…..'A sense of humour lends you poise, it gives you balance and it helps you to bend without breaking'…..

(HH Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda)

MenUloopal - another little food rant

There were some great comments to last week's post on the MenU. Some perfectly valid points were raised; in particular by Mara with regard to cross-cultural creations.
The Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands have been adapted not just to the Netherlands, but to Indonesia as well. In fact, most of the first Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands were actually Chinese-Indian (as we would call them, meaning Indonesian). Since Indonesia belonged to the Netherlands and a lot of Chinese migrants worked in Indonesia in low paid jobs. After Indonesia's independence however, a lot of people came to the Netherlands and quite a few of those opened restaurants. They were not strictly Chinese, nor were they Indonesian. They were a mix of both!
This is absolutely true. Chinese workers in particular were ferried all over the globe (think gold mining and railway building just for starters). In times when transportation was long and harried, they had to find ways of keeping their cuisine, using what was available to them. This resulted in lots of adaptation and what would now be called 'fusion' cooking. Nothing wrong in that at all! This pertains to the 'invaded food' mentioned last week. It is a global community and we cannot expect that there will not be change.

Others mentioned Thai and Japanese foods; yummoooo.... One of the beauties of these two cultural cuisines is that - in my experience at least - they have stuck to tradition wherever they are. The flavours of Thai and Japanese, and the style of preparation, will be in Sydney, London or San Francisco, the same as you would experience in Bangkok or Tokyo. You then, as the eater, must adapt your tastes to the cuisine and not the reverse. (Admittedly, there are a few key ingredients - I refer to 'meat' - which would not be used or given outside of the host countries, but these do not alter the essential nature of the cuisine.)

Let me be clear; there are some very fine eating establishments around the world offering authentic dishes from many origins. As more and more folk are having their interest in food engendered through such shows as the Masterchef franchise, our tastebuds are definitely getting more keen for the exotic.

On the matter of crossing culture in food it is interesting to note that India has an extremely ancient history regarding food ingredients and their place in the diet.  Sanskrit literature from the Aajur Veda (ayurveda) pertains mainly to the body and its care and function. Given that the standard life expectancy given is 100 years, it is not surprising that modern nutritional guidelines owe a lot to that tradition. Then along came the invaders.  First the Mughals, bringing cauliflower, broccoli, beetroot.

Then the Portuguese brought the chilli, Dutch brought the potato, both brought the tomato...

Three ingredients which most of the world think of in relation to India and yet have only a three - to four hundred year history there. Certainly long enough for them to have been adopted and made quintessentially Indian.  This is the sort of merging which is unavoidable and not necessarily to be frowned upon.

When the British were in India, they found a taste for the local food. In particular a very pleasing item made form yoghurt and spices into a warming and cleansing 'soup'.  It is called Kadhi. There are four different forms of 'd' in Indian languages and this one is a soft flick of the tongue behind the teeth; plus two forms of 'a', the short form being almost to the 'uh' sound... thus it was heard by the untrained ears as 'curry'...

It came that every food which had a liquid gravy became called 'curry'. It is tempting to say the rest is history! However, it is important to note that the British were not happy to keep things in the way they were given; they were sure they could improve on it, so would order their cooks to up the salt, increase this or reduce that and to add meat where no meat had previously ever entered.

A famous one is kitcheri; a delicious, light and soothing moong dahl and rice dish, very lightly spiced. The Raj lot really enjoyed this but wanted more 'ooph', so tweaked it with more spices, added peas, tomatoes and smoked fish, took out the lentils and called it kedgeree.

Indian dining only really spread to British shores after partition though. 1947. The year of a divide which resulted in many Punjabis having to find new homes. There was a great diaspora. Likewise from Pakistan and Bangladesh (originally East Pakistan you may recall.... crikey this wasn't meant to be a history lesson!) Anyway, Punjabi food is of a very particular form (Pakistani is not dissimilar), with a tendency to thick, rich sauces and, of course, the famous naan...which, ironically, originated from Mughal cuisine.

The general public of this island nation found a great use for the 'curry'; it is almost a standing joke that after a 'big night out' nothing beat a curry or a kebab. Being unadventurous, for the most part, certain types of curry became the favoured ones; things like butter chicken, beef vindaloo (originally from Portugal!) and lamb korma. Can the shop owners be blamed for catering to the public demand? Of course not. It was a slippery path though and now, here in Scotland at least, there is just a pond of thick, indistinct sauces being adapted to whatever content is requested.

Summary of this rant?  Fusion? Fine. Getting lazy and presenting slop. Not fine. If all you put on your menu is chicken/lamb/beef/pork tikka masala, 'all meats'/korma, 'all meats'/tandoori or vindaloo, then it is all folk are going to order.

When offered vadas and chatni, a chaat masala, idlis and sambar, a dhansak, or dhokla sabzi jalfrezi, do you not think that your regular public might like to try them? After all they are mild, tasty beyond description and (oh my gosh) h e a l t h y... Dahl ought not to be the only vegetarian option; and that too, it ought to be prepared as per vegetarian requirements...

...and for that you patient readers, you will have to await the 'frustrations of the vegetarian traveller'!

Charlie's dad is wondering about the 'correct' taste of dahl. Much depends on which 'dahl' is used. Remember that dahl is the Hindi word for lentils and these take many forms. Consistency is a personal preference thing, but on the whole, aiming for a very thick soup is the best guideline. As those of you who watched the video last week (check the MenU tab folks - or the vid tab) will have noted, the lentils can be prepared in advance so that they are super soft and lush. This means that they take up the flavourings better also. 

Mostly I use either moong dahl or chana dahl (or yellow split peas if can't get that) and will add in some masoor dahl (red split lentils) as they add flavour also and give nice consistency.

The lentils themselves with simple seasoning are very healthy for the body. You can add flavourings as the the ladies did in the vid. YAM's favourite tadka is
1 teasp cumin powder
1 teasp ground coriander
half teasp turmeric pwder
1 tablsp tomato paste
1 teasp org vege stock powder
half teasp ground black pepper
1 teasp mustard seeds
1 finely chopped green chili
1 tablespoon mustard oil or ghee.

this is for 500mls of water added to make the sauce and adding in two cups of already prepared lentils. Lightly saute these ingredients in the oil/ghee - but be very very very careful not to overdo it as things can go bitter! it is literally a flash fry to release the aromatics then get the water and dahl in quick. Leave to simmer for as long as you wish, keeping an eye on moisture content.


  1. I'm still coming to your house to eat as soon as I can.

  2. WE think you should start a Restaurant and serve the good stuffs that you prepare.
    Our mom doesn't use many spices and herbs... she is mostly a Salt n Pepper sorta Cook.... EXCEPT fur CINNAMON.... She puts it on TONS of Sweet Foods... and in..... her home made Lasagna..

    1. Hari OM
      Pepper and cinnamon are two of the very first spices to be adopted by the British (and therefore all colonies!)... lots you can do with just those two! yummmm

  3. This is wonderful. I think that what with the merging of cultures in families, a taboo thing in many parts of the world, the new cuisine means taking the best parts of that, as well.

    1. Hari OM
      Hi Jenn - this is very true! Yxx

  4. I will try you recipe that sounds interesting to prepare the lentils that way. I love food experiments :o)
    easy rider

  5. Oh, are you having a Blogville Buffet? We will come too BOL!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley


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