We all like to think of ourselves as gastronomic connoisseurs.
But the truth is, when it comes to food from other cultures, the likelihood is that a good number of important elements have been lost in translation. A perfect example is Indian food.
We (and yes, we are speaking for everyone here) love Indian food. The accessibility and variety of Indian cooking has made curry, samosas and poppadoms a worldwide phenomenon; this type of cuisine offers something to everyone!
And even if we use these cooking terms every day, or have certain preconceptions about food in India, its concept and practice have been transformed through usage and popularity across different continents.
Here are some common myths you probably believe about Indian food:
Indian food has always been traditionally spicy
False. The key ingredient for spicy food is chilli peppers, and this vegetable was not introduced to the Asian sub-continent until the 1400s when Portuguese travellers brought over new food items from South America. At the same time, they added kidney beans (or Rajma) to Indian cooking transported from Mexico.
Fun fact: The famously spicy ‘vindaloo’ curry from the Indian region of Goa is actually an adapted version of a Portuguese dish named ‘(carne) vinha d’alhos’ (‘(meat) and garlic marinade’).
So Indian food wasn’t ‘spicy’ until world exploration made it so!
Chicken Tikka Masala is a popular Indian dish
Technically, Chicken Tikka Masala is a popular Indian style dish, seeing as it actually comes from the city of Glasgow, Scotland. The invention of the curry is disputed, but popularly attributed to either Bangladeshi or Pakistani chefs creating new flavours in the UK.
Seeing as the combination of words is relatively vague (‘tikka’ meaning chopped pieces of chicken, and ‘masala’ meaning spices), it is more than possible that the combination existed in Asia before it was served in the UK but was never attributed. We’ll never know for sure!
Chutney is sweet
This is a particularly prevalent myth for British people. Even though the word chutney itself comes from Hindi (‘चटनी / chatṭnī ’ which comes from ‘to lick’), the term has taken on its own meaning overseas and refers to preserves that tend to have sweet and savoury elements.
Traditionally, in India chutney is neither sweet nor necessarily preserved. Most often, it is made with fresh ingredients and does not use sweet or sugary ingredients.
In fact, the popular accompaniment to curry in the UK, mango chutney, is an invention of the British colonisers. And you thought you were eating it ‘the right way’ all this time.
Curry is a style of dish where you have a sauce on top of rice
If we’re talking about strictly Indian cooking, curry is not a dish. Curry is either a powder (mainly made from coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and chilli peppers) or a way of cooking vegetables (i.e. a verb).
Arguably, almost all Indian dishes could be counted as ‘currys’ by international standards, though they may vary a lot in their content and accompaniments (generally different types of rice or bread).
Chai is a type of tea
Nope. Chai is the Hindi word for tea. So a Chai Tea Latte, if translated fully into English, is a Tea Tea Milk. Nice one, English.
The ‘chai tea’ you know is actually called ‘masala chai’ in India, which (as we have learnt) simply means ‘spiced tea’. It’s traditionally boiled with milk so to add ‘latte’ to the title is not quite necessary either.
Naan is a kind of bread
Can you see where we’re going with this? Naan is not a type of bread. Naan means bread and there are many types of ‘naan’. Mind = blown.
Garam Masala is a type of spice
Actually, it’s many spices. Though we all feel extra fancy when we take this bottle out of the cupboard, what you are using is literally ‘mixed spices’. It now sounds so non-specific that you’ll never be able to look at it in the same way.
What other unknown facts about Indian food have you gathered? We love to take you travelling with food and we hope you share your own food trippin’ experiences!
Ingredient of the week: Chilli peppers
Every week we choose a special ingredient from our menu to explore its background and uses.
Originating in South America (where they have been used for cooking since around 7500 BC), chilli peppers (or chillies) are commonly used worldwide to create spicy dishes and condiments.
Chillies are a good source of vitamins and minerals (the spicier the better) as well as being a good deterrent for diabetes and heart problems.
To taste this week’s ingredient, take a look at our new menu and let us spice up your day!