It’s not only food – it’s an Indian Experience

It’s not just take-out – it’s a taste of India

Origins of Indian cuisine

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 be 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
1. 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.
4. Turks
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)

The different aspect of Indian Cuisine is
Indian Cuisine is becoming popular due to its exotic flavors and healthful preparations. The repertoire of Indian Cuisine is vast and the following are interesting aspects of the cuisine.

Cultural Influences: Our cuisine has been influenced by the Aryans settlers, the Arab and Chinese traders and conquerors such as the Persians, Mongolians, Turks, the British and the Portuguese.

Ayurveda : India's ancient science system, has given India a comprehensive system of health, diet and nutrition. India's cuisine has been shaped by this science. Ayurveda is the common thread that runs through the various sub cultures/regions of India. Otherwise, the cuisine can be vastly different from region to region.

Diversity: India is a large country, almost the size of Europe, and has a greater diversity of people, language, climate, cultures and religion than almost any country in the world. Consequently, Indian cuisine is also diverse.

Royal Kitchens of India: Under the patronage of the rajahs of India the art of food was elevated to a high level of advancement and professionalism. The royal chefs understood the finer points of food, the art of presentation and created exquisite preparations.

Why Indian Cuisine –

Indian cuisine is gaining popularity around 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, have ample amounts of a variety of vegetables and contain complete proteins and sparse amounts of Indian food provides 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 of our menus are vegetarian, which tend 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

Spices are an integral part of Indian food. 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 in India spices are used very sparingly or the dishes are seasoned with very few spices and are 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 taste experience. They lend strong flavor impact to the meal. They 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 were cooked with meat and turned into wonderful biryanis, lamb and meat roasts were now flavored with Indian herbs, spices and seasonings.  Also, Indian dishes were garnished with almonds, pistachios, cashews and raisins. India was also introduced to leavened breads by the Muslims.  At this time the tandoor was created by the royal chefs.  The Indian Rotis and the leavened breads were merged into Tandoori Naans. Meats were 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 was 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 dinning and lavish and extravagant banquets were introduced to India. Dishes were served in jade, silver and Chinese porcelain.  The plendor of the Mughal/Muslim cuisine is reflected in the Muglai Cuisine of India which is the richest and the most lavish in the country.

What is Curry

Curry is 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 may have become the symbolic British word for Indian dishes that could be 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 a soupy.  These dishes are cooked in steps with the following seasonings which are called masalas
1.  A base of spices sautéed in ghee or oil
2.  Herbs and seasonings like curry leaves or fenugreek may also be added
3.  Secondary levels of seasonings are added and include all or some of the following – a mixture of onion, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes
4.  A third level may include coconut milk, almonds, cashews or cream
5.  All curries have a sour taste which may be achieves with lime juice, tamarind, mango powder, kokum or yogurt.