As the rains arrive, here is a list of rare and unique monsoon food delicacies from across India — ingredients perfect for rainy day recipes.
The best part about monsoons is not just the rain, or the cool and cosy climate. It’s also the kind of food we get to relish while enjoying lovely views.
There are many monsoon delicacies to choose from, but a few stand out unlike any other — not just for their health and nutrient quality, but also for their delectable taste.
Here are a few to keep you company this monsoon season:
1. Arbi (Colocasia) Leaves
Among the best root vegetables, Arbi or Taro leaves of Colocasia, grow in abundance during the monsoons and are consumed across different parts of the country.
Though their corms are most commonly used for cooking, the leaf stalks can also be used to make delicious curries, stir fries, and snacks.
These leaves are good for health, as they are rich in fiber, resistant starch, and protein. It helps in improving cardiovascular health and also promotes eye health.
In states like Gujarat and Karnataka, they have a similar process of making a snack named patra or pathrode, wherein the colocasia leaves are stuffed with rice flour and several other ingredients like spices, tamarind, and jaggery (raw sugar). The leaves are also used to make pakode and are known as patode in Uttar Pradesh.
In Orissa, people use these leaves to wrap and cook rice for the aroma, and in Assam, they are used as salads. Their leaf stacks are also used for cooking in states like West Bengal and Kerala.
2. Rugda Mushroom, Jharkhand
Rugda mushrooms, also known as putu, are commonly seen in Jharkhand especially during the monsoons. These mushrooms look like bulbs with a rubber-like exterior, and are either black or off-white in colour from inside.
They are not commercially cultivated as they grow naturally in the humid forests of Jharkhand, especially near the Sal trees, during the early monsoon season.
Rugda mushrooms are also a perfect alternative to meat and a great vegan option with high nutritional value. These are also used to make curries for their meat-like flavour, similar to chicken liver, and with a crunch from its shell-like exterior.
3. Bamboo Shoot, Northeast India
Bamboo plays a significant role in the culture of Northeast India. Out of 125 species of bamboo reported from India, more than 60 are found here.
Since time immemorial, different parts of the plant have been used in construction, household purposes, and even in medicines and as food. The edible bamboo shoots that grow in abundance during the monsoon are used extensively to make delicious dishes in different forms. They are mostly consumed in the form of pickles, condiments, soups, side dishes, stir fries, salads, and so on.
Among the variety of species, those with a sweet taste are eaten fresh, whereas the bitter ones are fermented or dried. Bamboo shoots are crunchy and have a woody flavour .
People in Mizoram prefer small and young shoots of Melocanna baccifera (Mautak) and Phyllostachys mannii (locally called Naga bamboo), which are sweet in taste. According to studies, bamboo shoots are high in fibre and low in calories. They help in motion and peristalsis of the intestine, it also aids digestion, and prevents and cures several cardiovascular diseases.
4. Phodshi Bhaji, Maharashtra
Phodshi Bhaji, also known as safed musli, mulshi, or karli, is a green leafy vegetable available for just about two weeks, soon after the first monsoon showers in Maharashtra. They are around one foot tall, and dark green, with a white-coloured base.
These leaves have an earthy flavour and can be prepared in different ways such as sabzi, stir fry, and so on. It can also be made by adding chana dal or prawns. Phodshi can also be used to make crispy pakoras.
5. Gavti Almi Mushrooms, Goa
Gavti Almi Mushrooms, or olmi, is an edible wild mushroom available in Goan markets during the monsoons. These mushrooms, which belong to the Termitomyces genus, grow in symbiosis with other organisms. Olmi grows on termite mounds, and hence cannot be cultivated commercially.
These mushrooms are available only for a few weeks during the monsoons. They are expensive and have a very high demand across the state.
Some popular dishes made using these mushrooms are tonak, xacuti and alami chilly fry.
6. Singhara (Water Chestnut), Across North India
Singhara, or Water Chestnut, is an aquatic vegetable that grows in sluggish water or fresh water lakes in India. It is named water chestnut due to its peculiar shape resembling a chestnut. It is actually the seed of a fruit of a floating aquatic plant.
These can be eaten as is, or dried and ground to a flour. They are crispy and crunchy in texture.
These aquatic vegetables are free of fat, cholesterol, and gluten. They have very low sodium and calorie content, with a decent amount of fibre and high levels of starch. Besides, they are packed with several essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, copper, vitamin B, vitamin E etc.
7. Dhingri (Himalayan Oyster Mushroom), Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand
Dhingri, or Himalayan Oyster mushrooms, are one of the most cultivated mushrooms in the world. They grow naturally in the temperate and tropical forests on dead and decaying wooden logs, or on dying trunks of deciduous or coniferous woods.
The fruit bodies of this mushroom are either shaped like a shell or a spatula, and are seen in a wide range of colours like white, cream, grey, yellow, pink, or light brown, depending on the species.
Oyster mushrooms grow in stacked layers in a shelf-like formation. They get their name due to their resemblance in appearance and taste to fresh-shucked oysters. They are also extremely versatile in flavour and are cooked in different ways.
8. Lingdu/Dhekia Shaak (Fiddlehead fern), Himachal, Uttarakhand, Assam
Fiddlehead ferns, also known as lingdu or dhekia shaak, are unique in appearance, with their tightly coiled tips. These ferns, native to the Himalayan foothills, usually grow abundantly in the wild and are also harvested commercially in the northern and northeastern states of India.
These greens are used in pickles in Himachal Pradesh, and eaten as a vegetable in many other parts of northern India. They have a tender, crisp, and succulent texture. It is suggested that they are cooked soon after being picked, as they do not stay fresh for too long. These ferns have a delicate, grassy, and woodsy flavour.
About Arbi leaves, by Vibha Varshney; published by Down to Earth on 30 February 2005.
Rugda Mushroom Curry Recipe: A Traditional Mushroom Curry From Jharkhand, by Pragya Subedy; published by NDTV Food on 1 July 2021.
Bamboo Shoots for Food in North-East India: Conventional and Contemporary, by M. S. Bisht, C. Nirmala and Oinam Santosh Meetei.
Dietary Supplementation with Chestnut (Castanea sativa) Reduces Abdominal Adiposity in FVB/n
Mice: A Preliminary Study, published by National Center for Biotechnology Information on 4 April 2020.
Dhekia Xaak: The Fable Of Assam’s Fiddlehead Ferns, by Reema Gowalla; published by Slurrp on 8 March 2022.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)