We Indians are hedonistic and nothing describes our culture best than its food. Ever wondered where and when the gulab jamun was born? Or the fact that the Mahabharata not only gave us Krishna's wise words, but also, Bheema's famous "Aviyal" (a popular coconut based South Indian vegetable) during the Pandavas "incognito" period spent at King Virat's palace. Come join us as we explore the fascinating origins of some of our favourite food, delving into stories of kings, mythology and the lives of legendary figures. We present to you Indian Legends like you've never known them before-this time it is ALL. ABOUT. THE. FOOD.

1. Chaat

Ayushi Gupta

What better way than to begin with one of Delhi's most loved street food category. Whether it is Chandni Chowk ki Aloo Chaat or Prince Paan's golgappe or even Paharganj ke Chole Bhature and Dahi Balle, the combination of pudine ki chutney, sounth, khatti dahi and fried aloo is one that never gets old.

The story of chaat is just as fascinating as Ramu bhaiya's ninja moves as he whips up a batch of chatpata sev puri. According to Dr Sohail Hashmi (Historian and consultant on one of the finest Indian food shows, 'Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyan'), when Shah Jahan moved the capital to Delhi, he greatly upset the royal physician who believed that Yamuna's unpotable water would ultimately lead to the untimely death of all of Shahjanabad.

In order to digest the water, Shah Jahan was asked to amp up the spice level, and further to counter the side-effects of masaaledar khana, huge amounts of fat or chiknai was added to food. And so, came about the deliciously heavy and spicy chicken gravies of Old Delhi. But, what were the vegetarians to do? One word: CHAAT- a liitle khatta, a little meetha and hugely theekha, large varieties of chaat were born to the streets of Old Delhi-their legacy still carried by the khomchas who wander the lanes of Dariba even today.

Who knew Shah Jahan was responsible for putting India on not one but two of the globe's crucial maps- aesthetic and food!

2. Samosa

Ayushi Gupta

 Well, when our country consumes over 20 million samosas a day, yup you read that right, you'd expect this crispy, golden parcel of spicy goodness to be an Indian invention. Only a few know that this snack is indeed a gift from Central Asian travellers- sanbusak, sanbusaq and even sanbusajas tiny mince-filled triangles, eaten by travelling merchants around campfires and packed in saddlebags as a snack for a long journey. 

In India, this deep-fried chai-accompaniment became popular with Middle Eastern chefs who migrated to the royal kitchens during the Delhi Sultanate rule. In fact, Ibn Batuta, the medieval Moroccan traveller who visited India in the 14th century, has chronicled the lavish feasts at the court of Muhammad bin Tughlaq. According to his accounts, a dish called sambusaktriangular pastry packed with mince, peas, pistachios, almonds and other tasty fillings — was placed on the guests’ plates right after the sherbet had been sipped. Even Sufi scholar, musician and famed poet Amir Khusrau wrote of the samosa being enjoyed by nobles in the royal Indian courts in the year 1300. He famously framed the riddle, "Samosa kyun na khaya, joota kyun na pahna" (The answer is "Kyunki Talaa na tha - well goes to show even the best love lame puns) 

Interestingly, a bunch of IITians had even developed a social app named Samosa with the aim to make chatting fun. So loved and ubiquitous is this symbolic samosa, that you find it in the heart of every lane, every chowraha, every mohalla and every Indian heart. Not satisfied-watch the story of the samosa in the cutest, swankiest animated film here.

3. Rosugulla

Ayushi Gupta

The long-standing point of contention between Bengalis and Oriyas-this sweet has won hearts worldwide. One legend goes on to say that Lord Jagganath (one of many avatars of Vishnu) gifted his consort, Lakshmi a rosugulla to appease her after he returned from a nine-day rath yatra. Simply put, this cheesy gem was the flower/jewellery/clothing equivalent of the mythological times.

So precious was this chenna mithai, that it is believed to be one of the first offerings made to Lord Jagganath, a tribute to his eyes, first existing almost 700 years ago. That perhaps explains why rosugulla, especially the Oriya variety, is big and slightly oblong compared to West Bengal rosugulla which resembles a ball.

Just like with currries and chutneys, the colonial rulers were addicted to this sweet, with the famous Britsh chef, William Harold (learn more about his adventures with Bhelpuri) leaving the country with 10 boxes of rosugulla believing that he will eventually be able to recreate the dish his people took fancy to. In fact, Lady Edwina Mountbatten and William Hastings are both known to be big fans of this day. Now whether it belongs to the Oriyas or Bengalis is yet to be seen-but one thing is for sure, these "sweet, syrupy, soft cheese balls" are absolutely divine. Even Tenali Raman has a tale to tell-watch it here.

4. Biryani

Ayushi Gupta

Originating from the Persian word, "birian" meaning "fried before cooking", we have the Shah Jahan regime to thank yet again for this royal delicacy. Shah Jahan may have emptied the royal coffers, but his love for the finer things of life like food and art seemed to have encouraged creativity in both fields.

Legend has it that after visiting the army barracks, Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan's wife found that the soldiers were under-nourished and asked the chef to prepare a dish that was a complete meal’ which could be eaten as a single serving. With this, was born the biryani-a heap of fragrant rice served with juicy flavourful roasted meat and fried onions.

Other theories involve Timor The Lame bringing biryani down from Kazakhstan via Afghanistan to Northern India and nomads burying an earthen pot full of meat, rice and spices in a pit, which was then eventually dug up to become biriyani.

The concept of cooking it on a "dum", came when the Nawab of Awadh, upon facing a food shortage, ordered a meal to be cooked for all the poor in huge handis, covered with a lid and sealed with dough. And thus yet again we find that while the dish came with the Persians and the Afghans, it was the Mughals that fine-tuned and nurtured the dish to make it the stellar centrepiece that it is today. Lucknow vs Hyderabad-find out more here.

5. Butter Chicken

Invented in Old Delhi, by Kundan Lal of Moti Mahal Delux, our ultimate go-to naan facilitator came about as an accident, just as most great things do. Visited by an important guest one night after hours, Lal whipped up a 'chicken dish' using liberal amounts of butter, tomato and garam masala to serve to this visitor who actually turned out to be the Maharaja of Mareelun.

This wonderful man is also credited with creating Dal Makhni, Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tandoori, the latter being an absolute favourite of Jawaharlal Nehru. Guess we've got someone to thank greatly for his culinary contributions to the Indian comfort food world. Clearly, Moti Mahal takes all.

6. Pav

We all know that until the Muslim community arrived, Indians were not great bakers, with them came maida. And with the Portuguese, came pav - in remembrance of crusty bread used in the Holy Communion, the Portuguese started using a few drops of toddy to ferment the dough and created the various Goan breads we know today: the round gutli, the flat pav, etc.

Pav became the food of the minorities (Muslims, Catholics etc.) while Hindus stuck to traditional (and non-maida) breads like rotis, pooris, etc., even in Bombay. The divide was broken with the coming of pav bhaji (find a killer recipe here) that flooded the streets of Mumbai, becoming the staple diet of the mill workers. The first pav bhaji stalls were located near the old Cotton Exchange because traders waited for the New York cotton prices that came in late at night and early in the morning.

In fact, the craziest story about the origin of the word pav is that it was so named because the dough was kneaded using feet (paon in Hindi) — and not hands — to speed up work and keep up with demand. And thus, the humble pav lead to the inception of greater dishes such as Vada Pav, Misal Pav, Pav Omelette that define the street food of India today.

While Amul butter makes up 90% of India's street foods, the remaining 10% is the love and passion of these food entrepreneurs who are determined to preserve tradition and leave behind a legacy of great food and great flavour.

Did someone say paani-puri?