Indian cuisine: A spice story
Savor mouthfuls of curry and spice and everything nice—recipes centuries in the making.
By Adrienne Dy, M.D.
Photo by Raneil Ibay
How far would you go for good food? For our forefathers, literally across the globe. Ships set sail, wars were fought, new lands discovered and people were conquered—all for a sprinkle of fire and flavor on the tongue. This is the spice story.
Almost all the world had taken part in the gory and glory of the spice trade, but one country’s history is especially colored by it: India. To this day, the first word that comes to mind at the mention of Indian food is “spicy”—and for good reason. Turmeric, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, all the names that roll deliciously off the tongue flavor the Indians’ cuisine as singularly as the Taj Mahal graces their skyline.
It’s easy to romanticize Indian cuisine. Some accounts go as far as saying that it has shaped the history of international relations by sparking the Age of Exploration. Plagued by bland food, European explorers set off into the world with the objective of bringing home those sought-after spices—regarded as highly as gold and silver. Its recipes are simmered in five millennia of cultural exchange and regional influence. Location, climate and even religion have lent sway as well, making Indian cuisine an inimitable concoction of history and circumstance.
All the way from New Delhi, Chef Maohammad Naushad Alam is a master of northern cuisine set on winning over our conservative Filipino palates. “Indian people like so many spices, but the spices are very healthy,” he declares, citing cumin, turmeric and coriander powders as the “most basic.” In his kitchen in Berjaya Makati Hotel, he uses a whopping 54 different spices to whip up dishes bursting with flavor.
He lets us in on some nuances of his homeland’s food culture. “North Indian food is known everywhere. The south is the same, but it has too much coconut,” he says of regional differences. Then there’s the peculiar practice of eating only vegetable dishes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays—a form of fasting, he says. Hindus cannot eat “sacred” beef; Muslims cannot eat “dirty” pork. That’s why Indian chefs are exceptionally versatile—masters at vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
No need to be intimidated, though. “Indian food is very easy [to cook],” assures Chef Alam, who says most curries have the same gravy base, and differ only in the spices added. Here he shares his mother’s curry recipes, and refreshing lassi, a yogurt drink, to balance out the dishes’ heat. So grab your aprons and head to the kitchen—it’s time to create your own spice story.