I enjoy most cuisines, at least some dishes from every cuisine and eat them often too. But my favorite stays the Indian cuisine, and the whole wide delicious regional variety that it encompasses within it. It simply satisfies me the most! Possibly because I have grown up eating just this kind of food, and so it’s the taste my taste buds are most familiar with. I realized this again when I attended a close friend and a popular food critic and food festival curator Anoothi Vishal’s Holi Pop Up last Sunday. Now a Pop Up is basically a makeshift eatery that can happen anywhere, at any time. It’s like a temporary restaurant that comes up for a day or just a meal.
I think it’s a great concept as not only does one get to eat great khaana, gets to try food that one may have otherwise not have easy access to, but also lets you meet like thinking interesting individuals (basically foodies:)). Now Anoothi belongs to the Kayastha community and is working really hard to make sure that the community’s time travelled recipes don’t get lost, so she organizes these food pop ups to showcase them often. What she dished out on Sunday – matar mushroom, kathal subzi, vegetable kofta, peeli dal a delectable mutton dish, an assortment of snacks, the ubiquitous hold dessert gujia and the now getting forgotten drink thandai – satisfied not just my hunger but my soul too.
And when I saw other guests too polish off their plates with the same happy, satiated expression I knew then that I – an Indian food lover – was not in minority.
So what is it that works for Indian food and why we must stick to it as much as possible. Lots actually! And the reasons I feel move beyond just taste and nostalgia. Here are my top four:
The Indian Ingredients
The basic ingredients of Indian food are grains, vegetables, beans, and yogurt accented with meat or fish. I feel it is easy to be a vegetarian with Indian cuisine. With the wide range of vegetable and lentil that there are in all regional repertoires, you won’t miss meat for even a second. And staying majorly vegetarian I believe is actually the right way to eat and to stay healthy in the long run. I usually advocate a 70:30 veg:nonveg ratio, which is very easy to achieve with Indian cuisine.
The Indian Flavours
Second reason is the fact that food of India is a festival for the senses – aromatic and appetizing. The way it is assembled, the way we eat, and the way we spice it up – is all done to help the body, to make it feel better. In fact spices in Indian cooking are there for much more than just flavour. They are there for a purpose – to cool or to heat the body, to avoid flatulence, to boost metabolis. Plus, their liberal use delivers deeply pleasant aromas for the nose, and subtle to blazing flavors for the tongue. All that helps us digest food and optimises nutrients contained in it better. Spices of course offer multiple medicinal and preventive benefits too; turmeric, cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, garam masala (a mix of multiple spices)… all have something going for them.
The Indian Variety
Thirdly, the huge variety, thanks to the fact that every region has its own way of cooking those same veggies, grains and lentils makes meal times fun, and keeps boredom away. That’s a big feat!
The Indian Combinations
Fourthly, Indian cuisine practices smart food combining: there is a clear distinction of which foods are incompatible when eaten together and why. For example mixing milk and sour fruits is not ideal for digestion, so is better avoided. Similarly their are multiple smart combos, for example the dal-chawal combination delivers complete good quality protein.
It encourages seasonal eating. When we eat food that is fresh and locally harvested, the flavours are intact and nutrients are optimum. Sensible advice this!
So more power to you Anoothi and everyone else who is trying to keep us stay connected to our own food! “Coz it is good for us!
Kavita Devgan is a Nutritionist, Weight Management Consultant and Health Writer based in Delhi. She is also the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico). She contributes to the column Kavita’s Korner every Wednesday for this blog.
Follow her on Twitter here: @kavitadevgan