by Kim Koeller and Robert La France
Far more indispensable
then food for the physical body is spiritual nourishment for
the soul. One can do without food for a considerable time,
but a man of the spirit cannot exist for a single second without
With over a billion inhabitants,
India is second only to China in population. The 35 states
and territories of India occupy a landmass roughly the size
of Europe. The cultural identity of India is extraordinarily
complex due to the conquest of its lands: From the Aryans,
Mongolians and Persians to the Greeks, Portuguese and the
British. This is further complicated by the fact that there
are 40-plus languages spoken, most of which have their own
alphabet and script. How then can one classify the culinary
identity of a country with over a billion people, speaking
over 40 languages who have been conquered or occupied by at
least 10 different civilizations? One word: Masala!
the Hindi word for spice and is the single unifying factor
of the 16 major schools of Indian cooking. Regional cuisines
in the North include Awahd, Kashmiri, Lucknow, Punjabi,
Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Southern cooking is
represented by the Andhra, Hyderabad, Kerala and Tamil
Nadu cooking styles, while Bengali is the predominant
Eastern Indian cuisine. In the West, Goan, Gujarati, Konkani,
Maharashtrian and Parsi cuisines hold the greatest
In addition to its conquerors,
the original indigenous civilization, the Dravidians, have
had a large impact on traditional cuisine. The Dravidians
were responsible for the creation and development of the Ayurveda,
one of the first examples of life sciences in early civilization.
The Ayurveda was the first documentation of thought
that recognized the importance of nutrition and its impact
on physical, mental and spiritual health. These early discoveries
still remain in practice and are relevant today, serving as
the basis for many Indian culinary principles.
Vegetarianism has long
been a part of Indias culinary history. It is widely
believed that the early civilizations of the Indian sub-continent
were vegetarian, but this has yet to be confirmed by archeologists.
The first documented evidence of vegetarianism in India was
in the 6th century BC, through the teachings of
both Buddha and Mahavir Jain, the two greatest spiritual influences
in Indian culture. The Emperor Ashoka, further popularized
the virtue of vegetarianism during his rule in the 2nd
century BC. Today, vegetarian dishes hold a prominent place
in the Indian gastronomic experience.
Familiarity with Indian
cuisine varies greatly depending upon your geographic location.
In the United Kingdom, for example, there are over 8,000 Indian
restaurants and the cuisine itself has become as common as
Mexican food in California. Indian neighborhoods can be found
in cities all over the world; this is where you will find
the most authentic cuisine outside the Indian sub-continent.
Like many cuisines in Asia,
Indian culinary ingredients are directly related to the availability
of products in each region. Since the country is so large,
there is a cornucopia of food products used in the many schools
of Indian cooking. Dairy products, legumes, spices and vegetables
are regularly consumed at most Indian meals. Breads, crepes
and pancakes made from chickpea, lentil, potato, rice and
wheat flours are also a daily staple of their diet.
Since the number of
vegetarians in Indian is substantial, there is obviously an
extensive variety of vegetables used regularly. Broccoli,
cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, corn, onion, potato,
pumpkin, shallot, spinach, tomato and turnip are common vegetables
found across Indian cuisine. Legumes such as black gram, chick
peas and lentils are often used as ingredients, as well as
ground into flours for bread. Tree nuts play a big part, with
almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts frequently incorporated
into dishes. In addition, Indian cuisine utilizes many different
types of fruit such as coconut, mango and raisins as ingredients
in their dishes and in chutney, the famous spiced fruit spread.
is used in the majority of dishes. Although the exact spices
for a specific dish vary from chef to chef, their choices
for what spices to include are standard across Indian cuisine.
These common Indian spices include black pepper, cardamom,
chili pepper, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek,
garlic, ginger, mustard seed and turmeric.
Because the cow is sacred
to Hindus, dairy products are prevalent far more often than
beef in Indian cooking; although, you may find beef in non-Hindi
Indian restaurants. Ghee (clarified butter) is traditionally
used to cook food rather than vegetable oil. Yogurt is often
included in curry dishes, with butter milk, cream and milk
incorporated from time to time. Paneer, a soft Indian
cheese, is used in vegetarian dishes and desserts.
Sources of protein in
Indian restaurants are directly reflective of each restaurant
owners religious beliefs. Generally speaking, most Indian
restaurants offer chicken, fish and lamb dishes, with paneer
(Indian cheese) serving as the major source of protein
for vegetarians. A Hindu restaurant would never serve beef;
whereas, one would expect to find it in a Muslim restaurant,
where you would not find pork or shellfish. In fact, it is
rare to see pork on a typical Indian menu.
The Indian culture is
known for its consumption of non-alcoholic specialty beverages.
Tea is considered a national treasure, with the Darjeerling
blend being the most common. Because of Indias geographic
location, thousands of tea varieties are available including
red, green and black. Masala Chai is a popular Indian
beverage enjoyed around the world that is made with black
tea, cardamom, hot milk and sugar. Another non-alcoholic specialty
beverage is Lassi. It is made with yogurt, cream, salt
and sugar, which can be requested plain or with a variety
of natural flavors such as mint, mango or strawberry.
Culinary practices vary
in Indian restaurants. Although it is uncommon, some sauces
may have wheat flour added to them as a thickening agent.
Many standard Indian condiments such as chutney, Indian
pickles or raita resemble sauces. Chutneys are
spicy fruit spreads and are very common in Indian restaurants.
Indian pickles are made with fruit or vegetables in oil with
aromatic spices and differ from western pickles in that they
resemble relish. They almost never contain vinegar and are
not made from cucumbers. Raita is a yogurt dipping
will vary widely from restaurant to restaurant, below is a
list of common and typically gluten-free condiments and their
- Coconut Chutney: Coconut,
chili pepper, vegetable oil, yogurt, Indian herbs
- Mango Chutney: Mango,
ginger, onions, raisins, Indian herbs and spices
- Mint Chutney: Mint,
chili pepper, lemon juice, onions, salt, sugar, oil,
Indian herbs and spices
- Tamarind Chutney: Tamarind
paste, sugar, oil, water, Indian herbs
- Tomato Chutney: Tomato,
chili pepper, cilantro, garlic, salt, sugar, tamarind
juice, Indian herbs and spices
- Indian Pickles: Any
type of fruit or vegetable with Indian herbs and spices
- Raita: A
yogurt sauce with Indian herbs and spices, may also
contain sliced onions and tomatoes
Located in the Coolidge
Corner area of Brookline, Massachusetts and easily accessible
from downtown Boston, Rani Indian Bistro specializes
in Hyderabadi cuisine from the Andhra Pradash
State of India. Restaurateur Samir Majmudar worked for years
in the hotelier industry in India before moving to the States
to continue his career. He has owned and operated a number
of restaurants in the Boston area prior to focusing all of
his energy on Rani.
Along with his wife,
Prakruti, a strict vegetarian who specializes in the preparation
of vegetarian items, and Head Chef Paul Gomes, Samir brings
a great enthusiasm for food from his native land, as well
as a passion for wine. Hyderabadi cuisine combines
Hindu and Muslim influences, offering many vegetarian items,
as well as a host of savory chicken and lamb dishes. Chilies
and nuts play a large part in the preparation of their dishes;
however, each is carefully marked on the menu as a courtesy
for those adhering to specialized diets. There are many options
that do not contain nuts or are mild in flavor for those who
are not fond of spicy food.
The chefs at Rani
make an effort to carefully combine ingredients in each
dish, so you can capture the essence of every herb or spice
in a way that makes you truly appreciate the dedication and
pride that goes into their food. Rani is open daily
for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m.
to 10:30 p.m.
Rani Indian Bistro
1353 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA 02446
Kim Koeller and Robert La France, President
and Executive Vice President of GlutenFree Passport,
are the authors of the Lets Eat Out! Your Passport
to Living Gluten and Allergy Free book series, 2006
Benjamin Franklin Award finalist for Best Health, Wellness
and Nutrition Book and Best First Book Non-fiction. For more
information and free educational materials, please visit http://www.glutenfreepassport.com.