There is a growing popularity in the U.S. for Indian cuisine (we’re catching up with the rest of the world). Indian restaurants are in virtually every country on the globe, with curries, naan, tandooris, and other specialties drawing in customers craving those unique tastes. Now, they’re also in every state in this country, along with teas from India.
The most flavorful teas from India include a range of Assams and Darjeelings. Much of this tea production was spurred by the British. Seeking alternatives to the tea in China, which the Chinese guarded stringently, British explorers discovered the Camellia Sinensis assamica, a varietal of the tea plant Camellia Sinensis, growing in the state of Assam in India. Tea plantations resulted. Meanwhile, a Brit was able to smuggle a tea plant out of China and set up plantations in other areas of India and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).
As Indian teas gained popularity in other parts of the British Empire and eventually the world, so did Indian cuisine. In fact, Britain celebrated the 200th anniversary last year of the opening of the first Indian restaurant there. Sake Dean Mahomet of India ended up living in London and opening the Hindoostanee Coffee-House in 1809. (Today, I know first-hand that you can hardly take a step in any direction in that city without seeing an Indian restaurant. The expression “Going out for a curry” is well-used by people of any ethnicity in that most cosmopolitan city.)
On the virtues of Indian cuisine I may be a bit biased, having hung around with students from India and Sri Lanka in college and having been to London and other parts of Britain. In London, I always sought out Indian restaurants instead of the more bland English fare. The stats show, though, that many others love this varied and yet healthy way of cooking. For those in the U.S. who think everything outside the big cities (Chicago, New York, L.A., etc.) is just a big white-bread, cultureless wasteland, check out this list of Indian restaurants.
Unfortunately, there is a misconception about Indian cuisine. Some people think it is geared mostly to vegetarians. While Hindi is a major religion in India, and most Hindus are vegetarians, most Indian cuisine in not vegetarian. Meat curries (chicken, beef, and lamb primarily) are common. Vegetarians can take heart, though, since a lot of prepackaged Indian foods are made to conform to vegetarian standards.
Indian cuisine has followed a line of progression similar to American food. First, it was developed in home kitchens and mainly prepared there. Then, restaurants were opened, and finally came fast food and pre-packaged versions to take home and fix whenever the craving strikes, which for me is often. Many pre-packaged products are curry powder mixes, paste, and sauces as well as chutneys (basically pickled fruits or vegetables) made with mango (my favorite), apples, raisins, and tomatoes. You add the meat of your choice. Some of these products even come with a recipe, such as Lamb Rogan Josh and Chicken Tikka. You can even get curry sauces from the world famous restaurant chain Shere Khan, named for an Indian prince and also the name of the tiger in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Make Indian cuisine like the pros!
Don’t miss this year’s National Curry Week in Britain on November 21-27. If you can’t make it, just order some Indian pre-packaged curry sauce, chutney, naan, etc., and prepare a feast. Serve it with a steaming pot of Assam or Darjeeling, perfect go-withs. Enjoy!
Note: As with Thai cuisine, if you are allergic, check ingredients carefully for traces of nuts and peanuts.
Stop by A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, for more in-depth coverage of all things tea!