Why are Indian foods so amazing
What is there to eat tonight? Cumin, coriander and cardamom; Mustard seeds, mango powder, ginger; Devil's dirt, fenugreek and chiles. There is also turmeric, tamarind and saffron, curry leaves, coconut milk and Kewara water, almonds, cashew nuts and pistachios - and these are just the spices!
There is only one place in the world where this orgy of flavors unfold in its dishes: India.
Indeed, the intensive use of spices - whole, ground, roasted and cooked - is the unifying hallmark of what is on the other hand an incredibly diverse cuisine. The term “Indian cuisine” is exactly like trying to describe European cuisine with a single term.
Indian foods represent a broad spectrum of flavors, intensity and sophistication, just like the country itself. Regional influences range from climatic conditions and geographic altitude to religion. As a result, the kitchens are very different - no wonder in a country of over 1 billion people who live in an area of over 1.2 million square miles. In addition to the different uses of spices in local kitchens, Indian cuisine differs from other Asian cuisines through the flatbreads and the much greater use of dairy products. The flatbreads are made from wheat, rice or ground legumes, depending on the part of the country; the dairy products range from milk, cream, yoghurt, buttermilk, sour cream and cheese.
In addition to these superficial differences, there are other differentiations: The northern Indians usually use the spices ground, while in the south they start with whole spices, which are then mixed with fried onions and other ingredients to form a paste. The south is a rice country, while the north Indians prefer wheat or other grains. The exception is Kashmir, where one of the best rice varieties in the world is grown. In the tropical south coconut milk is used excessively, an ingredient that is almost non-existent in the north. Fish and seafood are of course primarily used on the coasts or rivers. Therefore, Bengal is also a region of fish lovers, preferably freshwater fish. The parts of India that have lived under Muslim influence for a very long time show a great influence of Persian cuisine, e.g. the use of fresh and dried fruits, cashews, pistachios and almonds in meat dishes and also a variety of dairy products. Mughal royal kitchens often use more than 12 different spices in a single recipe, including the most expensive ones like saffron, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
The cuisine of Goa in the south-west of the country now also reflects the centuries-long Portuguese occupation. The Goans eat pork and duck, meat that is otherwise rarely eaten, and they use vinegar as an acidulant.
Undoubtedly the strongest influence on Indian food is religion. The Hindu religion that has ruled for centuries and the strong belief in the rebirth of humans in other living beings have resulted in one of the most delicate vegetarian cuisines in the world. Vegetarians use a wide range of legumes as proteins, both whole and chopped. Mixed with cereals, enriched with other vegetables and dairy products and strongly seasoned, they support a healthy, varied diet.
But nothing is easy in India: Brahmins and members of the merchant caste strictly follow the vegetarian diet, other castes eat meat. The ways in which the vegetarian dishes are prepared differ greatly from region to region. The non-Hindu minorities have their own courts and in turn influence others. And there is cashmere - where the Brahmins eat meat, but no onion and no garlic.
Hinduism also determines what types of meat people eat. Beef is strictly forbidden because the Hindus have recognized the life-giving role of the cow in society since ancient times: from the production of dairy products to the cow dung used as fertilizer for the fields. Even today, the slaughter of cows is prohibited except in the predominantly Christian parts of Goa. Therefore goat meat, lamb and chicken are preferred by the other Hindus.
The Muslim minority in India - currently around 11 percent - has influenced the cuisine and eating habits throughout India. The Vedic tribes in prehistoric times had an ascetic, strict lifestyle, including when it came to eating, in order to maintain their purity. Conversations over dinner or simply meeting with others were avoided in order to avoid pollution from the kitchen of the host or the respective caste. The Muslims who conquered large parts of India in the 12th century had much smaller restrictions due to their beliefs - only alcohol and pork were forbidden. What is more important, Islam promoted the sharing of food with others, e.g. through the zakat, the compulsory 40th part of the income that has to be given by everyone within the Islamic community as a "tax" and then distributed.
Hospitality played an important role in posh Mughal society, and as Persians, Mughal leaders brought excellent cuisine to share with others. In today's India, the influence of Mughal cuisine is felt most in the culinary centers of Delhi and Lucknow in the north and in Hyderabad in the south. But while the kebabs, pilafs, korma and yogurt dishes come from simple sources, their expressions are colored by the local cuisine. The dishes from Delhi and Lucknow are more reminiscent of their Persian models - additionally enhanced by the addition of cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and ground chilli, which is typical for the north. In Hyderabad, mustard seeds, curry leaves, hot chili peppers, tamarind and coconut milk are used in various dishes.
The typical Indian restaurant kitchen only superficially reflects the true Indian cuisine. The Hindus from Punjabi, who poured from the borders of Pakistan into the interior of India in the course of the division of the Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India, opened the first restaurants in 1945. Their tandoori ovens, shaped like an Indian beehive, began their triumphant advance. The ovens are heated to up to 1000 degrees inside so that meat, fish and bread can be prepared at lightning speed. A mixture of Punjabi and Mughal cuisines became the restaurant standard both in India and abroad. If you want to taste the true breadth of Indian cuisine, you have to search intensively abroad but also in India. There are very few restaurants left that serve the original dishes of Indian cuisine.
The alternative, of course, is cooking at home. There are quite a number of Indian cookbooks out there and the cooking techniques aren't all that difficult. The spices are simply ground together in a grinder and the spice pastes are pureed in a mixer or in a food processor.
But in between, what is that stuff that is called "curry" and what we have eaten all the years? I'm not afraid of anything Indian. The colonial powers have never been known for their linguistic accuracy in the adaptation of native names and no one knows where the English took this word from. "Kari" is a South Indian word for sauce and "tarkari" is a North Indian dish - this can be the source, but does not have to be. No doubt the “sahibs” and “memsahibs” loved Indian cuisine. Then when they returned to England they would tell their cooks which spices to grind together and use them to flavor their boring English dishes. Now the world knows this as curry powder and everything that is cooked with it is a curry dish. As if the same boring and hard to digest combination dish after dish could reflect the wonders of Indian cuisine!
The finesse of Indian cuisine is as rich and diverse as its society. It is an art form that through generations has only been passed on by mouth to mouth, from the guru (teacher) to his vidhyarthi (disciple) or from mother to daughter. The diversity reaches astonishing proportions if one takes into account the many regional variations. Very often the taste, color, texture, and appearance of the same dish varies from state to state. Indian hospitality is legendary. In Sanskrit literature, the words "Atithi Devo Bhava" or "The guest is really your God" are the law of hospitality. Indians believe it is an honor for them to share meals with a guest. Therefore, even the poorest like to invite guests and share their meager meals with a guest. And the pride of the Indian women, who never want to see a guest leave their house hungry or dissatisfied, is particularly noteworthy. Indians are known for their incredible ability to provide perfect meals to their guests, whether invited or not.
Eating and drinking are the culmination of most festivities and celebrations. Whatever the occasion, the Indians eat with great enjoyment and always strive to find an occasion for a festival and to be cheerful. For traditional or festive meals, the thali (the plates on which the food is served) or the banana leaves are decorated with rangoli - drawings with white colored powders around the edges.
Muglai (Mughal cuisine)
Hydarabad / Andhra Pradesh
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