Exploring India Through Food

No country compares to India for the use of a vast array of spices in their cuisine. Those spices give each dish a distinct flavour and fragrance – which quite honestly, leaves us wanting more. While many popular spices used in Indian food can be found in local grocery stores, it’s all about how you combine and use them. And no one uses them better than our local Indian restaurants. While it would be a fair assumption to say that many of us have tried a creamy dish of Butter Chicken or even a golden curry – Indian food is so much more than that. 

With a population of over 1.38 billion people and 22 recognized languages, India is a country with vast cultural diversity. Naturally, with diversity comes many types of cuisine, and that means there is so much more to explore than mainstream Indian cuisine. Thankfully, Ontario has a large Indian population, which means their food and culture are well represented for us to learn about and enjoy. 

If you’ve had Indian food before, you’ve probably indulged in North Indian cuisine – also known as Punjabi cuisine (it’s the most popular). You’ll find lots of bread used in Northern Indian cuisine – think naan, roti, and samosas. In the South, you are much more likely to discover the versatility of lentils – lentil soups, lentil rice cakes, and lentil crepes. Their spice blends are also different. Northern Indian cuisine predominantly uses a spice blend known as  Garam Masala (a mixture of cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamon pods). The most popular seasoning in the South is huli pudi, a mixture of turmeric, curry, coriander, methi, and coconut oil. 

Popular North Indian Dishes 

Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani originated in Northern India. This dish is tender and juicy, and the chicken pieces are marinated in yogurt and then prepared in a rich gravy with a smooth, silky texture. Instead of using butter as the name would suggest, Ghee (or clarified butter) is added with cream to give the dish its luxurious texture.

Chicken or Lamb Korma has its roots in the Mughlai cuisine of the Indian subcontinent. It can be traced back to the 16th century and usually consists of a protein or vegetable that has been braised with yogurt, water, and spices to produce a thick gravy. It can be mild or fiery hot, depending on your liking.

Tandoori cooking is believed to have originated in Persia. A charcoal fire is built in the tandoor oven (shaped like a large urn) and allowed to burn until the oven is red hot. Chicken or fish are threaded onto long skewers and placed in the oven with one end resting on the ashes. The meats are colored a bright red by using a natural dye called tandoori rang, which is added to the marinade. Naan bread is traditionally also made in the tandoor, giving them their soft inside and crispy, chewy outside texture. 

Popular South Indian Dishes 

The cuisine of South India is known for its light appetizing meals. It is mainly rice-based, while some dishes are mixed with rice and lentils. South Indian food is an excellent blend of colour and flavour. It is also extensive in its scope as it covers four significant states of India: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. While there is a common thread between the dishes, they may differ in preparation or level of heat.

Dosa is a thin pancake made from a fermented batter of lentils and rice. It is similar to a French crepe but crispier. It’s bursting with almost any type of filling, from sweet to savory. 

Masala Dosa is one of the most popular dishes and is filled with potato flavoured with fenugreek and curry with Ghee. It is served with chutney and sambar, a lentil-based stew cooked with peas and tamarind broth. Although there are endless versions of Dosa and fillings, South Indian restaurants mainly offer vegetarian food. Very rarely do you find meat dishes on the menu.

While there are a number of wonderful and authentic Indian restaurants in Oakville and Burlington, it’s always fun to try traditional cooking at home. Most supermarkets offer ethnic products, including Indian spices. East Indian Supermarket off Trafalgar Road in Oakville and Samir Supermarket in Burlington offer a large selection of ingredients. 

Whether you order in, go out, or try to master a dish at home, Indian food has so many options to choose from, so there is no excuse not to give it a try.

Popular Restaurants for Indian Cuisine

7 Spice Bar & Masala Grill, Burlington: 7spice.ca

Prince of India, Burlington: Princeofindia.resturant

Royal Cumin Restaurant, Burlington: Royalcumin.com

Black Pepper Indian Kitchen, Oakville: Blackpepperindian.com

Oh Bombay, Oakville and Burlington: Ohbombay.ca

Coriander Green, Oakville: Coriandergreen.com

Riyasat, Oakville: Riyasat.ca

Bombay Bhel, Oakville: Bbloungerestaurant.com

Biryani House, Oakville: Oakvillebiryanihouse.ca

Daal Roti, Oakville: Daalroti.ca

Samir Market, Burlington: Samirsupermarket.ca

East Indian Supermarket, Oakville: Eastindiansupermarket.ca

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