I know I haven’t been posting in this category for a while but the amount of information, and repeat information, is extensive and hard to filter, so it took a while but here it is.
As always I shall start with the history of the cuisine, although one thing I noticed is that Indian Cuisine is more affected by the politics that went on for five thousand years, as opposed to Jamaica or America where it just came about all at once, so this should be interesting.
Indian Cuisine started off a lot like Italian food did, with several sub-cultures each with their own practices, beliefs, ways of life and, most importantly for the food preparation, climates and locally available foods. Historically, and probably now for that matter, a diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, grain products, dairy, honey and\or meat, especially poultry.
Beef would be considerably rarer, as the Bagavad Vita, a Hindu scripture, bans eating beef under the belief cows are sacred. This is why cows are all over the urban streets of India, they are sacred. Keep in mind not everyone Indian avoids eating cow meat, Hinduism one of many religions [80% of the Indian population is Hindu, 13% Islam and 2% Christian, and 5% other] , so that’s why you would see beef at an Indian restaurant.
There were several dynasties of India during the Middle Ages until Central Asian people invaded and which lead to the Mughal Cuisine, a mix of Indian and Central Asian foods.
Vasco da Gama landing in Calicut, India circa 1498
Other invasions, such as the one by the Portuguese also affected the culture and food, this time introducing potatoes, breadfruit and chile [I don’t think any Indians in that time would have thought how they would be thankful for being given a worldwide favourite spice eh?]. Conquering places, although a brilliant solution to any problem in the old days, wasn’t the only way Indian got some of it’s staple food, trading with the Persians and Israelites worked as well, without the nasty side effect of oppression. I’ll end the history section with an interesting thought. While most people might consider food relatively trivial to the real going ons in history, which could be valid really, the European/Indian spice trade was very important indeed. It lead to the Age of Discovery, when the Europeans explored [sorry that’s old English, modern translation: sticking flags in] Africa and the Oceans.
Today Indian food can be found around the world, from North America, to Britain, to the Caribbean, to the Middle East, so clearly it was successful. It can get particular too. While most of the time vegetable oil is used, lots of other s are used as well. Northern and Western India favour peanut oil, while the East has mustard oil, coconut oil for the west coast, and gingelly [sesame] oil for the south.
Ghee is unique to India cooking and can sometimes be found in Grocery stores (in jars and unrefrigerated)
All of these are popular because they have their own flavours. The variety is justifiable, considering how oil is used basically for nine out of ten dishes in one way or another, some change would be a relief.
Seafood is the same way, I find. It is pivotal to the Andaman and Nicobar islands, were the indigenous Andamanese people had little contact with the outside world and relied heavily on fish. Outside cultures are now settled there so culture is different and the cuisine has more foods it can use. As I mentioned before, there are lots of regions, and I myself counted 33 of them [from a Wikipedia article so it’s an accurate source] and I’m afraid I can’t record all of them nor do I want to unfairly highlight a few of them, so all I can say is that they are all unique and wonderful.
While I can’t show prejudice to cultures, I think showing some for a few popular ingredients is acceptable, so hopefully I can get enough material to finish this post. Garlic, for instance, has a very interesting history with India. It is believed to have great medicinal powers from helping digestion problems to curing infectious diseases. Its smell is unmistakable [ask Dracula] and is eaten throughout India excluding the Kashmiri Hindus [I got the Led Zeppelin song stuck in your heads didn’t I] and the Jain sect.
When simply used for flavour, it is used as a root with onions and ginger in meat recipes a lot. For those of you how want to know what Garam Masala is, it blend of spices. It literally translates as aromatic mix. The specific mix can change from entire countries to regions to neighborhoods. Even the grind can change from a coarse grind to fine powder. As for cinnamon, it is the dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree, which is an evergreen indigenous to Sri Lanka. It is used in many things including Garam Masala, and can be used in raw stick form or ground up for savoury or sweet dishes.
In Ayruvedic medicine it is used to alleviate headaches, colds, and rheumatic [Arthritis] pains. Cinnamon bark also makes a type of hot tea to sooth a sore throat. And lastly, nutmeg and mace. Mace is from in between the outer husk and inner core and nutmeg is the kernel. They come from the tree mysterica fragrans [probably Latin]. Nutmeg is used in small ground amounts in desserts, and mace is less sweet and is also used as a ground spice. I’m not sure about mace [except as a protective spray], but nutmeg also has a purpose, it is believed to help cure bronchitis and rheumatism.
Not a very happy picture of “Tea Time” during the Victorian Era when Britain ruled over India
Indian eating customs are mostly familiar to Western, I found, possibly because of their influence from the British conquerors. A healthy breakfast is preferred [okay, not too western with our sugary options] paired with coffee or tea. Depending on region, flatbreads, vegetables, milk, chutneys, pickles, curds, and others are used. Lunch can be made of rice, whole wheat rotis, and usually two types of vegetables, as well. Tea time is popular as is the idea that dinner is the most important meal of the day.
As I said before, there are many types of Indian cuisine, not only in India, but around the world, and that is a clear sign it is good. So the judging shall begin.
First is taste. I find that Indian is among the tastiest, so there is no trouble here. One thing I will say is that desserts often are very sweet, even for me [I think it’s to counteract the spiciness] but I had Julebi once, and it was quite good. Julebi is a deep-fried dough coil dipped in syrup.
Secondly is health, which, for a cuisine largely consisting of brown foods, might not look too good, but fortunately the herbs and vegetarianism clears it up somewhat, but not quite enough.
Lastly is diversity, and in this it thrives, mostly because of the amount of ingredients that vary, as well as the different versions around the world.
There are two questions left: is it good enough? I think it is certainly tasty and diverse enough, but cuisines like Japanese can beat it out in health. With that answer, there is but one question: Whose cuisine will reign supreme?