When I visited Leh, a dusty Himalayan town and the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Ladakh, it was at the onset of winter. Tiny cafes serving Himalayan meals to weary trekkers had begun wrapping up for the season. On my last night after an arduous pine forest walk, when I couldn't be bothered about what to get for dinner (I just want something hot and spicy!, I thought to myself) I spotted a three-letter dish called kev.
Resembling strozzapreti, a Tuscan pasta variety that looks like chopped pieces of a thin rope, a bowl of kev is just that, except it's made of whole wheat flour and tempered with a handful of Indian spices and mountain beans. And this is just one example of the range of Himalayan pastas that are common in this part of the country. Their skyu is an orecchiette look-alike; chutagi feels like a distant cousin of minestrone; and bhatsa marku, a Tibetan version of mac and cheese comes topped with dri (female yak) cheese.
Down south, the Malabari Muslims cook something known as kakka roti. The gnocchi-shaped dumplings are kneaded with rice flour and water, and dished out mainly during Ramadan. The nuggets are poached in a combination of boiling thick and light coconut milk sauce and they are eaten soft and pillowy, not al dente, just like the Roman variety. The Konkani Muslims' pasta, saravle, is ring-shaped and often gifted to a new bride by her parents during her going-away ceremony. The tradition calls for lugging it to her new home, in case unexpected guests show up!
Besides made-from-scratch varieties, certain communities make use of store-bought spaghetti and macaroni — like the Dawoodi Bohra community from the west coast of India, and the Sindhis from Gujarat and Rajasthan. These aren't modern fusion recipes, but adaptations based on immigration, trade, and, yes, colonial influence, that have been a part of their regional repertoire for years.
Take for instance the classic Bohra specialty, dabba gosht (which translates to "boxed meat"): It can be best described as an Indian-style casserole, wherein spaghetti is tempered with curry leaves, mixed with a milk sauce and meat, and baked in an oven like a gratin. Before ovens became more common in Indian kitchens, the dish was cooked in heavy tin boxes on a stove, giving the recipe its name.
Similarly, the Sindhi delicacy, maronyul patata, is a lesson in history. Sindhi Workies, who were early merchant traders in British India, often brought back from their travels unique ingredients for their families to experiment with. After a trip likely to Europe or the Americas, this dish was born out of one such experiment.
Yet however they might have come to be, my opinion is that Indian-style pastas should be celebrated for bringing together some untapped flavors — all combined into a vibrant bowl I like to call happiness.
This story was originally published on Food52.com: Why Pasta Is an Essential Part of Indian Regional Cuisine