Go Ahead Director of Product Development, Lael Kassis recently returned home from Go Ahead’s Grand Tour of India. Below, Lael shares his thoughts about India’s incredibly varied and delicious cuisine. Read Lael’s previous post on India here.
For a food lover like me, India is paradise. The strong and delicious tastes and smells of Indian food left me wanting to try everything. After two weeks in India, I was nowhere near tired of Indian food and my love and appreciation for the cuisine only increased.
Most of the Indian food you’ll find in the US is native to Northern India and typically cooked in the Punjab or Moghul style. This food includes a lot of grilled tandoori meats like lamb and chicken, as well as dishes cooked with ghee, which is a type of clarified butter. The food of Northern India is heavy, well-spiced and delicious. Much of the food is locally sourced, relying on ingredients that can be produced in the climate and environment. Naan, Indian flatbread, is served at almost every meal and used to soak up the spicy sauces. For the best flavors, try the garlic naan, India’s version of garlic bread.
Some of the best and most interesting food I tasted while in India I found in the southern state of Kerala. The food utilizes the local ingredients that are found in the lush, tropical coast environment. Kerala has long been the source of some of the best spices in the world and was center to the lucrative spice trade that played a large part in the history of European, African and Asian exchange. The spices grown in the area include cardamom, ginger, cassia, chili pepper, kokum, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pepper, coffee, tamarind, curry leaf, tea and vanilla—just to name a few. With the variety of spices grown locally, Southern Indian food is very spicy and flavorful. The food is cooked almost exclusively in coconut oil, instead of the heavier ghee used in the north.
One of my favorite meals in Kerala was at a seafood restaurant in Fort Cochin. On recommendation from a friend, I ordered grilled Kingfish that’s cooked in a banana leaf with chilies, coconut oil and curry. The tasty fish was incredibly fresh, caught that same morning and purchased from the busy fish market down the street. The meal was served with rice, one of the 600 varieties grown in the flooded paddies of the state. I found the use of the banana leaf very interesting. Not only was it used to hold in the all the flavors of the fish while being grilled, it also acted as a bio-degradable plate that you could throw away easily after eating.
Another amazing culinary experience occurred while exploring the Kerala backwaters on a houseboat. The tranquility and relaxation of being on the houseboat at the end of tour really completed my Indian experience. A world away from the bustling and crowded Indian cities, the Kerala backwaters are a place to unwind, contemplate life and enjoy your surroundings. The houseboat was staffed with two cooks who prepared 5-6 course meals featuring a myriad of Kerala specialties including fish, coconut curries, okra, coconut-chili spiced vegetables and as many cold Kingfisher beers as you’d like.