This accompaniment has more than a 1000 interpretations and tastes all around India. Chutney comes from the Hindi/Urdu word chatna meaning “to lick" or "to eat with appetite". These condiments of deliciousness embody bold flavours and tastes of either sweet, spicy, tangy, umami, sour - sometimes even all together - uplifting any meal or snack. 

The 1000 chutneys

Chutney is so versatile and can be made with anything and everything and in varying consistencies depending on the ingredient and method. Some are prepared by sun drying or fermentation and others prepared fresh. Some might be wet ground, others are dry like powders. Some are made of fruit, vegetables others even with a yogurt base.

From North to South

We saw this incredible versatility of chutney through our virtual escape series. The northeast introduced us to the fiery hot chutney made with Ghost Peppers known as U-morok in Manipur,  Bhut Jolokia in Assam and Raja mirchi in Nagaland; one of the spiciest in the world!
Down south, in the Angadibail forests of Karnataka, Buda Folklore introduced us to the Siddi Tribe that makes a chutney with red ants. The hive is knocked from the tree with a stick and the ants are collected in a winnower. There is song and dance that accompanies this harvest keeping in tune with the fiesty red ants. Here’s a wonderful video by BuDa Folklore documenting the process.

Red Ant chutney making; collecting ants in a winnower. Photo: clip from BuDa Folklore video for Food Forward India prepared by Poornima Sukmar, Haritha Gandrajupalli, Sharanya Ramprakash, Advithi Emmi, Sara Taylor and Savitha Uday.

As we then travelled up north again, “high” into the mountains, Chef Rajat Pandey gave us a virtual taste of Bhaang ki Chutney, made from Cannabis seeds. Uttarakhand cuisine is divided into two main regions - Garhwal & Kumaon and this chutney is very common in the kumaoni cuisine. It is ground coarsely on a Sil Batta (grinding stone) along with locally found spices. It’s usually eaten along with a meal or plain with madua (finger millet) roti. Perfectly safe to eat, it’s the taste that gets you high!

Map of Uttarakhand state showing the division of Garhwal and Kumaon regions. Graphic and sketch: Food Forward India

Chutneys in a way are representative of the geography, cultures and communities. They are a blend of ingredients with very different techniques and sometimes have a specific place in a meal that demarcates a particular community and their beliefs.

Chutneys are a unique blend creating a delicious entity. Fool you not! This humble condiment at every table is often the star of the show - bringing every dish together and making any meal complete.