A Peek into the Indian Cuisine
Food in India enhances spiritual advancement, joy, and celebration. Vegetarian Indian food is common in Southern and Western Indian cuisines while meaty traditions can be seen in the Muslim influence of the Mughals and Tandoor of Punjab in North and Northeastern cuisines. Rice in the South and wheat in the form of roti or naan (bread) in the north; both eaten with dal (lentils or pulses) make up the core of any Indian meal.
Every Indian cook is a master of spices treating each spice individually before combining his/her special mix creating the required masala (spice blends). Three meals a day is standard although 400 million out of 1.2 billion Indians live on under $1.25 per day.
Modern Indian culinary practices have their roots in Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, health and longevity that classifies foods according to their positive and negative energies and their medicinal qualities. Developed by Aryans in second millennium BC, the basic principle of “you are what you eat” maintains that healthy body depends in suitable foods you eat. Average Indian always turns to home-cooked food in the midst of fast food chains sprouting in India’s megacities Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta. Majority of Indians are vegetarian even though meat (with exception of beef) is not strictly taboo in Hinduism where certain foods are deemed pure and sacred especially featured in temple ritual. Each deity has its own favorite dish; [Krishna for dairy products, Ganesha for a bowl of modak (sweet rice flour dumpling]. In Hindu pantheon, any food first offered to gods then shared among others is known as Prasad.
Perfect antidote to heat and stress of Indian life and travel is a glass of steaming, sweet chai more addictive brew more milk than water, stewed with sugar to gives enough energy boost. To most tourists, curry is the national meal in India. The word ”curry” is an anglicisation of the Tamil word ”kari” that literally means “sauce laced with combinations of spices”. Indian spice merchants are said to have invented the well-known curry powder for British colonial personnel returning to Britain. Garam Masala (garam meaning warm or hot and masala referring to mixture of spices) is the closest to curry powder purchased in store. Recipes are fusion of cumin & coriander seed powder, fresh ginger, garlic and cilantro.
The backbone of most garam masala is cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper and cloves. Although vegetarian dishes like curries may contain meat, poultry, fish and shellfish. Curry can be either wet or dry, the later being cooked without yoghurt, ghee, coconut milk and stock. Indian table and eating etiquette consists of eating using their right hand (left associated with bathroom business). Cutlery is prevalent in urban areas in North India. Flatbreads (chapati, roti, naan) popular in urban areas help gather food and sop-up gravies and curries.
Washing hands before and after meals with use of only fingertips for eating is observed. Use of banana leaves as spoons especially for soupy and very liquid food is observed in South India. Home-cooked food or food prepared in the sanctity of home is still preferred with eating in restaurants becoming popular in the last 50 years.
Indian wayside eateries called dhaba offering home cooked meals became a way of life for truck drivers, bus passengers and travelers. Now Indian cuisine has spread all over the world and has inspired to create new dishes and infused in other cultures.