The Land of Spices – A Food Tour to India
Let us go on a Food Tour to India, the land of Spices. Explore the Non-Veg Food of North & the Spicy Foods of South. Relax with our Masala Chai Recipe.
When I start to get overwhelmed with feelings of homesickness, I know it's time to plan a trip to see my family. The powerful aroma of home cooking and mom's chai tea form a thick and comforting bath that helps quiet the pangs of homesickness, at least for the time being. It's the ideal opportunity for a little trip through the art of Indian cooking!
Let us start our Food Tour to India
First of all, it has to be said: there's no such thing as a single, unified Indian cuisine. Thanks to the influences of culture, religion, and geography, the Indian subcontinent's food culture varies widely from region to region. For instance, more meat is eaten in the northern part of the country, although practitioners of Islam (of which there are some in the North) abstain from pork, and Hindus refrain from eating beef for religious reasons. As anyone who has stumbled bleary-eyed from the bedroom early in the morning and come face to face with a cow staring blankly on the street knows: cows are sacred in Hinduism. They can go where they please, occasionally even halting traffic in the process.
Spicy Food of South India
The farther south you go, the more prominent vegetarian cuisine becomes, and the spicier things get. And here you'll find the heart and soul of Indian cuisine: the spice mixture. Spicy Garam Masala (which translates simply as "hot mixture") is enough to make you sweat. The term "curry," however, was coined by the British colonialists; in India, the word points only to the spicy sauces created by a skilful interplay of spices. Omnipresent is aromatic spices: turmeric, cardamom, cumin, and coriander. But every family has its traditional mixtures and ratios, passed down from one generation to the next around the family stove.
Indian society places particularly high importance on family. Thus, it's no wonder that even those with full-time jobs prefer to eat meals cooked at home. To meet this need, a sophisticated transport system of Dabbawalas ("ones who carry the box") evolved during colonial times, to carry home-cooked lunches to the office each day.
Where to begin?
So without further ado, we'll invite you to the table! Or, in this case, the floor, where Indian families typically eat at home – cross-legged and only with the right "clean" hand. At these meals, everything is served at the same time. Essentials not to be missed are flatbreads of all kinds, whether regular chapatis from white flour, naan (with a dough fermented with yoghurt and yeast), fried puri, crispy papad from lentil flour or parathas (flatbreads filled with vegetables or potatoes). In addition to bread and rice (ideally aromatic basmati rice), there's also usually yoghurt of some kind to defeat the spicy heat, and all sorts of one-pot dishes with daal (lentils of all kinds), potatoes, beans or spinach. And because Indians love their spices, you'll also find a car, fruits or vegetables marinated in oil and spices, and chutney, a sweet-sour piquant sauce.
Indian Street Food
Outside of these familial meal times, Indians also love to snack from street vendors – and delicious street food can be found on every corner here! Whether it's samosas (dough pockets filled with a spicy mixture of potatoes and peas), gol gappas or sweets such as fried laddu, made from chickpea flour (in India desserts are often fried and dunked in sweet sugar syrup). Of course, it goes without saying that you'll have to judge the hygiene of each stand for yourself. But despite sampling all kinds of wonderful street food, I've only ever had a problem once: in a hotel, where they tried to imitate a traditional western breakfast with soft-cooked eggs.
Indian Masala Chai
After your meal, you can enjoy a cup of masala chai, undoubtedly the national drink of India, which has spread throughout the world thanks to the British. In India, you can practically get a cup of chai on every corner from the Chaiwalas ("ones with the chai"). A cup of tea completes the culinary fireworks and awakens you from drowsiness after a hefty meal – and from my mental journey to India!
Recipe for Masala Chai (8 Cups)
- 6 cups of water
- 4 cups of milk
- Six cardamom capsules (or ground spice)
- Four cloves
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp anise
- One stick cinnamon
- ½ tbsp minced ginger
- Sugar to taste
- 4 tbsp black tea
Combine all the ingredients except the tea in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir, reduce the heat and allow to simmer uncovered for a few minutes. Add the black tea and bring the mixture briefly back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and allow it to steep for about 10 minutes. Then remove the tea and enjoy it!