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A Matter Of Taste

A Matter Of Taste

March 31, 2010

Is Indian food superior to European, or is it just a matter of taste?

“I am bringing 50 theplas and a jar of pickle” declared my mum as I spoke to her this morning on the phone. My parents are flying into Munich tomorrow evening and I join them in a few days for a European holiday that will last almost 3 weeks. Now for any Indian family (and vegetarian at that), going without desi food for that long would seem like a punishment they couldn’t endure and so my mum is coming well equipped, ready to confront the bland tastelessness of European cuisine. The Italians might be master chefs tossing up perfect pastas and the French might pride themselves for their delicate blend of flavours, but no Indian worth their salt (and spice!) would be able to pretend for too long in admiring the subtle nuances of European cuisine.

Which brings me to the contentious argument I am about to make – Is Indian food superior to cuisines from the Western parts of the world? Are we more evolved in what we eat and how we cook as compared to our counterparts in Europe or America? Despite being vegetarian, I am extremely fond of European cuisine – I like the freshness of the ingredients, I like the fact that individual flavours are retained instead of being killed by an overindulgence of spice and the presentation is superb. I also admire this whole gourmet culture in the west, the fact that so many different techniques are used in cooking and that there are so many food connoisseurs passionate about what they eat in an age where takeaways and frozen meals are becoming the norm. Yet, I like it only for a while – about a week at a stretch, no more!

You might argue that this is because I am used to eating Indian food, that Europeans too would say the same thing about our cuisine. True, food is after all a very subjective matter, but holistically speaking, I still believe Indian cuisine is in many ways superior to European cuisine and for the following 3 reasons.

Variety – From meat and fish to about a hundred different kinds of vegetables, wheat, pulses, rice and abundant spices – we probably use the most number of ingredients in our food and that too in a variety of different ways depending on which region of India you are from. The predominant ingredients in European cuisine are meat, pastry, pasta and potatoes and you could literally count on your fingertips the staple dishes eaten in any European country.

Health – Any health expert will tell you that the nutritional value of a wholesome Indian meal (daal, rice, vegetables, yoghurt and chapattis) will far exceed that of a British or Italian one. Also India is probably the only country in the world where the choice of vegetarian options exceeds that of non-vegetarian ones. So even as vegetarianism is just about becoming fashionable elsewhere in the world, we’ve adopted it for centuries.

Flavour – Agreed, we sometimes overkill the individual flavour an ingredient with spices, but come to any Indian home and every dish has a distinct taste. Our curries aren’t that obnoxious red colour, nor are they as greasy or overpowering in their spice levels as they are in Indian restaurants here. Flavours vary hugely from region to region and are distinct and varied as you make your way across the subcontinent.

No wonder, then, that Indian food hasn’t been as easily influenced by foreign cultures as food elsewhere is. In Britain for instance, curry, Chinese and sushi have now become as much a part of daily life as mash and sausages. This is testimony to the lack of variety offered by local British cuisine. In mainland Europe, too, Indian and Chinese food is hugely popular because of the richness of its flavour. Of course we Indians too enjoy the occasional pasta dinner or Chinese takeaway (hugely modified to suit our taste), but I really can’t imagine a day will come when our local food will lose its appeal and make way for other cuisines to be equals at our dinner table.


  • Bhaavi
    27.02.11 02:04 PM
    Hi Nikhil!

    A very well written and quite engaging article. I completely agree with you.

    Every region in India has its own way of preparation with respect to climate, lifestyle,etc. Though one may find ingredients used across India are almost same.

    Love the fact that we have so many options and varieties to cater out for our taste buds. Science has proved our food to be well balanced. A homemade indian food any day is a boon for health.

    Obesity is mainly cause of lifestyle changes and influence of junk foods, lack of exercise is also a major contributor. But still any Dietician gives solution out of Indian food.

    I came across an article where pastas and spaghetti are made out of whole grains and lentils to be exported from India.

    We do have a major influence across the globe. Happy to know that :)

    Think Global and Eat Local!!
  • balirand
    15.04.10 06:46 PM
    Love the article…and I agree. I have to have indian food at least once per day or i don’t feel satisfied.

    I think some of the negative aspects of indian food are definitely mistaken….you know the old cannards about it being too oily and/or greasy and lacking protein, but with an abundance of carbs.

    if homemade, then there need be no issue of oil/grease/fats. and if you use the right mixed of whole wheat flour, your roti has plenty of protein, though most people look at the roti and see only carbs (6 grams protein per roti at minimum). add in some lentils and home made yogurt…you’ve got yourself a well balanced meal!
  • nalini hebbar
    nalini hebbar
    01.04.10 01:50 PM
    Nothing like a tasty Indian meal eaten with the fingers!
    The science of the preparation of Indian cuisine is deep. Same with Ayurveda. Every ingredient has a reason...for example
    mustard tadka...essential fatty acids omega 3 & 6
    ghee used in the right dose of short chain fatty acids to keep skin and hair healthy
  • Hari
    01.04.10 07:31 AM
    I think you are homesick :)
  • Sid Khullar
    Sid Khullar
    01.04.10 12:23 AM
    Very engaging, well written article, thank you... and also for visiting my site. IMHO it would be difficult for a person with distinct roots in any culture to impartially compare the merits and demerits of a cuisine or compare two distinct food cultures in an unbiased manner. Being a culinary cosmopolitan / explorer is therefore my route of choice.

    BTW: If you're ever interested, we'd love to receive contributions from you for Chef at Large.

    Stay well.
  • A Singh
    A Singh
    31.03.10 06:28 PM
    I am also in agreement but talking of Europeans and influence on Indian food, don't forget who brought the Chilli to India - the Portuguese!!
  • g2
    31.03.10 05:48 PM
    I think we have a strong affinity to our childhood memories and our tastes and likes depend heavily on it. I could barely survive a summer in France without Indian food and will agree with almost everything you say...

    Having said that, when it comes to health, Indian food (especially South Indian) has a lot of carbohydrates and salt which is not very healthy...

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