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Learning Indian Cooking
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opqdan



Joined: 25 May 2006
Posts: 43

PostPosted: Sat Dec 30, 2006 4:06 am    Post subject: Learning Indian Cooking Reply with quote

I realized today that I love Indian food, but have no idea how it is made, or really any of the "theory" of history behind it.

This is something that I would really love to learn, so I immediately went to amazon to search for a book on how to cook indian foods. I was disappointed when all I could find were volumes of collected recipes, with a smattering of real food writing.

I am looking for a book on Indian cooking that has little or no real recipes, but instead focuses on the culture, and the history of the food. I would like the know the names and relations of the dishes, and what each spice adds to the flavor.

Any suggestions?
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EngineeringProfessor



Joined: 07 Sep 2006
Posts: 77

PostPosted: Sun Dec 31, 2006 3:25 am    Post subject: Re: Learning Indian Cooking Reply with quote

opqdan wrote:
I realized today that I love Indian food, but have no idea how it is made, or really any of the "theory" of history behind it.

This is something that I would really love to learn, so I immediately went to amazon to search for a book on how to cook indian foods. I was disappointed when all I could find were volumes of collected recipes, with a smattering of real food writing.

I am looking for a book on Indian cooking that has little or no real recipes, but instead focuses on the culture, and the history of the food. I would like the know the names and relations of the dishes, and what each spice adds to the flavor.

Any suggestions?


India is an incredibly diverse country. Eighteen languages are spoken (or at least recognized by the Indian government) and the primary religion, Hindu, recognizes some 30,000 gods. Speaking of religions, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. This diversity means that Indian cooking is not just curry and tandoori nan. The range of spices and spice mixtures alone that are used is mind boggling! Anyway, your approach is commendable and I would recommend starting with a region of India--that will help you divide and conquer the cooking of this wonderful subcontinent. Browse http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_in_India for a working list of them.
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opqdan



Joined: 25 May 2006
Posts: 43

PostPosted: Sun Dec 31, 2006 4:19 am    Post subject: Re: Learning Indian Cooking Reply with quote

EngineeringProfessor wrote:
opqdan wrote:
I realized today that I love Indian food, but have no idea how it is made, or really any of the "theory" of history behind it.

This is something that I would really love to learn, so I immediately went to amazon to search for a book on how to cook indian foods. I was disappointed when all I could find were volumes of collected recipes, with a smattering of real food writing.

I am looking for a book on Indian cooking that has little or no real recipes, but instead focuses on the culture, and the history of the food. I would like the know the names and relations of the dishes, and what each spice adds to the flavor.

Any suggestions?


India is an incredibly diverse country. Eighteen languages are spoken (or at least recognized by the Indian government) and the primary religion, Hindu, recognizes some 30,000 gods. Speaking of religions, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. This diversity means that Indian cooking is not just curry and tandoori nan. The range of spices and spice mixtures alone that are used is mind boggling! Anyway, your approach is commendable and I would recommend starting with a region of India--that will help you divide and conquer the cooking of this wonderful subcontinent. Browse http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_in_India for a working list of them.
Oh, I do understand that there is an amazing variety of foods and cultures in India. This is specifically why I didn't want an Indian cookbook, but rather an overview.

I'll use the list of Regions to perhaps narrow things down a bit, but I still think you may be confused as to what I am asking for. I do not want recipes, and I do not want specifics. I want to know overviews of Indian styles (at least the most well known).

I'm not asking to learn to cook Indian food, I'm looking to learn what "Indian food" means.
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EngineeringProfessor



Joined: 07 Sep 2006
Posts: 77

PostPosted: Mon Jan 01, 2007 9:29 pm    Post subject: Re: Learning Indian Cooking Reply with quote

opqdan wrote:
Oh, I do understand that there is an amazing variety of foods and cultures in India. This is specifically why I didn't want an Indian cookbook, but rather an overview.

I'll use the list of Regions to perhaps narrow things down a bit, but I still think you may be confused as to what I am asking for. I do not want recipes, and I do not want specifics. I want to know overviews of Indian styles (at least the most well known).

I'm not asking to learn to cook Indian food, I'm looking to learn what "Indian food" means.


Oh, I understand quite perfectly what you are looking for--you want to learn the culture of India so that you can understand their food better. That is a far better approach, albeit intensely time consuming, than just trying recipes randomly. I think that you see now that the study must start with the regions; in truth, you often see "regional cookbooks" in the US (TexMex, NY Deli, Midwestern, etc.) and of other countries (Italy & France come to mind). Regrettably, the cuisine of India has not had the thorough treatment that other countries have had, most likely given that India is considered exotic and the British influence has tainted, in some respects, the way it has evolved. There may be an opportunity for you here.

Good luck with your study.
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scott123



Joined: 23 Dec 2006
Posts: 15
Location: Morristown, NJ

PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 11:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If the 'Indian Food' you're referring to is Indian American Restaurant Food, then you're going to have a tough time finding a book outlining it's history. The closest thing I can think of would be the old Time Life series, that, although they had recipes, had plenty of exposition. Unfortunately, because of the unenlightened age in which they were written (the 60s Smile ) the exposition they do include is not terribly well informed.

The term 'Indian Food' itself is a bit ambiguous. Grouping together the vastly different regional cuisines of the subcontinent would almost be akin to lumping Chinese and Japanese cuisine into one type of food. How would you define 'American Food?' Well, even though India's borders are much geographically closer than America, the distinctions in cuisine are far greater.

Thanks, in part, to the Professor's sage advice, it looks like you are already headed in a regional direction. My advice would be to do so wholeheartedly and forget completely about thinking in terms of the whole country. That is, if you really want to understand the food intimately.

Indian Restaurant Food (IRF), for the majority of people in the West is a version of Punjabi/Mughlai cuisine. There are scattered Bengali restaurants and also South Indian places here and there, but, for the most part, 99% of Indian Restaurants in the West have a strong Northwest Indian slant.

Tracing the roots of Punjabi/Mughlai restaurant food is, as I mentioned earlier, very very difficult. You won't find a book on the subject. At least not one written in the last 40 years. I think this relates to the fact that Punjab is an agrarian region with a predominantly oral history. I also believe that, like the Time Life books, the information you find in English is almost always written by a Westerner, and, if not a Westerner, than an educated Indian from outside of the region. Punjabi farmers don't write books. At least not yet. Anything you find will be the view of an outsider and thus filtered through their perception and not always accurate. This is why you won't find perfect recipes for restaurant food. Most cookbooks have authors who are outsiders that give their 'take' on the regional cuisine. A take, that, in my open, is almost always overintellectualized. This is rich, greasy unhealthy rural food where talking about. Country food trying to be re-created by city folk. Most cookbook authors attempt to improve upon it in some way, and, in doing so, invariably lessen it.

Anyway, I digress Smile If I were to write a book about the history of Indian Restaurant Food, the outline would look something like this:

The history of Punjab/Pakistan

__Muslim Invaders/Mughlai Cuisine
____The food of the emperors
______Nuts, raisins, rice, spices from the west (Korma, pulao, biriyani)
______Sweatmeats (gulab jamon, sandesh, burfi)
______The history of the Tandoor
________Leavened breads (Naan)
________Yogurt marinated meat 'kebabs', lamb (Tikka, kofta)

__The Origin of Sikhism

__The spice trade
____He who controls the spice...

__The Portuguese Influence
___Pork (Vindaloo)

__The British Annexation
____British policy
____The World Wars/Punjab participation
____Violence in the Punjab
____The partition/brutality
____Independence and factors leading up to

The Indian Diaspora
__Kenya, Britain and Beyond

The history of the Restaurant in India
__Moti Mahal

The land of the five rivers/region of Punjab
__Agricultural Heritage
____"India's Bread-Basket" Wheat (chapati, puri, paratha)
____Milk/butter/cream (paneer, roti, ghee, murgh makhani, lassi, raita, kulfi)
____Mustard/mustard greens (Saag)
____Onions, onions and more onions (do piazza)

The Western Influence
__The Chicken Tikka Masala Myth/Moti Mahal
__Meat, meat and more meat
__and potatoes
__Please pass the gravy
__The ridiculousness of the term 'curry'

Religion and Food
__The Sikh Contribution
__Hinduism
____The sacredness of the cow/omission of beef
____Food, Health and Religion - Ayurveda
__Islam
____The omission of pork/addition of lamb
____Halal regulations
__Muslim/Hindu/Sikh tension and it's impact on cuisine
____Questions not to ask Punjabis about food (How not to stick your foot in your mouth 101)
__Muslim/Hindu/Sikh compatibility and it's impact on cuisine
____Cultural Absorption
__Other Religions
____Jainism

The Neighbors
__Kashmir (Rogan josh)
__Goa (vindaloo)
__The south (Dosai)

Food and society
__Communal ovens
__Gender and food
__The Caste System/Brahman Vegetarianism
__Poverty and Legumes

The history of the Chili/Tomato
__Thank you Christopher Columbus!
__The journey from North America to the Subcontinent (Marco!... Polo!...)

The language barrier
__Panir or paneer/Mughlai or Moghlai?

The etymology of Food
__Hindi translations

Subcontinental Contempt for Punjabi Restaurant Food
__The Denny's of the East
__A Region Representing a Nation

The Indian Restaurant Today
__Tradition and Consistency
__Demographics and Geography (Middle America eat your heart out)
__The cookbook dilemma (Those Damn Intellectuals!)
__Short order cooking made to look difficult
____Base sauces/Steam tables/Spice blends
____Latin labor
__Stay away from the desserts!
__The buffet
__Indian clientele and Indian nonclientele
__The impact of racism
__Alcohol and Hinduism

Tomorrow
__Untapped Markets
__Fusion/Increasing Diversity (French influences, Chinese influences)
__High end gourmet cuisine


Hey, this is looking like a pretty good book! I'm looking forward to reading it. But wait... I have to write it first! Doh!!! Smile

[1/10 added etymology/contempt for Restaurant Food]
[1/19 added Ayurveda]


Last edited by scott123 on Fri Jan 19, 2007 12:35 pm; edited 4 times in total
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watt
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2007 10:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

or you could start by applying your quest for information by looking at a dish you already know (or thought you knew) like apple pie. Where did it come from, what influenced its introduction into Western society, how did the recipe evolve, what are the ethnic influences, geographical and climactic. If you do that, you may be able to get an insight into why no-one has yet done the same for pan-Indian, let alone sub-continental cuisine.

just a thought
Watt
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opqdan



Joined: 25 May 2006
Posts: 43

PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2007 10:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

scott123 wrote:
If the 'Indian Food' you're referring to is Indian American Restaurant Food, then you're going to have a tough time finding a book outlining it's history. The closest thing I can think of would be the old Time Life series, that, although they had recipes, had plenty of exposition. Unfortunately, because of the unenlightened age in which they were written (the 60s Smile ) the exposition they do include is not terribly well informed.

The term 'Indian Food' itself is a bit ambiguous. Grouping together the vastly different regional cuisines of the subcontinent would almost be akin to lumping Chinese and Japanese cuisine into one type of food. How would you define 'American Food?' Well, even though India's borders are much geographically closer than America, the distinctions in cuisine are far greater.

Thanks, in part, to the Professor's sage advice, it looks like you are already headed in a regional direction. My advice would be to do so wholeheartedly and forget completely about thinking in terms of the whole country. That is, if you really want to understand the food intimately.

Indian Restaurant Food (IRF), for the majority of people in the West is a version of Punjabi/Mughlai cuisine. There are scattered Bengali restaurants and also South Indian places here and there, but, for the most part, 99% of Indian Restaurants in the West have a strong Northwest Indian slant.

Tracing the roots of Punjabi/Mughlai restaurant food is, as I mentioned earlier, very very difficult. You won't find a book on the subject. At least not one written in the last 40 years. I think this relates to the fact that Punjab is an agrarian region with a predominantly oral history. I also believe that, like the Time Life books, the information you find in English is almost always written by a Westerner, and, if not a Westerner, than an educated Indian from outside of the region. Punjabi farmers don't write books. At least not yet. Anything you find will be the view of an outsider and thus filtered through their perception and not always accurate. This is why you won't find perfect recipes for restaurant food. Most cookbooks have authors who are outsiders that give their 'take' on the regional cuisine. A take, that, in my open, is almost always overintellectualized. This is rich, greasy unhealthy rural food where talking about. Country food trying to be re-created by city folk. Most cookbook authors attempt to improve upon it in some way, and, in doing so, invariably lessen it.

Anyway, I digress Smile If I were to write a book about the history of Indian Restaurant Food, the outline would look something like this:

The history of Punjab/Pakistan

__Muslim Invaders/Mughlai Cuisine
____The food of the emperors
______Nuts, raisins, rice, spices from the west (Korma, pulao, biriyani)
______Sweatmeats (gulab jamon, sandesh, burfi)
______The history of the Tandoor
________Leavened breads (Naan)
________Yogurt marinated meat 'kebabs', lamb (Tikka, kofta)

__The Origin of Sikhism

__The spice trade
____He who controls the spice...

__The Portuguese Influence
___Pork (Vindaloo)

__The British Annexation
____British policy
____The World Wars/Punjab participation
____Violence in the Punjab
____The partition/brutality
____Independence and factors leading up to

The Indian Diaspora
__Kenya, Britain and Beyond

The history of the Restaurant in India
__Moti Mahal

The land of the five rivers/region of Punjab
__Agricultural Heritage
____"India's Bread-Basket" Wheat (chapati, puri, paratha)
____Milk/butter/cream (paneer, roti, ghee, murgh makhani, lassi, raita, kulfi)
____Mustard/mustard greens (Saag)
____Onions, onions and more onions (do piazza)

The Western Influence
__The Chicken Tikka Masala Myth/Moti Mahal
__Meat, meat and more meat
__and potatoes
__Please pass the gravy
__The ridiculousness of the term 'curry'

Religion and Food
__The Sikh Contribution
__Hinduism
____The sacredness of the cow/omission of beef
__Islam
____The omission of pork/addition of lamb
____Halal regulations
__Muslim/Hindu/Sikh tension and it's impact on cuisine
____Questions not to ask Punjabis about food (How not to stick your foot in your mouth 101)
__Muslim/Hindu/Sikh compatibility and it's impact on cuisine
____Cultural Absorption
__Other Religions
____Jainism

The Neighbors
__Kashmir (Rogan josh)
__Goa (vindaloo)
__The south (Dosai)

Food and society
__Communal ovens
__Gender and food
__The Caste System/Brahman Vegetarianism
__Poverty and Legumes

The history of the Chili/Tomato
__Thank you Christopher Columbus!
__The journey from North America to the Subcontinent (Marco!... Polo!...)

The language barrier
__Panir or paneer/Mughlai or Moghlai?

The Indian Restaurant Today
__Tradition and Consistency
__Demographics and Geography (Middle America eat your heart out)
__The cookbook dilemma (Those Damn Intellectuals!)
__Short order cooking made to look difficult
____Base sauces/Steam tables/Spice blends
____Latin labor
__Stay away from the desserts!
__The buffet
__Indian clientele and Indian nonclientele
__The impact of racism
__Alcohol and Hinduism

Tomorrow
__Untapped Markets
__Fusion/Increasing Diversity (French influences, Chinese influences)
__High end gourmet cuisine


Hey, this is looking like a pretty good book! I'm looking forward to reading it. But wait... I have to write it first! Doh!!! Smile
Thank you, this is an excellent help. The task of figuring out what I was looking for with just a list a regions was a little daunting (although the Professors post was a great help in pointing me in the correct direction).

Your outline is actually especially helpful as it gives me a good heirarchy and order to my research. Coming into this I was completely uninformed and knew no direction. Now I have a (rudimentary) plan.

If you ever decide to write that book (I imagine it would be multi-volume though), you'd have at least one customer, as that is exactly what I was talking about.
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scott123



Joined: 23 Dec 2006
Posts: 15
Location: Morristown, NJ

PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 3:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Opqdan, I'm glad I could be of help. I actually found it a useful exercise to sit down and put my thoughts on e-paper. A lot of these concepts have been floating around my head for a very long time- some as long as 15 years.

Please keep us apprised of your research. Most of the chapters I listed are pretty well fleshed out in my head, but a handful have some blanks to fill, so anything you can share would be appreciated.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

P.S. I added some more chapters. A chapter on etymology/hindi translations and a chapter on the contempt for Pujabi restaurant food by Indians from other parts of the subcontinent.
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opqdan



Joined: 25 May 2006
Posts: 43

PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interestingly enough, both of you have helped point me towards a Wikipedia series called "Indian Cuisine" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_cuisine). I will start there for a complete overview (very broad) before diving into different regions and cultures that I become interested in.

The more I find out, the more I realize how extensive this really is, and the more I realize how much fun I am going to have.

Thank you both.
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eltonyo



Joined: 02 Nov 2005
Posts: 88
Location: WA

PostPosted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 5:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

i can't help but notice that there is no mention on ayurvedics or ayurveda ("the indian science of life"), in this whole text.

without ayurveda, the whole indian influence on food and health is lost.

in my humble opinion.

(but what do i know)

- TonyO
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kathyvegas



Joined: 31 Dec 2006
Posts: 4
Location: Las Vegas

PostPosted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 5:43 pm    Post subject: Indian food cookbooks Reply with quote

I have found several cookbooks written by Madhur Jaffrey to have a nice bit of Indian cookery history. Try "Madhur Jaffrey" on an Ebay search.
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scott123



Joined: 23 Dec 2006
Posts: 15
Location: Morristown, NJ

PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2007 12:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

eltonyo wrote:
i can't help but notice that there is no mention on ayurvedics or ayurveda ("the indian science of life"), in this whole text.

without ayurveda, the whole indian influence on food and health is lost.

in my humble opinion.

(but what do i know)

- TonyO


Hmmmm... I think Ayurveda has a greater impact on the way Indian restaurant food is consumed rather than the manner in which it is prepared. It seems like following Ayurvedic principles takes quite a bit of conscious effort, while providing the right foods is almost an after thought. Most restaurants, Indian or otherwise, have the necessary dishes to cover the basic food tastes (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent).

I know that when I skip dessert in my favorite restaurant (which is most of the time), it's a small disappointment to the proprietor. The disappointment he conveys is not one of 'if you don't eat the dessert, you won't be healthy,' but more of 'by not eating the dessert, you're missing an opportunity to commune with the divine.' At least, that's the vibe I get Smile

This being said... Ayurveda has had a huge impact on Indian cuisine, which, in turn, has influenced Indian Restaurant food as well, so, thanks, I'll add it to the list.
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scott123



Joined: 23 Dec 2006
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2007 1:51 pm    Post subject: Re: Indian food cookbooks Reply with quote

kathyvegas wrote:
I have found several cookbooks written by Madhur Jaffrey to have a nice bit of Indian cookery history. Try "Madhur Jaffrey" on an Ebay search.


Madhur Jaffrey is a wonderful spokesperson for the food of the Subcontinent, but... when I speak of intellectual, urbane, well to do authors that have no grasp whatsoever of greasy rustic country food, Ms. Jaffrey is the archetype.

Madhur Jaffrey, Julie Sahni, Pat Chapman, Mridula Baljekar- all knowledgeable ambassadars with a huge, well deserved fan base, but... not authors that I would personally recommend as a gateway to Indian Restaurant food.

If someone were dead set on finding a cookbook that might shed a little light on this topic... I might recommend Sameen Rushdie (Salman's sister). She has an out of print cookbook that touches on the culture of Islamic Northwest Indian food. It's not the end all be all for this topic, but there are bits and pieces of illuminating information.

Other than Rushdie... I might recommend Monica Bhide. Maybe... I haven't read her books, but I have spoken with her in depth. She's very sweet, hails from the region, but, more importantly (if she ever reads this, I hope she forgives me) she's a tiny bit rough around the edges. I'm not saying she chews tobacco and drives a truck, she just doesn't dot every single 'i' and crosss every single 't.' That's what anyone interested in this subject should be looking for in an author. A woman (or man) of the people.

Indian restaurant food may seem exotic and pretentious to someone who's never tasted it before, but believe me it's anything but. Repeat after me- rural... farming... country folk. Get out your banjo and start strumming! Don't think steak tartare and profiteroles, think Denny's.... Gun Racks... Lard... Apple Pie... Nascar... Biscuits and gravy... Gettin r done!

By the way, I have absolutely no idea what 'Gettin r done' means- it's just something I heard and it seemed to be one of the most Midwestern things anyone could ever say.

The Midwest... Punjab is the Subcontinental equivalent of the Midwestern U.S.
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youngcook



Joined: 11 Apr 2007
Posts: 97
Location: GA

PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2007 1:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Indian restaurant food may seem exotic and pretentious to someone who's never tasted it before, but believe me it's anything but. Repeat after me- rural... farming... country folk. Get out your banjo and start strumming! Don't think steak tartare and profiteroles, think Denny's.... Gun Racks... Lard... Apple Pie... Nascar... Biscuits and gravy... Gettin r done!

By the way, I have absolutely no idea what 'Gettin r done' means- it's just something I heard and it seemed to be one of the most Midwestern things anyone could ever say.



Yeah, the truth is that Indian culture is cool. I would Google search it and then I know it. For recipes look at Asian Cookbook or online. Search indian recipes and curries.
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EngineeringProfessor



Joined: 07 Sep 2006
Posts: 77

PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 12:07 am    Post subject: Saveur, May 2007 Reply with quote

The May 2007 issue of Saveur magazine had a good section on Indian Cooking.

They post their recipes on the web, here:

http://www.saveur.com/article_listing.jsp?type=1&ID=20&tID=200&v=305&s=1.

I have not tried it yet, but it appears to be the best western approach to Naan that I have seen.
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