By DHRITI MEHTA
It is evening time and the sun is about to set. The students have returned after a long day of classes and are looking forward to the food they will be eating tonight. I squint at the saucepan in which I have been simmering vegetables for the past ten minutes. “Hmm, maybe this needs more spice”, I think to myself. And then suddenly- I hear footsteps. Lo and behold, my worst fear as an Indian living abroad is about to come true. I hear someone creeping up behind me and before I can cover my ears which are pained by hearing these words every time I am in the dorm kitchen, the person behind me exclaims,
“Are you making Indian curry!?”
A little back story now. I have lived in India and eaten Indian food all my life, so when I first came to Japan and heard from all my friends who come from different parts of the world about this delicious food known as ‘Indian curry’, I was surprised as to how I never came across it. Excited to try this oh-so-oishii (the Japanese word for delicious) dish, I went with my friends to Shibuya to try out ‘Indian curry’ at their favourite Indian restaurant. And boy, was I disappointed.
Indian curry, as it turns out, is just about anything and everything which looks like Indian cuisine to the world outside of South Asia. Therefore, if you ask any South Asian who has no experience of living abroad, don’t be surprised if they don’t know what you’re talking about.
Historically coined by the British who colonized India, curry was a word they coined in lieu of make remembering the names of individual dishes redundant. While this practice was convenient for people outside of South Asia who did not have to worry about pronunciations and the daunting task of remembering names, today it has become a problem for South Asian cuisine as it is threatening the very diversity and identity of our food and culture.
Another widely held belief which bothers most Indians living abroad is the question posed almost every time we mention food. “Oh, do you eat curry and naan every day?”
The short answer is no.
As for the long one… as a Japanese person, have you ever been asked if you eat sushi every day? Or as an Italian, questioned if all your three meals consist of spaghetti? Well, you have your answer.
In order to understand what we do not eat, you also need to understand what we do eat on a daily basis. However, it would be wrong to point out one definite set of food items, as the typical Indian meal differs across the length and breadth of India. While North Indian meals consist of cooked vegetable or meat dishes, a kind of dal (lentils and pulses) and roti (flat bread), South Indian cuisine has more rice and coconut-based dishes such as Dosa, Idli, Vada and Uthappam.
To understand some basic differences in the kinds of “curry”, let us take a look at the three most commonly found dishes on the menus of Indian restaurants.
Dal (Lentil soup)
Photo by Wikicommons
Dal is the most commonly found everyday dish in a North Indian meal, usually for lunch and dinner. There are various kinds of Dals made from different lentils. A popular choice in restaurants is Dal Makhani, a delicious and creamy preparation of whole black lentil and red kidney beans.
Murg Makhani/Butter Chicken
Photo by WikiCommons
No one is a stranger to the delight which is Butter Chicken. As one of the most popular Indian ‘curries’ in Japan, Butter Chicken is a spicy and tangy take on cooked chicken. Instead of calling it a chicken curry, it is simply known as Butter Chicken.
Photo by WikiCommons
Naan is most often eaten in restaurants by Indians too, whereas Roti,a round wheat-based flatbread is the staple bread in North Indian meals at home.
A common and honest mistake is to name the Indian dishes as a repetition of their translations. Examples would be “Chai tea” which literally translates to “Tea tea” or “Naan bread” which is “Bread bread”. The use of the word ‘curry’ is similar to this pattern, and is quite redundant and generic when added to the above examples (Dal as Dal curry).
Navigating through this list of dishes may seem like an arduous task, but to truly enjoy Indian cuisine, one must also acknowledge and be respectful to the cultural value and variety in the names of the dishes rather than maintaining unawareness as an excuse for culturally ignorance. Although times have changed and the world is a melting pot of culture, we must also realise the importance of stopping to recognize and appreciate individual cultural differences. So now put this new found knowledge to use and head over to the nearest Indian restaurant to enjoy the delicious cultural experience that India has to offer to your taste buds.