Centuries ago, when explorers landed on the Indian soil, they were amazed to see the multitude of spices Indians grew and used in their food. They took the spices back to their countries, and soon India became a hub of spices export to many countries. Even today, many different types of spices are exported from India all over the world. According to the data available for 2006-2007, $793 million worth of spices were exported. It represented 47% in quantity and 40% in value of total spice trade in the world. Spices such as chilli, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, spice oils and oleoresins, vanilla, and big cardamom are the main spices exported.
I have always been a plain eater, primarily vegetarian, appreciating the quality of spicy as well as simple food. Though there are thai, chinese, japanese cuisines available in India, the restaurants serving these foods are run by Indians, making the food kind of Indo-chinese, and so on. Nothing authentic here. I, being a lover of Indian home made food, have never found myself much interested in international cuisine (my fitness-freakiness is another reason).
After moving to the US in 2005, I tried all kinds of food – American, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Italian – and found most to be pretty good, though some are indeed outstanding. The crowded restaurants prove how good the food is in these restaurants. However, I don’t see the Indian restaurants even half-filled on weekdays. Why is it so? Is the food bad? The service sucks? Or is there some other reason? I gave it a thought and came up with a few reasons why not too many people go to Indian restaurants.
- Indian food is mostly curry-based, which doesn’t make a for a good presentation.
- The Indian restaurants are run by Indian families, and are not professional enough (the way most Indian businesses are run).
- Marketing Indian food to the world has been non-existent.
After trying out international cuisine for a couple of years, I decided to take a break and eat only Indian food, simply because, in my opinion (no offenses to any country or culture), Indian food is, without any doubt, the best in the world. Best as in taste, not in appearance, originality, or any other criteria. Having been to an Italian restaurant twice in the last two months, and eating vegetarian food, I’m sure I’d not go there again in at least another six months. It’s not that Italian food is bad; they gave pizza and pasta to the world, after all. I just happened to go there with my colleagues on Thursdays, the only day of the week when I don’t eat non-vegetarian food.
The event I write about next should settle the argument.
In the spring of 2006, when I was a master’s student at Stanford University, an international food gala was organized by the student society. Food from more than 20 countries were available in as many stalls. Everyone was given five coupons each, free of charge, which meant we could eat food from any five countries. I decided to look at the food from all countries to see which ones tempt me enough to spend my coupon there. I spent two coupons on food from two European (I don’t remember which) countries and an African country. All looked good, some were sweet and some salty.
I had two coupons left with me and I didn’t want to go home and cook dinner, and my palate was not satisfied too, so I decided to go to the Pakistani stall. I was sure it would make my taste buds happy, though my stomach might remain unfilled (the quantity of food available everywhere was small). I started moving towards the Pakistani stall when I realized that the Indian and Pakistani stalls were overcrowded, with long lines of people wanting to grab something before it was over.
I stood in line, and after some time, my found myself standing in front of the tables. Tandoori chicken, mutton biryani, gulab jamum, and some other stuff was kept on the tables, but the Pakistani students were not serving the food like other students. Unable to pass this opportunity, I filled my plate with delicious Pakistani food.
After I was done with my dinner, I still had a coupon left, so I decided to finally go to the Indian stall. The long lines were gone, but so was the food! However, I had whatever was left and went home and slept in peace thanking the wonderful Pakistani food.
By the way, I brought up the spices story at the beginning of this post because both Pakistani and Indian food are very similar and use many different types of spices for flavor.