While Indian food has been around in England since the early 1800s, it was only after control over the subcontinent passed from the East India Company to the Crown, and more and more Britons came to make their fortunes in India, that Indian cuisine came to be at the forefront of the British culinary experience. With the intermarriage between Britons and Indians, a new form of cooking called Anglo-Indian cuisine was created, and this cuisine married the very best that Indian and British food had to offer.For example, the Piccalilli is an English attempt at making an Indian pickle, and while kedgeree’s origins are lost in legend, the breakfast staple does use a number of Indian spices for its flavours. Most Britons eat curry regularly at home or at least have a favourite curry house that they frequent.
However, today, when British expats first come to India, a number of them find that the food isn’t exactly the same as what they find in the UK. The national dish of the UK, the chicken tikka masala, or the super popular bombay potatoes (which are available on every supermarket shelf), don’t taste quite the same. This isn’t down to merely a difference in the quality of spices available in India and the UK (and these are very important!) or how intensely spiced the dish is, it’s also because there are at least five different ways to cook the same curry in India. Another important difference is that with the influx into the UK of expats from Pakistan and Bangladesh as well, ways of cooking from all three countries tend to get tagged with the label of Indian food.
Here is our list of the top ten foods that British expats will find irresistible in India.
This encompasses a large variety of items across the length and breadth of India. Pani puri, for example, is a fried round, hollow shell made of either semolina or whole wheat flour shells (puri) which is then filled with peas, chutneys and spiced water. There are three traditions of pani puri in India. In the east, in Kolkata (or Jharkhand and Bihar as well), pani puri is called puchka with a puri made of wheat flour and a filling made of mashed potatoes that are spiced with black salt, tamarind pulp, salt and chilies. In Delhi and the northern states, you will have a choice of either semolina or whole wheat flour for the puri, and the filling will be made of boiled chick peas, mashed potatoes, spices and chutneys. In Mumbai, the puris are usually made of whole wheat and the filling could either be made from sprouts, mashed potatoes, or spices and chutneys. Instead of filling the puris with spiced water, they can also be filled with yogurt. There are also a lot of other choices such as sev puri – flat puris loaded with tamarind chutney, chili chutney and garlic chutney, and boiled potato. These are usually topped with raw mango which makes it tangy, spicy and sweet all at the same time. Bhel puri is also a very popular choice and is made from puffed rice, vegetables and a tangy tamarind sauce.
The sheer variety in India is usually something that most British expats are very excited to find out about. The naan available in the UK is the most common version, which is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread. The word naan itself is a generic word for flatbread and is used in the Indian subcontinent for the most part. India has a very large number of flatbreads depending on the region you are in and the staples that they produce. In the north, makke ki roti, a flatbread made from maize flour, is especially popular during the winter months. It is served with a curry made from the leaves of the mustard plant known as sarson ka saag. In the south, ragi or finger millet rotis are eaten across all four of the southern states. Other types of flatbreads include varieties such as chapatti, bhakri, paratha (and all its exciting variations), parotta, phulka and puran poli.
This is a curry that is very popular in Northern India and is made of softened chick peas cooked in tomatoes and onions. The spices used in this curry include garlic, chillies, dried mango powder, crushed pomegranate seeds and a spice mix known as garam masala. Like most food in India, there is a wide variety of ways in which chole can be prepared. In the north of India, variations such as pindi chole and Amritsari chole are very popular. The special ingredient of Amritsari chole is a tea bag that is added to chick peas as they are cooking. This gives them a depth of both flavour and colour. Chole is typically eaten with batura which is a deep-fried unleavened bread made from all-purpose flour. Chole can also be eaten with kulcha (a leavened, baked bread), and this is a very popular snack on the streets of New Delhi.
Goan prawn/fish curry
A staple food on most Goan tables, this curry is very popular across the country not only because of its tangy and spicy flavours but also because it lends itself very well to most seafood and any firm, white-fleshed fish tastes wonderful with it. This curry is made by blending spices, a souring agent (usually tamarind but you could also use raw mangoes if you have them!) and coconut milk together and then adding your choice of seafood to it. Goan prawn or fish curry is best enjoyed with steamed white rice but you could also eat it with pao (a local form of Goan bread). Fried fish goes especially well with this dish. Making this curry at home is also quite easy – the entire process takes only 40 minutes from start to finish!
Even though the red kidney bean is not native to India, this dish has become a staple for a Sunday meal across a large part of the country. It consists of red kidney beans cooked in a thick gravy. The beans need to be soaked overnight (you should be able to bite straight into them and not meet any resistance at all) and are then cooked with onions and tomatoes and spiced with coriander powder, turmeric, red chillies, cumin and garam masala powder. A dollop of cream is also usually added right before it is served. Even if you are not using the cream, rajma has a creamy texture and flavour and goes very well with both rice and rotis.
Most people in the UK, have eaten saag, usually spinach, with mutton, lamb or chicken. However, in India, the possibilities are endless. Saag is served with potatoes or paneer. It is also cooked as mixture of a number of winter greens such as dill leaves, spinach, mustard leaves, fenugreek leaves, amaranth and colocacia leaves. During the winter in Northern India, these leaves are mixed together in different proportions and cooked; the final product is topped with clarified butter (ghee) and is a speciality of the region. Saag is enjoyed with makke di roti or with regular naan.
This dish originated in the kitchens of the Mughal kings and is a rich, flavourful curry that is usually served with naan or rotis. Even today, it is for the most part a curry that is usually made for parties and special occasions because of how rich it is. Malai, or cream, is what gives the curry its richness and depth, and is blended into a tomato gravy. For people who are dairy intolerant, ground cashew paste can be substituted for cream. The kofta or dumplings are deep fried balls of paneer (cottage cheese) that are delicately spiced. It goes very well with naan, garlic naan and rotis. You can also eat it with plain steamed rice or jeera rice. Malai kofta curry can also be made with different types fillings for the kofta. Either cabbage or grated bottle gourd can be used to make the koftas for lactose intolerant people.
Popularly known as ma ki daal, this is a daal made from whole black lentils, tomatoes, onions and whole lot of butter and cream, giving it its other popular name, dal makhani. Originating in the Punjab region, kaali daal is now a staple across India and became much more popular after the partition of India. With the migration of the Punjabi diaspora to the UK, US and Canada, this daal is now an international favourite. Traditionally the daal is simmered overnight to allow the flavours to meld together, but it is of course possible to make it at home in much less time. One of the reasons that this lentil preparation is so popular is because it is so versatile: it can be served either as a main dish or as an accompaniment to an larger meal. The best daal makhani in India is said to be served at the Bukhara restaurant at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi.
One of the main staples of all four of the southern states of India, dosa is a thick, crispy fermented crepe made from a batter consisting of rice and black lentils. With the spread of the Indian diaspora, this crepe has made its way into the palettes of the western world as well. A mixture of rice and blank lentils are soaked overnight with some fenugreek seeds. The soaked grains are then ground finely into a batter which is then left to ferment overnight. In Tamil Nadu, most families grind the batter fresh every week. The freshly ground batter is used for the first two days to make idlis, a steamed cake. Dosa is made from the third day onwards, when the batter has gotten slightly more fermented and is more sour. The batter is mixed with water to achieve the desired consistency and is then spread on a hot griddle to form a thin crepe.
Dosa is very versatile and lends itself well to being either a breakfast item or part of a main meal. At breakfast, dosa is eaten with coconut chutney and a pigeon pea and vegetable curry. There are a number of kinds of chutney that you can eat with dosa for breakfast including roasted tomato and onion chutney, or coconut chutney with coriander leaves added. Another popular accompaniment for dosa is sugar mixed with clarified butter, which is very popular with children. Dosa is also served with a spiced onion and potato side dish, which is called masala dosa. As a main meal, dosa can be stuffed with a meat curry. Kheema dosa is a dosa that is stuffed with spiced mince mutton and is a very popular dish in urban centres of India.
The origins of this dish are in Central Asia, but most meat-eating communities in India also have a version of their own. Korma usually consists of meat cooked in a sauce made with yogurt, spices and a nut paste. The word ‘korma’ originally means ‘to braise’ in Urdu. The yogurt is added to the meat and the temperature is carefully controlled so that the yogurt doesn’t curdle. Like most styles of braising, the meat used in korma is seared first and then cooked slowly for a very long time. If it is cooked in a clay pot, it is likely that the pot may be sealed with dough during the final stages of cooking. A technique called bagar may also be used while preparing a korma. At a later stage in the cooking, additional spices are combined with clarified butter and mixed into the korma sauce. This gives it a much more developed and well-rounded flavour.
Korma is made for vegetarians and consists of assorted vegetables instead of meat. The very popular dish navratan korma contains nine different vegetables (navratan means ‘nine gems’). Korma is usually eaten with steamed rice or with hot rotis.
What are your favourite Indian dishes? Let us know in the comments.