajasthan, there is a lot of meat involved in Maharashtrian cuisine although a lot of the flavours and textures are similar to South Indian foods, than any other part of the country. The huge influx of population, from South Indian states, led to a distinct contribution to Maharashtrian food with everything from fast food to regular dishes carrying a hint of South India too.
What works in the World of West Indian Cuisine
When it comes to cooking West Indian Cuisine, you have a wide range of dishes to choose from, both in the vegetarian and non-vegetarian category. In Rajasthan, for example, many dishes are quite sweet and, so, there is no "dessert" as such. Churma and Motha ka Saag are quite popular dishes as are Laal Maas or Red Mutton and Mohan Maas, or Mutton in Milk. As you move over the border into Gujarat, the cuisine takes a distinctive turn to sweet and savoury vegetarian cuisine.
The common factor between Gujarati and Rajasthani cuisine is that both have a lot of sweet-dishes that are part of the regular meal, not as desserts. Kadhi is one the most famous forms of vegetable-ball dishes that is either sweet or tangy depending on your preference. Undhiyu is something like a vegetarian-casserole, cooked upside down in an earthen-pot with the fire actually burning above the pot, rather than under it.
While traditional Gujarati food is probably the only all-vegetarian form of cuisine in India, Goan food swings in the opposite direction. The liberal use of seafood and the massive influence of the Portuguese settlers has made Goan food practically European. The food isn't very spicy, but things like Fish Curry, Balchão (a spicy sauce made of prawns, pork or fish), and Vindaloo (a pork dish) are extremely popular in the state.
Finally, Maharashtrian food is very limited in terms of non-vegetarian options but Mutton Kohlapuri in Red or White Curry (from the region of Kolhapur) and Chicken or Mutton Maratha, are the main local-ways of preparing meat. Bhaaji generally refers to any dish made of vegetables or a combination of vegetables while Lentils form an essential part of the cuisine too!
There are a lot of different cuisines across India but nothing as widely varied as West Indian Cuisine. The jump in taste, textures and ingredients, from one state to the next, is so massive, they might as well be in different continents! The key element of West Indian Cuisine is that it is fit for almost every palate thanks to the variety of ingredients and the relatively milder taste that is its basis. Without a doubt, it is one of the most diverse forms of food you can find across the country.