Indian cuisine: Diverse by region, diverse in flavour

Photograph by Deepika Shewaramani
Let’s be honest – when most people think of Indian food, they tend to think of spicy curry. Although admittedly the spicy part is true, real Indian cuisine is so much more than different types of boiling stew.

Indian cuisine encompasses food from the five regions and twenty-eight states of the second most-populated country in the world. It is one of the most diverse cuisines as each region has its own unique food and dining customs.

Butter chicken, naan, samosas and saag paneer are some of the most distinctly known Indian dishes. Canadian establishments have begun offering them due to their popularity, and marketing them as Indian flavour.

In reality, New York Fries’ butter chicken poutine does not compare to the true richness of the creamy tomato delicacy. Starbucks’ Butter Chicken Wrap does not give any justice to the real flavour of butter chicken and freshly baked naan – fluffy, buttered flatbread. The samosas found at Loblaws or Metro do not even come close to the actual deep-fried triangular pastries, stuffed savoury with onions, peas and potatoes. Similarly, their frozen saag paneer is incomparable to the genuine creamy spinach and cheese dish.

A typical meal in India is served on a thali: a large plate with small bowls containing curry vegetables, meat, chutney, yogurt, rice, and some form of baked bread. The type of food in the thali varies from region to region.

From the heart of Punjab originates Tandoori chicken, chicken infused with aromatic red chilli peppers and yogurt, roasted in a clay oven. Also from Northern India stems biryani, Basmati rice cooked in pepper, mint leaves, cardamom, and saffron, normally served with a side of salad and yogurt.

Western India’s thali’s are largely vegetarian, due to beliefs of Jainism and Hinduism. From Gujarat originates dhokla, a sweet and spicy rice-flour cake. The thali’s of eastern and northeastern India contain India’s most known desserts. Rasgullas, rasmalai and gulab jamun, which are mouth-watering, syrupy, sugary, cheese and cream based sweets.

Southern India, the spiciest of all, is most known for its dosas, thin, crepe-like pancakes made from rice, relished with coconut chutney and a vegetable stew. It is also known for its rogan josh, a saffron-flavoured lamb and yogurt curry, as well as its piquant green mango chutney.

Traditionally, Indian food is most savoured when eating with your hands to allow full use of your senses. Food is a delicacy; it’s almost worshipped in the nation. It is made with the hands and best enjoyed when eaten with the hands, unless, of course, you decide to use a spoon.

An Indian’s Recommendations:

Amaya: The Indian Room, 1701 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, (416)-322-3270

Amaya offers gourmet north Indian and Mughlai cuisine. It’s sophisticated, genuine and has a great bread bar.

Udupi Palace, 1460 Gerrard Street East, Toronto, (416)-405-8189

Located in Little India, Udupi Palace is a South Indian vegetarian restaurant that offers some of the best traditional dosa, sambar and coconut chutney.

Banjara Indian Cuisine, 796 Bloor Street West, Toronto, (416)-963-9360

Banjara is a great place to go for affordable, authentic north Indian food. It is known as one of the greatest places to check out for butter chicken.