9 GI-tagged Foods that Showcase the Culinary Diversity of India

9 GI-tagged Foods that Showcase the Culinary Diversity of India
Darjeeling Tea was the first Indian product to get the coveted GI tag Photo Credit: Shutterstock

From pandemic to royal fancy, from experiment with Chinese tea plants to accidental aged coffee flavour, discover the interesting history behind these 9 GI-tagged foods of India

Uttara Gangopadhyay
October 16 , 2021
12 Min Read

Dharwad Pedha
Did you know that migration during a bygone pandemic led to the invention of the Dharwad pedha? To escape the spread of plague in the late-18th/early-19th century, a Thakur family from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh migrated to Dharwad (now in Karnataka). To earn a living, Ram Ratan Singh Thakur started making pedha (a milk-based sweet, also known as ‘peda’). It was his grandson who consolidated the business. Soon people were flocking to buy the ‘Line Bazar pedha' (called so after the shop’s location). Since then, the same family has been making these sweets, also known as Thakur pedha or Babusingh Thakur pedha, with the secret recipe being passed from one generation to another. However, to maintain the quality, they make it in small batches. So an early visit to the shop is recommended. Dharwad pedha received the GI (Geographical Indication) tag in 2007.

Recipe of the Dharwad Pedha is a family secret preserved for centuries


Hyderabad Haleem
A popular meat dish, haleem is prepared during Ramzan across India, and eaten after the breaking of the day-long fast. One of the most popular versions of haleem is the slightly paste-like one found in Hyderabad. It is said that the taste and aroma of Hyderabadi haleem is due to the careful cooking of the ingredients (wheat, meat and ghee with spices and other material) at a low temperature/heat for close to 12 hours, a skill that has been acquired over generations by cooks of the Deccan region. Using firewood for heating the copper vessels, constructing the earthen furnaces (‘bhatti') to maintain the temperature, periodic stirring of the ingredients and mashing them to arrive at the homogenous mixtureall add to the speciality of the dish. Hyderabad's haleem got its GI registration in 2010.

Haleem is a one-dish meal that is widely eaten after the day-long fast during Ramzan

Ratlam Sev
This light-yellow, fried, crispy sev made from gram flour and various spices, has an interesting history. When Moghul emperors passing through the Malwa region (now in Madhya Pradesh) could not get wheat to prepare the seviyan (vermicelli), they asked the local Bhil tribe to make it with gram flour. It is this ‘Bhildi sev’ that is said to be the predecessor of Ratlam sev, which was first produced commercially in the early 1900s. Ratlami sev got its GI tag in 2015.

Ratlami Sev of Madhya Pradesh is known for its crispy, spicy taste

Kovilpatti Kadalai Mittai
Made from peanuts, the sweet chikki is a popular snack in India. But you have to visit Kovilpatti town in Tamil Nadu for its special kadalai mittai. According to local producers, it is the water of the Thamirabarani River added to the specially sourced groundnuts and organic jaggery that give the sweet its unique taste. The sweet coated with a transparent film of syrup and topped with bits of coloured coconut, got its GI tag in April this year.

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Mihidana and Sitabhog
Often pronounced as a pair, these two special sweets from Bardhaman (also Burdwan, and now divided into two districts) in West Bengal are little known beyond the state. Mihidana (‘mihi’ meaning ‘fine’ and ‘dana’ meaning ‘grain’ or ‘granular’) is easily identified by its yellow colour. The paste made by mixing powdered rice (Gobindobhog or Kaminibhog variety), flour and Bengal gram flour with a hint of saffron is passed through a sieve into hot ghee. The granular mass is then dipped in sugar syrup and drained. Sitabhog, which is white in colour and looks like tiny strands of vermicelli, is made of fragrant Gobindobhog rice flour, chhana (cottage cheese) and sugar and ghee. Tiny gulab jamun-like globules are added to the finished product along with garnishings. It is said that both the sweets were prepared by the local sweet makers under instruction from the Maharaja of Burdwan who wanted to offer something special to his British guests. Both got their separate GI tags in 2017.

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Silao Khaja
Tucked between the Buddhist attractions of Rajgir and Nalanda in Bihar is the town of Silao. Archaeological findings prove that it is an ancient settlement. But there is no record when Silao started making the sweet called ‘khaja’ for which it is famous. JD Beglar who visited the region sometime in 1872-73, spoke of local people dating it back to the times of the legendary king Vikramaditya. Others say, Gautam Buddha, while travelling to or from Rajgir, stopped here and was offered the sweet. He liked it and urged his disciples to have it too, which made the sweet popular. Whatever be its origin, this yellow crunchy sweet (it looks like a square filo pastry) made of wheat, sugar or jaggery, among other things, is a must try if you are travelling to Rajgir or Nalanda. Silao Khaja got its GI tag in 2018.

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Srivilliputtur Palkova
If it is Palkova (‘pal’ meaning milk and ‘kova’ meaning khowa), it has to be from Sirivilliputtur in Tamil Nadu. It was Srivilliputtur Co-operative Milk Producers' Society which began making this special variety of sweet using their surplus milk. Only cow’s milk is used to make Palkova. The milk is reduced by slow boiling on a wood fire, after which sugar is added to it. The final product is yellow to brown in colour, semi-solid in nature with a smooth texture, and is sold by weight, packed in butter paper. So next time you are in Madurai, make the 80km-drive to Sirivilliputtur, and you will not be disappointed if you have a sweet tooth. Sirivilliputtur Palkova got its GI tag in 2019.

Monsooned Malabar Coffee
What was an accident of nature turned profitable for coffee exporters from the Malabar region of India during the British period. During the long sea journey between Malabar and Europe, the coffee cherry (unwashed coffee) underwent a change due to the moisture and humidity in the ship’s hold. This gave an aged flavour to the brew. But as transportation time got shorter, the coffee remained intact, and the resulting brew was not to the liking of the consumers. So the exporters decided to ‘age’ the coffee by leaving it in warehouses during the monsoon season. The tradition continues even today, and involves various stages. Both the Monsooned Malabar Arabica Coffee and the Monsooned Malabar Robusta Coffee got their own separate GI tags in 2008.

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Darjeeling Tea
Called the Champagne of Teas, Darjeeling tea was the first product to get the GI tag in India, in October 2004. Known for its unique aroma and taste, the tea takes its name from Darjeeling, the eponymous town and region, where the first bushes were planted in the early 1800s as an experiment with a Chinese variety. According to the Tea Board of India, only the tea grown at an elevation ranging from 600 to 2000 metres above sea level, in 87 identified gardens (in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts of West Bengal), qualify as 'Darjeeling tea'. About 10 million kilograms of Darjeeling tea is produced every year, and shipped out across the world. Some of the tea estates are now offering tea tourism packages which include stay, visit to the garden and factory, tea tasting and other interesting activities.

Picking the two leaves and bud is a delicate job and only done by women


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