Tuesday, 28 October 2014

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Why Garam Masala Symbolises Indian Cuisine

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If there is one element that is unequivocally linked with Indian food, what would you say that is? For many – albeit largely those in the West – it would be garam masala. Luckily, our knowledge and understanding of Indian cuisine has progressed enough to know that curry powder doesn’t exactly scream authentic Indian culinary tradition, although these things take time...

Unlike curry powder, garam masala has its roots placed firmly in India. A fairly standard ingredient in many store cupboards, we dutifully add it to dishes when the recipe calls for it and most people will have used it at some point in their lives. But what do we really know about it other thanit can transform any dish into an Indian taste sensation?

One stumbling block comes in the composition of garam masala. We know it is Indian in flavour, so that must mean it is spicy, right? Well, no. Chillies are generally what provides heat in a dish and garam masala is chilli‐free. Instead, it contains a blend of spices that can vary, but nearly always include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Together, this combination creates a pungent flavour and aroma without a spicy kick.

And sticking with the fiery theme, a bit of investigation reveals that garam translates to mean ‘hot’ (masala, incidentally means ‘blend of spices’). So what does this heat refer to? In ancient Ayurvedic teaching these spices are believed to ‘heat’ the body by raising its metabolism. This is also a reason why garam masala is so closely linked with northern India rather than the South. By eating food flavoured with these ‘warming’ spices they work to keep you warm in a colder climate. Chillies, on the other hand, cause you to perspire, thus
meaning your body temperature drops (far better for hotter climates).

This North‐South divide is further highlighted with the fact that garam masala is virtually unused (and almost unheard of) in the southern states of the Indian subcontinent. There are a number of theories about why this is the case; one focuses on the fact that garam masala uses the more expensive spices during years ofardent spice trading. The inclusion of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom rather than the locally grown coriander, cumin and ginger would suggest that garam masala was used in the kitchens of the nobility, not in everyday

Very rarely does garam masala feature as the main ingredient within a recipe. Rather than taking a star role in a dish alongside the staples of ginger, garlic and turmeric, it is generally added towards the end of the cooking process and just prior to serving. But as a flavour enhancer, it does its job extremely well, and for that we don’t what we would do without it. For a meal that symbolises all that is great about Indian cuisine, London’s oldest fine dining Indian restaurant has it all.It is refined, opulent and serves authentic Indian dishes with a modern approach – it is guaranteed to give you an experience you’ll never forget.


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