On Tuesday, upma became the topic of a heated Twitter discussion, after a Tamil actor-filmmaker offhandedly told a daily that the humble one-pot breakfast dish usually made with semolina and vegetables should be India’s national dish. Food is as touchy a subject in India as any and Twitter picked up on the headline, and passionately suggested alternatives for the coveted spot — poha, biryani, anything but upma. We talk to chefs and ask them what according to them makes for an ideal national dish and why.
‘If ever there were a national dish to be announced, it should be dal khichdi’
Executive Chef Anand Kumar, Hyatt, Gachibowli, Hyderabad
For me it is dal khichdi which can be the national dish. Historically as well, rice cooked with the pulses has been a very popular dish among the people of India. Another point that should be mentioned here is that not only is dal khichdi easy and quick to cook, but rice and lentiles, of various types, are available everywhere in India. Everyone, rich or poor, north-Indian or south-Indian, healthy or sick, will enjoy a good meal of dal khichdi served with ghee or curd. Also, one can easily experiment with the dish. You can use various lentils, tadka or other stuff to make it to your liking. Hence I think, if ever there were a national dish to be announced, it should be dal-khichdi.
‘I love the diversity of breakfast dishes’
Ranjani Rao Debnath, author
I grew up in the south, and upma or uppittu wasn’t exactly a favourite dish for me growing up. It became my idea of comfort food much later in life, when I was away from home across continents. While I love what you can do with this humble dish to give it different flavours, I also love the fact that we have so many regional cuisines in India and each of those has a special dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love the diversity of breakfast dishes, the variety of textures and tastes that our country wakes up to, and it would be unfair to single out one from the south and elevate it to national dish status.
‘The idea of considering a national dish is naïve’
Chef Ajit Bangera, Senior Executive Chef of ITC hotel Chennai
There are so many great dishes in our country and we can’t zero in on one dish as our national dish! That’s totally absurd. There are so many good dishes available in our country and each one is a star on its own. We can’t claim just one dish as a national dish. India is a multi-cultural country and it should stay the way it is. I am happy eating dosas, parottas, omelette, eggs benedict. Each state has its own speciality food and we can’t easily say that one is better than the other. When foreigners come down they are excited to see the varieties of spices we have and we should be proud of it. The idea of considering a national dish is naïve.
‘There cannot be a specific dish as the national dish’
Chef Balvinder Pal Singh Lubana, Renaissance Lucknow Hotel
As India has a diversified culture and we are known for our food and spices, there cannot be a specific dish as the national dish. From aromatic spices to exotic vegetables, and meat dishes, the multitude of cuisines in India is almost as diverse as its topography. Different foods are loved in different parts of the country so categorising them would be unfair. While the recent Twitter spat over ‘national dish’ was enjoyable and brought forth some creative ideas, I personally feel that we should take this lightly and not stretch this topic.
‘I do not see anything wrong in upma being considered for a national dish’
Executive Chef Michael Saju of Holiday Inn Cochin
Personally, I think it is a very difficult task to zero in on one particular dish, which would be nationally acceptable. It depends on the individual taste of a person that differs from state to state and region to region. I do not see anything wrong in upma being considered for a national dish. One, because it is popular in the north, where it is eaten in a wet halwa-like form; compared to the south where it is relatively dry. Also, upma can be had as a breakfast, lunch or dinner option!
‘Khichdi is like the food for one’s soul’
Gaurav Gidwani, Creative Chef of Korum Hospitality
Khichdi is like the food for one’s soul — in sickness and in health. Loved by everyone, it is such a diverse and versatile dish — you can team it up and combine it up with anything like pickle, vegetables, lentils, meat — whatever one wishes to! It is delicious and nutritious as the same time. The best part is that it can be eaten by anyone, be it a baby or an elderly person. Keeping these qualities and facts in mind, I feel khichdi is the ideal contender for the position of India’s national dish.