Snuggled up under thick fluffy blankets, sipping a strong cup of coffee is how I grudgingly welcome winter mornings. Almost nothing can force me to jump up from the bed instantly, except the sinful woody aroma of Jhola nolen gur (liquid date jaggery) served with rotis or pancakes for breakfast. Freshly sourced for local markets, this is liquid gold packed in earthen pots that can fill you with a comforting warmth just with a few drops.
But wait, sweet for breakfast? That’s a common reaction from anyone who has never experienced the wonders of eating nolen gur dipped pancakes early in the morning. Although it might sound weird for some, this is how most Bengalis ward off their winter-phobia — earthen pots of Jhola nolen gur and peas kachuri, in addition to stock-full of thick woolens and tubes of Boroline.
Like Bengal, almost every state in India has a unique culinary tradition associated with the cold season.
Be it sweet or spicy, India has a long list of flavourful foods that are specially prepared during the winters. While the map above lists 40 such foods out of hundreds, here are a few of my favourite ones:
Gajar Ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa)
An all-time-favourite, ghee dripping luscious gajar ka halwa is lovingly prepared across the country. With added dry fruits like almonds, cashew nuts and pista, this sweet delicacy is predominately prepared in the Northern region of the country, during the winters as it is the time for the best carrot harvest.
One of the lesser-known winter specialities, Skyu is a traditional soup-like Ladakhi delicacy prepared with vegetables and wheat dough, that has been kneaded into flat thumb-size balls. These flat balls are cooked with water and root vegetables like carrots and turnips on low-heat, and served with meat. Said to be high in calories, this is a staple in the region to beat the temperature that often drops below the freezing point during winters. Another version of Skyu involves replacing water with milk as the main ingredient and is called oma (milk) skyu then.
Another culinary marvel from one of the colder regions of India, Gushtaba is a prominent dish in Kashmiri cuisine. Refusing a bowl of Gushtaba is considered to be a huge insult to the host and part of it is because of the love and patience that goes into preparing this savoury speciality. Made with minced mutton balls that are slow-cooked in royal spices like cinnamon, cardamom, asafoetida, etc. along with curd, this is a rich preparation that is often served at the end of the meal. While the curd balances the heat, it is the spices, the meat and the mustard oil that makes it the best warm food during the winters.
Jhola Nolen Gur
The crown-jewel of Bengal’s sweet indulgences, Jhola nolen gur is the freshest batch of liquid date palm jaggery that has a complex sweet texture with woody and caramel undertones. It comes in two forms, the liquid one is called Jhole nolen gur, while its solid version is called Patali gur. While both can be consumed singularly without any accompaniment, it is also used to prepare an array of desserts like Pithe, Sandesh, Payesh. One of the must-have desserts is Nolen gurer roshogolla and payesh.
A labour of love and time, Undhiyu is a Gujarati cuisine’s winter delight that takes hours to prepare. A healthy indulgence away from the rich foods often consumed in other parts of the country during winters, Undhiyu is a traditional curry that is made of mixed vegetables, spices and lots of ghee. It gets its name from the vernacular word ‘undhu’, which means upside down, as it is traditionally prepared upside down underground in matlu (earthen pots) with constant fire from above.
Originated in the Awadhi kitchens of Lucknow, this lip-smacking meat-based delicacy is sure to warm up your winter mornings. A slow-cooked meat stew traditionally made with beef or mutton, Nihari is usually consumed for breakfast. This rich and spicy dish takes a lot of time to prepare and so is cooked overnight and served with puris the next morning. The meat melting the mouth wrapped with a mélange of flavours is a must-try.
Daulat ki Chaat or Malai Makhan
A sought-out sweet delicacy found in parts of alleys of purani (old) Delhi, Daulat ki Chaat or Malai Makhan is an iconic dessert that melts in the mouth in a moment. With cloud-like consistency the light sweet is prepared by churning milk, cream, khoya or mawa until the point it turns into soft foamy peaks. An early morning delicacy, this is served with a topping of dry fruits, sweetened mawa and saffron.
Chi Al Meh
Most of us have had our share of Thukpas but this northeastern delicacy is a flavour-packed bomb that is bound to ward off all winter chills. An authentic Manipuri dish, this delectable soup stew is made with vegetables like onions, capsicum, mushrooms, spinach with a lot of ginger, chillies and other seasonings. Usually served on its own as a wholesome dish, Chi Al Meh can also be paired with noodles.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)