Think you know everything you need to know about Indian food? You eat it regularly enough, you know your way around an Indian menu and you are au fait with jeera, methi, dhania and ajwain. However, there’s far more to Indian food than the chicken tikka masala, bhuna ghost, and prawn vindaloo you find served up at your local high street curry house.
With more than 1.2 billion people living in 29 states, India is a melting pot of culinary adventure. Here are a few facts that may (or may not) surprise you about the world’s most populous democracy.
- The history of modern Indian food can be traced back to the 3000 BC Harappan civilisation. Their diets consisted mainly of rice, wheat, chickpeas and lentils, as well as various vegetables and the meat from sheep, pigs and cows.
- India produces the greatest variety of spices in the world. It contributes 70% of all spice production around the globe – that equates to more than 1.5 million tonnes of pepper, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, asafoetida, cardamom, chilli powder…You get the idea).It comes as no surprise, therefore, that India is commonly referred to as the Land of Spices.
- Indian cuisine is based on the theory that the food is formed of six distinct flavours. These are: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy and astringent. To achieve the perfect Indian meal you need to blend together these different flavours, with no single flavour over-powering the others. And the golden rule is not to use all six in one dish.
- India consumes 50% of the world’s whiskey. This figure can, in part, be put down to the country’s huge population. One of the many things introduced to India by the British, whiskey has since been popularised by Bollywood. And all this in spite of strict rules surrounding the consumption of alcohol in many parts of India – voting days, for example, are ‘dry days’ in India.
- India has the world’s lowest meat consumption per person. With more than 500 million vegetarians avoiding meat in their daily diets, vegetarianism is a way of life for many of India’s residents. As a result, India has the most sophisticated and ancient vegetarian cuisine of any other country.
- Junk food is, unfortunately, as much part of India’s culinary landscape as it is in Western countries. Of course, with so many veggies in the country, walking into a McDonald’s or KFC in India you are not presented with the usual meat-fest of a menu. Instead, the menu is predominantly vegetarian and full of ‘tasty’ fast food including the ‘McVeggie’, ‘McAlooTikki Burger’, and ‘Veg Zinger’.
Moving away from junk food and the standard high street curry house, there is a taste of India that you may not have yet experienced. London is home to some of the UK’s most prestigious fine dining Indian restaurants where the focus is on authentic, refined cuisine. Using recipes steeped in tradition which are given a contemporary twist, a visit to one of these restaurants will increase your knowledge of ‘real’ Indian cuisine no end.