Indian cuisine is as rich as the culture of the vast sub-continent and as diverse as the people who inhabit it. Each region in India has its own food and unique style: cream, yogurt, “ghee” (light butter) and walnuts characterize the dishes of the North, while chili, coconut and coconut oil characterize those of the South.
Authentic Indian food competes with French and Japanese cuisine as one of the great culinary traditions of the world. Reflecting the numerous cultures in its enormous variety, Indian food ranges from simple vegetarian dishes to tasty chicken and fish morsels made with dozens of unique ingredients. Each region has its own specialties, influenced by religion, history and geography and each restaurant and each chef adds their own special touch to it, making each dish unique.
The Indian word for spices is “masala”. The word masala also means a combination of species, herbs and seasonings that are ground together. Masala plays a very important role in Indian cuisine. Far from being used only to flavor, it works both as an appetite stimulator and as a digestive. The secret of Indian cuisine is not only the choice of the right species, but also their mixing and dry frying. In this way, their full aroma can develop properly.
Tandoori refers to a way of barbecuing on coal embers that originated in the wild lands of the north-western border province and was spread through the merchant caravans. All dishes prepared in the Tandoor oven are called Tandoori dishes.
The traditional Indian clay oven is called “Tandoor”. Food cooked in Tandoor forms the basis of a style of cuisine that developed in the arid north-western border province (present-day Afghanistan). The Tandoor clay pot is dipped up to the neck in the ground. Charcoal embers are placed in the bottom of the pan. The heat generated by the coal embers on the side of the clay pot cooks the food on skewers, iron sticks long enough to reach the bottom of the Tandoor pot. On the side of the clay pot, instead, the classic Naan bread is placed. Tandoor is probably the most versatile element of Indian cooking utensils. The meat and Naan bread made in it acquire a unique flavor, very different from the food cooked in normal kitchen ovens.
Naan, a typical flat, thin and round bread, is cooked directly for a few minutes on the inner walls of the Tandoor, heated by the hot coal embers that are located at the bottom of the oven. In India, Naan is a dish that cannot be missed at the table. It can be also consumed only with sauces and vegetables. It is more than just a traditional curry accompaniment dish, it is a vital dish in Indian cuisine.
Finally, a curiosity about the word “curry”. The term is a phonetic misunderstanding imported into Europe by the British. The origins are unknown but it is thought to derive from the Tamil word “kari” which means sauce. This word is often used as a synonym for all Indian spicy dishes, sometimes also for dishes prepared with typical sauces. It is not to be confused with the spice mixture known by that name in Europe. Curry is a mixture dish of various spices, mixed in a personal way, prepared in a sauce with a flavor that is different every time it is prepared. It can be both vegetarian but it can also contain fish and meat. Each chef prepares his curry in his own way and ingredients like the mixture used to make masala are kept secret. In this way each dish remains unique.