There is a perception in the West that in India, an impoverished and overpopulated country, overcooked and spicy food is eaten. But that’s not the case at all. Indian culture won me over with its cuisine. Such a variety of tastes, colors, smells cannot be found, in my opinion, in any other cuisine in the world. And this despite the fact that traditional Indian cuisine is vegetarian.
Due to spices, various vegetables, grains, milk and oils, thousands of dishes proven over the centuries are created. For several years now, I have been trying to master the main dishes of this cuisine, learning from local women. In a new article for Realness Viremia, I will talk about what my menu has become after a long stay in India.
All five flavors
The first thing Indian cuisine is remembered for, especially if you get to know it not in restaurants designed for Western tourists, but in street cafes or visiting Indians, is the spiciness of the dishes. Indians love very spicy food, like the rest of the inhabitants of the hot zone. For many reasons. Hot peppers, chili, put in food, because it increases sweating and helps to endure heat more easily. In addition, pepper copes well with the destruction of infections in the body.
After some time, I learned to eat moderately spicy food, and after that, Russian cuisine seems boring and insipid to me. True, there are as many peppers as the Indians, but I’m still not used to it. They throw a handful of dried red peppers into any salty and sometimes sweet dish, and then bite it with green chili as well. Chili is not a traditional product for India, it was brought from other hot countries, but initially Indian cuisine also has a spicy taste due to ginger and black pepper.
However, it is not only about the spicy taste. The basics of Indian cooking are based on such a science of human health as Ayurveda, which says that all tastes should be present in food during lunch: bitter, sour, spicy, sweet, and astringent.
Whatever cafe in the country you go to, for lunch you will be offered a traditional set of dishes – thali, at a fixed price. From Hindi, it translates as “large plate” or “tray”. A hill of rice is placed on a large round tray, and small cups with all kinds of snacks.
side dishes, seasonings and sauces are placed around it. This is quite a hearty meal, in India there is even a saying: “Men eat thali to be strong, and women to be fat and beautiful.” In some cafes (and in the homes of residents of some states), thali is served in the traditional way, not on a tray, but on banana leaves: this method is good for health, banana leaves release useful substances when in contact with food.
The same thali is prepared at home, and on holidays the number of dishes can reach 20-25. Also, a slice of lemon, a slice of ginger and a little salt are placed on the tray, they must be eaten first to awaken the appetite and start digestion.
Moreover, in most Indian cafes, you can get an additive for free: after some time, you will be offered more rice and various vegetable dishes.
Bean dishes – dal
Indians usually eat without the use of cutlery, with their right hand. The left is considered unclean. Eating with your hands is healthy and delicious. It is useful because it is difficult to take too much with your hand, fingers are sensitive to the consistency of food and its temperature.
unlike a spoon. Rice itself is dry, and in order to soak it, medium-thick pea soup is poured directly into a hill of rice, dal. From very small peas, which quickly boil and form a thick creamy soup, to large peas, which are known in Russia.
Bean dishes are superior in protein to all other foods. Masala usually includes fresh ginger paste and turmeric.
Almost all Indian housewives have pressure cookers at home: they can quickly boil dal, saving gas, which is not cheap in the country.
The poor who cannot buy vegetables every day eat only rice and dal. In difficult times, when dal grows in price, they eat only rice, eating it with green chili. The markets where vegetables are sold are called “sabji bazaars”, where fresh vegetables and fruits freshly harvested in the fields and beds are unloaded every morning at sunrise.
Others are little known in the West: breadfruit, potol (Indian cucumber), bitter melon (karela), green papaya, and so on. In India, Shaka dishes are very popular, this herb is very cheap and available all year round.
Vegetables are fried mainly in mustard oil, which, by the way, has a very high combustion temperature. It is also called liquid gold, because earlier a person’s wealth was judged by ghee reserves. Several types of sabji are served on the holiday at once.
In traditional Indian cuisine, there is no baking, the bread is fried. Usually the stove is built in the yard of clay bricks, the fuel is cakes made from cow dung. In the villages and towns that still make up most of India, women can be seen plastering fences and trees with these cakes so that they dry out.
Although there are electric stoves in many Indian homes, sourdough or yeast bread is still not eaten by most Indians. But here, as in all Eastern cultures, there is a wide variety of cakes that are cooked on an open fire.
The most popular flatbread is chapati. Cooking it is not so easy, girls from childhood, under the supervision of their mother, learn to roll perfectly flat cakes from flour, water and salt. Then they are slightly warmed up in a hot flat frying pan without sides and thrown directly into the fire or on a metal grate above the fire.