This blog post is the experience of a woman who is part of the Paradise Indian Grill. This is first business venture for us and the last two years with this business has been a roller coaster ride. I am writing this post to clear the misconceptions about India /Indian food!
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about India?
A billion-plus people?
or is it Curry?
A country with forty languages and roughly 1600 dialects, India is as diverse as it can get.
The cuisine is equally reflective of the diversity and there is truly no such thing as "Indian cuisine". Indian food is generalized way more than you would expect. What you see in most Indian restaurants is simply just a few dishes (from Northern India primarily) that have become popular - naan, butter chicken, tandoori chicken. This really does not do justice to Indian food.
It is like assuming "Italian cuisine is all Pasta with different sauces".
Even I (who has lived in India for 21 years) haven't been exposed to the wide variety of the food that the country has to offer - from light vegetarian fare with steamed vegetables to tangy fish curries, plethora of parathas, breakfast items like Dosa and sweets. To give some context to this, me and husband belong to same state in India. It will be interesting to note that me and my husband do not speak the same dialect of the language - "In fact I do not understand quite a few words he uses and it took me years to understand the dialect his side of the family speaks. He has the same issue". The way food is cooked and recipes are very different. I always wondered why this huge difference when our families lived just 150 miles apart and that led me to research more about Indian history. My research has led to me to conclude that the difference is primarily because of invasions, religion, location and cooking style influenced by the available resources.
The place I come from (Hyderabad) was ruled by Nizams (huge influence of Muslim culture) while the place my husband comes from was primarily ruled by Hindu leaders. The resources available and climate was different, which motivated people to innovate ways to survive with what was available ("Necessity is the mother of invention") - leading to the differences in food (changes in its ingredients, style of cooking and taste) along with many other aspects.
India was invaded over the millenia by many foreign cultures. Most of them left their influences behind which are evident in the cooking techniques and ingredients used. For example - Mughals brought in the korma, biryani, and the tandoor while Portuguese taught us to include cashews, tomateos and chillies in our meals.
Take all the factors mentioned above and add cooking style to it - each household adding its own twist to the same recipe resulting in endless possibilities.
One of the top chefs from India Sanjeev Kapoor says in his book "How to Cook Indian" that "Even if you taste a new dish everyday it will take a few lifetimes before you could exhaust the entire repertoire of the Indian food"
My hope from this post is that at least a few of us realize that not all Indian restaurants are the same. The cooking style and taste of the dishes is influenced by the owners and chefs in these restaurants. The name of the dishes might be same but the taste is expected to differ. Our restaurant, Paradise Indian Grill, is primarily influenced by South Indian cooking style and dishes.
I strongly believe we all have different tastes and hence, prefer one restaurant over the other. We established our restaurant because of our passion towards food, South Indian culture and since our tastes were different from what other restaurants in the area were offering - that does not mean they are bad, it just means they do not satisfy our taste buds. We strongly wanted to cater to the other segment which was craving for South Indian cuisine.
My request : "Please embrace the diversity in Indian cuisine and do not generalize Indian cuisine which leads to comparisons!"
Do not be afraid to try new things! Happy 4th of July Paradisers!
Picture courtesy: https://www.humanium.org/en/indian-food-diversity/