CURRY RICE & SPICE!
Indian Food is famous the whole world over. There is hardly a country in the world where someone will not look up from the tv set and shout: ‘Hey let’s have an Indian tonight’. The most popular dish in Britain is not ‘fish and chips’ or ‘steak and kidney pie‘, but Indian food! How did Indian dishes develop, and how do people eat in India today?
Did you know that curry is not a spice? That’s right. What we call curry is a gravy made with a combination of peppers, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric and other spices. The word curry comes ‘kari’, a south indian word that means ‘sauce’. These spices have inspired wars and taste buds all over the world!
Spice adds a delicious favour to food, but there are other benefits. Spices were much needed before refrigerators were invented. They were used to preserve meat, sometimes for more than a year. If the meat had gone off in spite of this treatment, at least the spices would mask the bad taste! Without spices, people went hungry because they could not preserve their foods in the winter. Such was the importance of spices.
Recently, scientists have confirmed that cloves contain a chemical called eugenol that slows the growth of bacteria.
More than 7000 years ago merchant ships from Egypt and Greece sailed to India in search of its magical spices. A steady trade developed, and around the year 1000 Arabians had conquered India, and brought with them cumin and coriander and mixed it with Indian peper, ginger and turmeric. That famous combination is the spice-base of so many Indian dishes.
It seems amazing today as spices have become so cheap! But all throughout the dark ages until the 1800’s people would risk their neck for spices, and pay for them with gold! Vasco Da Gama sailed in 1497 from Portugal to India and Africa on a 24.000 mile journey. He lost two ships, but returned with a cargo of spices worth 60 times the cost of his journey!
Spices were rare and expensive. A pound of ginger was worth a sheep, and a sack of pepper was worth a man’s life. Bloody sea-wars were fought over the spice-trade. What people will not to in order to improve the flavour of their food!
Gradually, Great Britain began to emerge as the dominant trader with India. Britain’s famous East India Company was started in the year 1600 in order to conduct trade between Great Britain, India and China. The company grew very large and powerful due to a flourishing trade in tea, cotton, silk, opium and spices. The East India Company closed down in the year 1857, and replaced with the British Raj under the reign of Queen Victoria.
However, the Spice Trade continues. India’s most popular spices are: coriander, turmeric, garlic, pepper, cumin, cardamom, chillies, and vanilla.
BREADS & DISHES
Of course we eat more than curry in India. Apart from the sauce, we eat rice, or a combination of Indian breads. Some of these are:
Roti (a flat round unleavened break)
Dosa (a thin folded pan cake)
Naan, (a larger soft bread, often covered with melted butter)
Paratha (a brown flat wheat bread)
Then of course are such famous dishes are Tandoori chicken (marinated chicken chunks grilled in a clay oven), and biryani (flavored orange colored rice cooked with meat and vegetables).
A vegetarian only eats vegetable foods, and abstains from eating meats. Food plays a major part in Indian religion. Thousands of years ago, food was consumed after animal sacrifices to the gods. But with the rise of Budhism and Jainism, this slowly this started to change. The founders of these new religions believed in non-violence. They would quote old hindu sayings like: ‘How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?’
The Hindu (brahmin) priests who used to offer animal sacrifices, noticed the new message, and slowly started to change. Today, Hinduism preaches the vegetarian way throughout India.
There are different reasons why people choose not to eat meat.
Religious reasons. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, and that killing animals is wrong.
Health reasons. A vegetarian diet is safe and healthy as many meats contain toxins and chemicals.
Economical reasons. Vegetarian foods like rice, wheat, lentils, and fruits are cheaper than meat.
Compassionate reasons. Many animals get treated badly, and live short lives to support the meat production industry.
The Indian dishes that we eat in Btitain are simply a dream to most people in India. They live on a very simple diet of rice, cooked lentils (dal), and flat breads (roti’s). Rice and dal in the afternoon, rice and dal in the evening. Yesterday, tomorrow, and next year. It’s the staple diet for hundreds of millions of Indians. Nutritious, easy and cheap.
Only rich villagers and people in the city can afford the different curry dishes. Variety is a luxury most people in the country can not afford.
Indian cooking has had a huge impact in the world. We can see this impact in two areas: The spread of the vegetarian lifestyle, and the popularity of Indian cooking.
India has influenced the world with its vegetarian culture. By 1908 the vegetarian movement had become global and the ‘International Vegetarian Union’ was started in Germany. Today there are many millions of vegetarians all over the world.
The United States has over 10.000 restaurants serving Indian food. In Britain, Indian food is even more popular. Two and a half million people have a curry every week. Over half of the meals that are eaten out in Britain today are Indian meals.
Popular Culture: ‘The Female of Spices’, an Indian movie based in New York about the healing properties of indian spices. Helen Mirren appeared in a 2014 film about Indian cuisine called 'The Hundred Foot Journey'. Anjum Anand's books and television appearances about Indian cooking have reached millions across the world.