Indian Food – The Amazing Taste of Indian Cuisine
The popularity of Indian food is increasing day by day all over the world. People love to have different Indian dishes because of their delicious taste and fantastic aroma. Gone are the days when it was quite hard to find an Indian food restaurant in any location outside India. Nowadays, it’s easy to have a delectable Indian dish at a local restaurant in your own country; whether it’s America, China, England or Canada. But what makes it so special? Read on to find out Indian food characteristics; that make it so popular around the world and distinguish it from others.
What Is So Special About Indian Food?
There are several factors that make Indian food special and the most popular food around the world.
Indian food is more diverse than any other food in the world. There are more than 100 different cuisine and differences in food lie with the same place; as you move from one home to another. The food ranges from Idli-sambar in the South to Chicken butter masala in the North; from Dhokla in the West to Fish curry in the East along with several thousands of different dishes in between.
Most Indian dishes are not simple to cook like sandwiches or hamburgers; rather they are a combination of complex procedures; some of which even take years of practice to achieve perfection. Example – making Biryani, or the Bhetki macher paturi; these involve complex techniques (which mainly developed due to lack of resources); which takes good amount of practice before perfecting them.
Yes, Indian food is very inconsistent. You might go to a restaurant in India and order a dish say X; only to find it to be very different in taste than the same dish you tasted a few days back. This only happens in India. Most of the Indian dishes don’t follow a mixing of ingredients; according to their weight or volume, rather by rough estimates. This makes the same dish to taste different when cooked by different people; (even the same persons when cooking at two different times). This eliminates the monotonicity factor from Indian cuisine; making it very special.
Rich knowledge of spices and herbs
It is evident from history; that India was the storehouse of Spices and that even attracted many western travelers to the country. Indians know to use the spices and herbs better than any other people on earth. The complex combinations of spices make Indian dishes special.
Unavailability (Non-Acceptance?) of readymade spice mix
Unlike western countries, very few Indians make use of readymade spice mix. Readymade spice mix might make cooking simpler; but, the systematic procedure of preparing them prevents each unit from being unique from the other. Thus, it makes chicken butter masala tastes the same, wherever or whenever they are cooked. This rarely happens in India, where the households prefer making the spice mix on their own; imparting uniqueness every time it is made.
Indian Food Overlapping Flavor
“But scientists …… discovered exactly why Indian food is so good; it’s the fewer number of overlapping flavors in ingredients.” – Washington Post [Scientists have figured out what makes Indian food so delicious]
Here’s an easy way to make sense of what they did, through the lens of a single, theoretical dish. Say you have a dish with 4 different ingredients, like the one below:
Each one of those ingredients has its own list of flavor compounds. And any two of those ingredients’ lists might have some overlap. Take the coconut and onion, for instance. We can all agree that these two things are pretty different, but we can also see (in the Venn diagram below); that there’s some overlap in their flavor make-up. (Ignore the math symbols.)
You could create the same diagram for all the ingredients with overlapping flavor compounds, as in this diagram. There are six that have overlap.
The researchers did this for each of the several thousand recipes, which used a total of 200 ingredients. They examined how much the underlying flavor compounds overlapped in single dishes and discovered something very different from Western cuisines. Indian cuisine tended to mix ingredients whose flavors don’t overlap at all.
“We found that average flavor sharing in Indian cuisine was significantly lesser than expected,” the researchers wrote.
In other words, the more overlap two ingredients have in flavor; the less likely they are to appear in the same Indian dish.
7- The Indian Food Theory
As per the Indian food theory, Indian food has 6 different flavors which are sweet, salty, bitter, sour, astringent, spicy. The food should have a fair balance of all these flavors. This is the secret reason behind the tasty Indian food which provides it a USP on all other foods.
Origins of Indian Food
The Origins of Indian Cuisine lie with the ancient Indian civilization of India that was called Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The Dravidians or inhabitants of these civilizations were urban and not agrarian. They had huge granaries to store grain; houses with a drainage system, pathways or roads, and public baths. They sowed the seeds of Ayurveda, or Life Sciences, which is the foundation of Indian cuisine. This system was derived after studying the physical needs, mental needs and needs of our psychology and spirituality.
The people of Mohenjodaro and Harrapa were pushed to the South part of India; by the invasion of the Aryans who came from Europe or Asia Minor. It is not very clear where the Aryans originated from; but Aryans are to be found in Europe, Persia, and India. (In fact, the Swastika – a good luck symbol of the Aryan culture is still very prevalent in India). The ideas of Ayurveda were developed further by the Aryans many of the texts on this subject were written in the Aryan period.
Influences from subsequent conquests on the Indian sub-continent
- The Aryans
During the Aryan period; the cuisine the Great Hindu Empires concentrated on the fine aspects of food. And to understand its essence and how it contributed to the development of mind, body, and spirit. After this period the cuisine was influenced by the following conquests from other cultures.
2. Mongolians(hot pot cooking)
3. Persians: The most notable was the influence of Persian rulers who established the Mughal Rule in India.
5. Greek (Alexander the great)
6. Chinese (from trading and cultural and educational exchanges with them)
7. Arabs (traders)
8. Portuguese (the Indian Vindaloo dish is a result of the Portuguese)
9. British (Indian Ketchup, tea)
So, why Indian cuisine is gaining popularity around the globe
It is easy to prepare, tasty and its mainstay is grains which is what people want today. They want meals that are high in carbohydrates; they have ample amounts of a variety of vegetables and contain complete proteins; sparse amounts of Indian food provide this and more; it also has the health-promoting properties of various herbs, ginger, and spices. Yogurt, an accompaniment to Indian meals introduces good flora (acidophilus) into the digestive system. Many Indian food menus are vegetarian; which tends to be more alkaline than non-vegetarian menus. Fresh fruit follows Indian meals, which also contributes to an alkaline balance.
Note: Lentils and beans combined with rice or wheat form complete proteins that have all of the eight amino acids.
Aspects of Indian Cuisine
An integral part of Indian food is spices. This does not mean that Indian dishes are always hot. It does mean that they are well seasoned and aromatic. There are some hot dishes especially in the South of India. But, overall the dishes of India are skillfully prepared; with the cook having a mastery over the properties of spices and how they are blended. The cook will use cooling spices as well as warming spices; bland spices as well as pungent spices, sweet spices as well as hot spices. The cook will also use spices for color and healthful properties. Most cooks in India also know how to use spices seasonally. In everyday cooking, spices used very sparingly; or the dishes seasoned with very few and supplemented with fresh herbal seasonings.
Fresh herbal chutneys, dried fruit chutneys, and hot pickles complement an Indian meal. These small additions to the meal take the Indian menu to a higher level of the taste experience. They lend a strong flavor impact on the meal. Also balance tastes as they are sweet, pungent, hot, and sour all at the same time. The fresh herbal chutneys make the meal very fresh and tasty. Popular fresh chutneys are cilantro, mint, amla, coconut chutneys and popular pickles include lime, mango, and eggplant. Indian pickles are preserved in oil as opposed to vinegar.
Muslim Influence on Indian Cuisine
The Muslims from western Asia brought their rich artistic and gastronomic culture to India. This influence lasted for more than 400 years and is now part of the fabric of Indian culinary culture.
The two colliding cultures resulted in a magnificent cuisine called Muglai Cuisine. The lamb kebabs were laced with spices; the rice Pulao of India cooked with meat and turned into wonderful biryanis; lamb and meat roast now flavored with Indian herbs, spices, and seasonings. Also, Indian dishes garnished with almonds, pistachios, cashews, and raisins. India also introduced to leavened bread by the Muslims. At this time the tandoor created by the royal chefs. The Indian Rotis and the leavened bread merged into Tandoori Naans. Meats now marinated in yogurt and spices and also cooked in tandoor. Both pork and beef were avoided to respect the traditions of both cultures. The idea of concluding a meal with sweetmeats introduced as the Persian rulers loved sweets.
The great Muslim rulers brought their panache and elegance of living to India’s culinary scene. The ideas of community dining and lavish and extravagant banquets introduced to India. Dishes were served in jade, silver, and Chinese porcelain. The splendor of the Mughal/Muslim cuisine reflected in the Muglai Cuisine of India; the richest and the most lavish in the country.
What is Curry
Curry an English word most probably derived from the South Indian word Kaikaari. Kaikaari, or its shortened version Kaari, meant vegetables cooked with spices and a dash of coconut. It becomes the symbolic British word for Indian dishes that eaten with rice.
In India curry means gravy.
Although Curry is not an Indian word; it has come to represent the varied dishes that are stew-like or soupy. These dishes cooked in steps with the following seasonings called masalas
- A base of spices sautéed in ghee or oil
- Herbs and seasonings like curry leaves or fenugreek also added
- Secondary levels of seasonings added and include all or some of the following; a mixture of onion, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes
- A third level may include coconut milk, almonds, cashews or cream
- All curries have a sour taste; and this achieved with lime juice, tamarind, mango powder, kokum or yogurt.
Why North Indian Food Is So Spicy?
North Indian cuisine is one of the world’s most spicy cuisines. It was born out of the fusion of the Indian cuisine and Persian food; that the Mughal rulers brought with them. The first Mughal emperor, Babur, did not live long enough to establish a royal cuisine; that would be synonymous with his name someday. However, he did establish the tradition of hiring Indian chefs; to prepare Persian dishes out of local ingredients.
The temperature of Babur’s homeland and northern India was not the same, and that was a big problem. India much hotter and the food would soon go bad. The solution then to spice it up! It has been scientifically proven that spices prevent our food from spoilage and thus; north Indian foods tend to be so spicy. Bacteria and foodborne pathogens cannot survive in a hot environment; provided by spices. Countries with a hotter climate have comparatively spicy cuisine.
Another important element of north Indian food is oil and butter.
Although it serves a similar purpose (preventing food from spoilage), its use started much later. The legend holds it that Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor; consulted all his ministers before moving the Mughal capital from Agra to Delhi. However, he did not consult his health minister. After moving to the new capital, the emperor found out that main source of water, Yamuna; was much polluted in Delhi as compared to Agra. So, in order to prevent the food from waterborne pathogens and bacteria, excessive oil had to be used.
Now, although times have changed and medical sciences have advanced; it is not necessary for us to eat such spicy food. However, it has become a genetic habit.
Here are a few spices and their effects on bacteria:
- Garlic, onion, allspice, and oregano are known to be the best all-around bacteria, killers.
- Thyme, cinnamon, tarragon, and cumin could kill up to 80 percent of bacteria.
- Capsicum, including chilies and other hot peppers, could kill or inhibit up to 75 percent of bacteria.
- Black pepper, ginger, anise seed, celery seed, and lemon juice could inhibit 25 percent of bacteria.
Today, Indian cuisine is one of the most famous cuisines in the world; with restaurants, outlets, and chains all over the world. It has evolved and fused with many other cuisines and techniques of the culinary world to produce many gastronomic delicacies.
The Top 10 Indian Food Dishes
If you are an Indian food newbie, here are some dishes that will have you sounding like an expert.
1 – Alu Gobi
A dry dish made with potatoes (aloo), cauliflower (gobi) and Indian spices. It is yellowish in color, due to the use of turmeric, and occasionally contains kalonji and curry leaves. Other common ingredients include garlic, ginger, onion, coriander stalks, tomato, peas, and cumin. It all adds up to one of the most popular dishes ordered in Indian restaurants.
2 – Butter Chicken
Traditionally cooked in a tandoor; but maybe grilled, roasted or pan-fried in less authentic preparations. The gravy is made by first heating fresh tomato, garlic, and cardamom into a bright red pulp; which then pureed after cooling, and then the chef adds butter, Khoa and various spices; often including asafoetida, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, pepper, fenugreek, and fresh cream.
3 – Rogan Josh Or roghan josh
a staple of Kashmiri cuisine: originally it was brought to Kashmir by the Mughals. It is one of the main dishes of the Kashmiri multi-course meal (the “Wazwan”). It consists of braised lamb chunks cooked with a gravy based on browned onions or shallots; yogurt, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices (cloves, bay leaves, cardamom, and cinnamon). Its characteristic brilliant red color traditionally comes from liberal amounts of dried Kashmiri chilies; that have been de-seeded to reduce their heat; these chilies are considerably milder than the typical dried cayenne chilies of Indian cuisine. The recipe’s spiciness one of fragrance rather than heat. And the dish mild enough to be appreciated by western palates; that may not be used to spicy tastes. If you love lamb, this is a must-eat dish.
4 – Samosas
A fried or baked pastry with savory filling; such as spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils and sometimes ground lamb, ground beef or ground chicken. They were introduced to India during the Muslim Delhi Sultanate; when cooks from the Middle East and Central Asia; migrated to work in the kitchens of the Sultan and the nobility. Indian samosas are usually vegetarian, and often accompanied by a mint sauce or chutney. Samosas a common street food and many tourists or Indians eat them as a midday snack.
5 – Tandoori Chicken
A popular North Indian dish consisting of roasted chicken prepared with yogurt and spices. The name comes from the type of cylindrical clay oven, a tandoor; in which the dish is traditionally prepared. The chicken marinated in yogurt and seasoned with the spice mixture tandoori masala. Cayenne pepper, red chili powder or Kashmiri red chili powder used to give it a fiery red hue. This dish goes so well with steaming basmati rice and crispy naan.
6 – Malai Kofta
Restaurant-style malai kofta is cooked in a creamy gravy made of tomatoes and cashew nuts. Malai actually means, “Cream” and both the kofta and the sauce literally melts in your mouth; A heavenly dish that soaks up rice nicely.
7 – Masala Chai
There’s nothing like the experience of stopping a Chai Wallah on the street and ordering a steaming cup of masala chai when in India. It is made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic spices and herbs. The beverage has gained worldwide popularity, becoming a feature in many coffee and teahouses. Traditionally prepared by a decoction of green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks; ground cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn together with black tea leaves. In international tea shops, it’s often sold in a tea bag form, with a variety of revolving recipes. But once combined with steaming hot milk, it is delicious all around; whether found in India or your hometown.
8 – Matar Paneer
A vegetarian north Indian dish consisting of peas and farmer’s cheese (paneer); in a tomato-based sauce and spiced with garam masala. It is often served with rice, naan, paratha, poori, or roti (depending on the region). Most lovers of this dish recommend dipping whatever bread is accompanying the meal into the delicious tomato gravy.
9 – Naan
A leavened, oven-baked flatbread that’s normally served with all meals; typically, it will be served hot and brushed with ghee or butter. In non-traditional circles, different varieties of naan are available; like garlic naan or cheese naan. However you eat it, naan acts as almost a spoon to soup up the sauce or dipped into chutneys. An Indian meal isn’t complete without naan at its side.
10 – Beef Vindaloo
Vindaloo itself is a curry dish popular in the region of Goa. It is known globally in its Anglo-Indian form as a staple of curry house menus; often regarded as a fiery spicy dish; though it is not necessarily the hottest dish around. A variety of meats can become a vindaloo dish; such as lamb or chicken. But beef vindaloo is one of the most popular versions. A vindaloo paste can be a blend of chilies with cumin, coriander, and other authentic spices. Traditionally a very hot curry with tomatoes, onions and of course loads of chilies; but many Indian restaurants eases down the hotness, by adding fewer chilies. If you want a bit of fire in your mouth, order this dish!
There is truly a long catalog of scrumptious Indian cuisine. But these ten should get anyone curious about this delightful cuisine started on the path to gastronomy heaven.