India has filled me with an impressive sense of history and magic from the first time I set foot on its shores. Whenever I prepare a few of my favorite Indian dishes, they remind me of romance and tributes of undying love. On one of my trips to India, I visited the peaceful gardens of the Taj Mahal and was awestruck by its mysterious glory and how it was built by Shah Jahan as a tribute to his favorite wife. To build it today, it would cost around 1 billion dollars! That’s some love right there.
Since ancient times, India has been a diverse empire of mystery. Just as this vast country is diverse in its spices and geographical characteristics, its 1.2 billion people are equally diverse in caste, culture, religion, and linguistics. And then there’s India’s diverse contributions to the world, from medical and technological contributions to the spiritual realm of holy places, rituals, swamis, and yoga.
A spiritual spiced drink I found surprising is Bhang Lassi. It’s been around since 1000 BC and loosely translated it means cannabis milkshake. Like most recipes, Bhang Lassi varies but it generally consists of cannabis powder, nuts and spices, such as almonds, pistachios, and poppy seeds, pepper, ginger, sugar or honey, and boiled milk. Out of all of India’s contributions, why has it taken this long for today’s CBD drinks to make its way to retail counters?
While there are great differences between the North and the South in its geography and culture, India is truly independent of other cultures when identified by its cuisine and methods of cooking. History spanning over 8000 years by many different groups and cultures gave rise to what is now the cuisine of India with a collision of occupation giving birth to offshoot cuisine Mughlai combining Indian and central Asian techniques and methods of cooking. The difference in what one might prepare between the North and South regions is dependent on resources. While vegetables and legumes are the larger part of Indian cuisine, proteins found in dishes vary greatly depending on the region. Based on my observations and experience, the North tends to lean more heavily towards dishes made with wheat and chicken, or other meats depending on religious diet, and in the South, dishes comprised of rice and fish tend to be more predominate. And after walking thru the streets of different cities from Mumbai, Bangladesh, and New Delhi, one thing became certain to me and that is Indian cuisine will always be magical to me. Both regions brought me smiles for days, as I saw everything I love about food. From the bustling streets and people transiting by motor bike to heavy laden trucks moving products, the curbs are busy and street stalls scent the air with wood fires of tandooris on every block. I could feel the heat from the fires making golden brown nan bread and smell amazing pots over fire simmering spice, vegetables, mutton, chicken, and fresh fish deep fried to crisp perfection.
Out of India’s wealth of spices, saffron is my one great love. It’s in stellar company to everything nice in its spice friends from coriander, cumin, chili and turmeric where in their harmony is the music of curry and its ubiquitous glory. If you’re not a fan of a particular spice, you can create your own curry as it is the combination of spices and has many variations, depending on the cook, the region, and the culture.
Legumes make up a large part of Indian cuisine and the fabulous dish named Dal. Indian Dal, or Dahl, Daal or Dhal, is probably the most essential staple dish in Indian cuisine. It’s one of the most magical and is also one of my favorites! Lentils are slow simmered and seasoned with spice and citrus and when eaten with fresh Roti and mango chutney, my mind explodes with every happy center firing at once.
Aside from Dal being my favorite, out of all the other delectable Indian dishes that come to mind, one that impresses me is Biriyani (aka Biriyani, Biriani, Birani, Or Briyani). It’s one of my time honored and highly sought-after rice dishes. The soft nutty flavors of basmati rice with fresh vegetables and lentils tossed with aromatic spice and the zest of citrus garnished with fresh yogurt and glass of buttermilk is difficult to find in any other dish. Biriyani opens your senses and completely satisfies your palate and any hangry symptoms you may be experiencing.
One thing that I have come to find in my adventures and invitations to life’s celebrations featuring Indian cuisine, is it’s always a happy place for me. From a casual dinner to weddings and holidays, the celebration of food is always vibrant and well received and you can feel the energy of life.
Speaking of weddings and exceptional Indian food, a grand experience I encountered while filming in Trinidad was a wedding for two wonderful families. It was beautiful day and the setting was colorful, warm, friendly, and respectful. Now, you may be wondering how Trinidad relates to India. Did I mention that the wealth of Indian cuisine in Trinidad is like the Shangri-La of Roti and curry? Anyway, during our filming, I was invited to attend an Indian wedding that was taking place across the street. Of course, I accepted the gracious offer and in minutes I was jaw dropped into the middle of a glorious three-day sacred celebration of love. The uncle who invited me was my guide and introduced me to many family members on both sides and offered a libation as many uncles were gladly sharing scotch in their joy of this union. After being asked if I was hungry, I was taken by the hand and a led to buffet of sheer joy that filled an entire room. My eyes gazed over Dal and fried fish along with fresh Roti and Paratha being made right in front of me. Vegetables were on the grill and some were bathed in glorious scented sauces. Then I was told I needed to “get busy” with the Butter Chicken (Makhan Murg). It was said in such a way that one might speak to a long-time friend. I felt incredibly welcomed in my last moment invitation. It felt as though I walked into a room and was suddenly morphed into being a member of the family.
I did what my new adopted family told me to do and headed for the Butter Chicken. The aroma wafted through the air as I emulated those around me and grabbed a banana leaf and added a large helping. My Butter Chicken was topped off by a fresh warm Roti that was gracefully tossed by a woman with a beautiful smile. This dish left me speechless in its complexity and layers of flavor. After I had my fill, I found my host uncle and continued our conversation and, of course, more scotch. It was indeed a glorious and memorable day.
Throughout my travels, the one commonality between people regardless of language or geography is food. It’s a shared experience that always brings people together. And food is what enables me to reach back into my memories and vividly recall new friends I made over a shared meal.
What is a dish that reminds you of an adventure or trip you have made? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, Cheers!