If the different cuisines of India have one thing in common, it is surely the various spices and the way they are used – although the complexities of the country mean it is not possible to talk about one universal Indian cuisine and tradition, but it is possible to talk of India’s spice tradition. Indian food from the north, south, east and west is primarily built on spices and the way they are mixed: cardamom, cloves, cumin and pepper are just a few of the widest used. Despite this, although food is nearly always spiced, it is only sometimes hot and spicy.
The geography and history of each region play strongly upon their cuisines. India is a huge country, thirty-times bigger than Iceland, and the climate and culture differ widely by region. In the mountainous regions of North India the winters can be extremely cold. In the South, however, we have a tropical climate; and in the central high plains the weather is dry and hot. In the North people grow a lot of wheat and in the South they grow a lot of vegetables. This wide climatic variance is reflected in the food.
The diet in South India is, for example, built largely on vegetables; and in the other hot, dry states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, beans, or dal, are staples. Fish is
This article was posted with permission from Vinotek.is authored by Steingrímurprominent in coastal regions. North Indians eat rice and meat; South Indians use a lot of coconut milk. Sauces are thick and abundant in the north and bread is widespread – while rice becomes more and more common as one travels south and the sauces get progressively thinner too.
Indians generally eat with their fingers and roti or naan breads and not with knives and forks. The breads are baked in a tandoori oven and are especially useful for mopping up thick sauces, while rice is sufficient for soaking up thinner sauces. Food is usually eaten from a large metal plate, or thali; or eaten off of banana leaves. All the food is brought to the table at once: several vegetarian dishes, meat dishes (except in largely vegetarian states), fish dishes, bread, rice, yoghurt and vegetable pickles.
The history of India is one of the meeting and mingling of many different cultures. The country has cultural influences from Persia and the Muslim Moguls of mid-Asia who invaded in the 16th Century; as well as from the Chinese and the British, among others. Religion also has a part to play in diet. Most Indians are Hindus who therefore shun beef. Though cattle are a common sight on the streets of Bombay and Bangalore, steakhouses are almost nowhere to be found.
The most common meat one will find in India is lamb, which is used extensively in North Indian cuisine. Chicken is also used all over the country. Northern Indian cuisine, with its abundant tasty sauces – such as korma sauces with cream or yoghurt as a base – are very common in restaurants in India and almost monopolise Indian restaurants elsewhere in the world.
When talking about Indian cuisine, it is nearly impossible to ignore the influence of the British. Not so much because of the influence British cuisine had on Indian food, but more because of the rôle the British have played in popularising Indian cuisine all over the world. The first Indian restaurants opened in Britain in the 19th Century – first and foremost catering to Britons who had lived in India or were on home leave from their jobs in India. With the increase in South Asian immigrants to Britain, the number of Indian restaurants there also increased. And outside of the UK, Indian food has since managed to encompass the whole globe.
A good example of Britain’s influence on Indian cuisine is in one of its most famous dishes: Tikka Masala chicken is actually a British dish, not an Indian one! Nobody quite knows where Tikka Masala came from, but it is thought it developed in small Bangladeshi-owned restaurants in the UK. The sauce made with masala spices, tomatoes and cream or coconut milk quickly became a real hit. It is not known how the dish came to be; but one theory is that British diners were unhappy with the way some Indian food was served and complained about the lack of sauce, so some genius came up with the idea of adding cream to tikka chicken. And with that, the most popular “Indian” dish was born.
Despite this popularity overseas, there are still very few restaurants in India which serve Tikka Masala.
The word ‘masala’ comes up again and again in Indian cooking: it is simply a mix of spices. It is possible to buy pre-prepared garam masala spice in the shops; although one must bear in mind that masala means mix of spices and does not connote any fixed recipe.
Nearly all Indian dishes are based on a wide variety of spices which give the food its unique flavour. The most common spices are pepper, cloves, cardamom, coriander (called cilantro in North America), cumin, turmeric, saffron, mustard seeds and fennel seeds, among many others. The spices used every time are usually ground together, although sometimes they are fried whole. Some of them create strong colours, such as turmeric, which is often used to achieve the rich yellow in certain curries and rice. Coriander leaves are used to provide the colour green. Sometimes chilli flesh/skin is used for colour, although that is less common because it makes the food extremely hot. Onions, garlic and ginger are also essentials in the Indian kitchen.
Quantity makes a huge difference in achieving the right flavour in the final curry, which is the main feature of the whole meal. No one flavour may dominate.
Indian dishes can me dry or moist. As a general rule it is possible to say that North Indians are more generous on the use and variety of sauces. South Indians, on the other hand, are experts with vegetables which are usually fried in spices and served with less sauce.
The sauces – or curries – in the south are based on coconut milk and could hardly be better for fish dishes.
The Gandhi restaurant serves South Indian cuisine. Sigurgeirsson. We thank him and you can see more at this link here Vinotek.i