Indian cuisine varies widely from region to region, ranging as vastly and widely as its multi-ethnic culture. Every region has its own style of cooking and flavor. The delicious and exotic dishes of India are marked by the subtle use of spices and herbs.
Many Indian cuisines are vegetarian, but Indians are also meat-eaters, with delicacies cooked out of fish, lamb, goat and chicken. Food has always been important to the culture of India.
What Makes Up an Indian Meal
Before you get started, it’s important to understand the various components of a typical Indian meal. They can be grouped together as follows (although this may vary depending on the region in India):
- Indian bread (chapati, paratha, roti, naan, or idli in south India)
- Side dishes (salad, papadams, pickles)
- Main dishes (vegetables and/or meat)
- Daal or sambhar (a watery lentil dish)
A cup of chai at every corner
Chai is a way of life in India. Almost everywhere you go—in trains, on streets, in sari shops
—you will see people gulping down the sweet, spicy, milky beverage. Chai is not a flavor of tea; it is tea—chai literally translates to “tea”, so when you are saying “chai tea,” you are basically saying, “tea tea.”
In most big cities, you’ll find chaiwallas (vendors who specifically sell chai) on every corner, with their enormous steel pots or kettles full of simmering chai. If you go to someone’s house in India, there is a 100 percent chance of chai being served. There are regional variations, too: in Kashmir, people will sometimes use green tea instead of black tea, and almonds are often added. In Bhopal, chai might have a pinch of salt in it.
For the most part, however, the basic components of chai are the same: tea, milk, spices, and sweetener.
What Is Ghee?
Ghee is a clarified butter made from cow’s milk; it turns up nearly everywhere in India. Ghee is used in food, sweets, medicine, and even oil lanterns. It’s valuable stuff!
Although ghee is high in saturated fat, it is considered healthier than hydrogenated oils or regular butter. Unless rejected by particular vegan religious sects, ghee is used in dishes and breads throughout India.
If you are vegan or suffer from dairy allergies, you may want to learn how to ask for food without ghee.
Note: asking for your meal to be prepared without ghee doesn’t always mean that it will be! But there is some good news: ghee is low in the protein that triggers allergic reactions for dairy sensitive people. It also contains only trace amounts of lactose, so lactose intolerant travelers are often fine as well.
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