What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say, “Indian Food”? Let me guess … spicy, curry, chicken tikka, rich, elaborate? What if I said that none of that is true? Well, not entirely. Many of my friends in the West either love Indian food for its flavors or they are petrified of its colors and its zesty reputation. I am no chef nor am I a nutritionist. I am simply a foodie who’d like to ease your mind about some of these age-old myths about Indian food and maybe encourage the skeptics out there, to give it a shot.
Indian food is spicy – The word ‘spicy’ in relation to food is so widely misused that it has almost lost its meaning. If in ‘spicy’ you are referring to hot with chilies and its like, then no, not all Indian food is spicy. In some western regions of India like Gujarat and northern regions like Kashmir, the traditional food is in fact sweet with the abundance of raisins and nuts. Dishes from the warmer southern states in India tend to include more chilies and the original reason for this was somewhat simple – the chilies made one sweat more thus cooling the body.
If in ‘spicy’ you are referring to spices like cumin, turmeric, garlic, etc, then yes, Indian food is blessed with an abundance of culinary flavors. Apart from taste, many of these spices provide several medicinal effects. Ginger helps the digestive system, cumin keeps the immune system healthy, turmeric has healing powers and the list goes on.
Indian food is curry – Indian food is among the most diverse and varied cuisines but unfortunately the world perceives it as just ‘curry’. The dictionary definition of curry is ‘a food or dish seasoned with curry powder’. If you however go to an Indian store to buy this curry powder, you will be faced with over thirty varieties of it. To say that you feel like eating curry and then order Channa Masala or Saag Paneer is just wrong. Infact in India, the word ‘curry’ has a very different meaning. In the southern parts of India, it typically describes a meat based gravy that one eats with rice. In the northern parts of India, the word ‘curry’ is almost non-existent ad replaced with words like ‘Subzi’ or ‘Masala’.
Indian food is Chicken Tikka Masala – How many Indians do you know who grew up eating Chicken Tikka Masala at home? Probably none. And that is because it isn’t really an Indian dish! Created and promoted by the British, it is said to now be UK’s national and most popular dish. I encourage you to look beyond the tikka. Ranging from crispy samosas dipped in tangy yet refreshing mango chutney to the soothing flavors of lentils carefully cooked in the richness of garlic and coriander. Your choices are endless.
Indian food is too rich – Indian dishes have evolved and restaurants tend to add a considerable amount of butter or cream to enrich the dish further. However, this isn’t inherent. Like any cuisine it is upto to you as to how much oil or ghee (clarified butter) you use. Indian food spans a broad spectrum of vegetables which can be cooked in a range of ways that will still keep your cholesterol and waistline in check while also appealing to the palate. I won’t deny that it has its own share of temptations and maybe passing on that order of jalebis are easier said than done.
Indian food is elaborate – A huge misconception is that Indian cooking is tedious and elaborate and better left to the professionals. For the newcomer, yes it can be intimidating. But isn’t that true with anything new? It does have its share of extravagant dishes that require a little more familiarity and lots of patience. However unlike the common belief, there are several Indian dishes that can be made with just a couple of spices found in your local grocery store.
So the next time you are about to set out for dinner or order take out, I challenge you to put aside the menus for those standard five restaurants that you always turn to, and try some different. Something exquisite. So who’s up for some good Indian food?
“Its nice that you try different dishes but I’m still waiting for my favorite dish. Chocolate Masala” – My 4yr old daughter