February 08, 2008

Food histories

Can you imagine cooking desi food without potatoes and tomatoes? What about nuts and cream? And while we're at it, let's take away chilies. Via the Desilife section of the Toronto Star:

If you had been invited to an Indian banquet 2,000 years ago, what would you have found on the menu? Rice, accompanied by chickpeas (chana) or kidney beans (rajma). Lentils (urad, moong, masoor), either boiled, made into a batter and deep-fried (vade), or rolled into thin papads. A variety of vegetables, including squash, bitter gourds (karela), peas, sweet potatoes and lotus stems. The food would have been well spiced, using generous amounts of turmeric, cumin, asafetida (hing), pepper, mustard seeds and fenugreek. Coriander, lemon and ginger would have been used for added flavour, but garlic and onion would have been frowned upon. The food would have been cooked in sesame or mustard oil — or, on special occasions, ghee — even though the great physicians of the time, Charaka and Sushrutha, warned against eating too much fried food.

People with a sweet tooth would be satisfied with apupa (barley or rice cakes deep-fried and dipped in honey), kheer from rice cooked in milk, and mandaka (parathas stuffed with sweetened lentil paste). A variety of meats were offered, including chicken, goat and venison — but the taboo against eating beef was already established, and vegetarianism was becoming widespread.

A modern guest at this ancient feast would have been equally struck by what was missing, as many of the ingredients indispensable in Indian food today would have been absent. Potatoes and tomatoes were still unknown in India, as were chilies — the only heat in the spicing came from black pepper and mustard seeds. There were no nuts or cream.

Read the article here.

13 comments:

  1. We didn't even have chillies at that era, can you imagine Indian food without chillies? Booorrriiingg!:D
    But we did grow black peppers and Cardamoms though.
    Great post. Enjoy the weekend.

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  2. In Chennai, I don't remember if it is a restaurant or just a roundup of food, people prepared food using only ingredients that were available those days. That was really very unique and a wonderful experience for those who dined. I think it is a restaurant. They showed in sun tv long back.

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  3. This was an interesting read, am headed to the whole article now!!

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  4. Hi Aswin, you may be aware of Kongunad cuisine - but here's a snippet, there's more information on the Net

    http://www.hindu.com/2007/05/12/stories/2007051203460200.htm

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  5. Wonderful information.
    I knew we din't had chillies

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  6. This is such an interesting read. Thanks for sharing it.

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  7. Hello there, I got your kind comment on my blog at Rasa Malaysia. Just wanted to say thanks and do come back and comment more. Will check out your blog, too. :)

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  8. Hi Aswin,

    This fits right in with my back to basics kitchen theme -- thanks for the interesting read!

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  9. It was surely intresting. I had no idea that we did not know about chillies, tomatoes or potatoes around that time.

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  10. It was surely intresting. I had no idea that we did not know about chillies, tomatoes or potatoes around that time.

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  11. A really interesting read! I only learnt some two years ago that chillies originated in South America. Doh!!

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  12. A very nice and interesting post... can't really imagine cooking without tomatoes and chillies.

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  13. We're very happy to have found your blog and wonderful information on Indian cuisine. We have been wanting to learn so much more about Indian cuisine. Still new, are we, but excited to be your students. Thank You.

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Hello and welcome to Ahaar. We have been cooking and posting recipes for more than 9 years now. We love to hear from you -- your comments and feedback. Please keep it coming.
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