Ranked in the Top 10 of the world’s best foods, Indian cuisine is not just about the heat of a curry. In fact, there is a palette of flavours and character that filter through every bite. Like Italian, Thai and Chinese food, Indian food has crisscrossed the globe and taken on local nuances like Durban and English or London curry, for example. Indian cuisine is simple yet complex at the same time and, similar to regional delicacies ascribed to many Italian or French dishes, Indian cuisine can roughly be split into northern and southern tastes.
Vijay Kumar, proprietor of popular restaurant Yoga Indian Cuisine in Sunninghill, explains that North Indian curries are typically thick, creamy and rich and often cashew nuts, poppy and watermelon seeds are used in the base of the curry. South Indian curries, on the other hand, are watery, extra spicy and tangy in flavour, and fresh roasted spices and coconut are used to form the base of the curry. “India is a very large country and its cultural diversity is quite a melting pot of fascinating cuisines. There is a big divide between north and south India, with its food being very distinct from one another,” says Kumar.
“Much of what is served in Indian restaurants in the ‘western’ world is North Indian inspired. Foods such as naan bread, paneer, butter chicken and the like are all North Indian cuisine. Garam masala is the prominent spice mixture that is used while sambar powder is often used to spice South Indian curries. Dishes such as dosa, idli and rasam are prominent in south India,” he adds.
But curry isn’t only different between the north and south at origin. Thanks to the diaspora in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Indian food was exported to several of the crown’s far flung territories, including South Africa, where Durban Curry has become as legendary as the invention of bunny chow on home soil. Kumar explains that “Durban curry is quite different from what you would find in India, as it was adapted to include the spices and staple foodstuffs available at the time when the indentured Indians arrived in Durban in the 1860s. Durban curry does not usually include cream, milk, yoghurt or nuts, and very little butter or ghee is used. In Durban oil is used as a base, with a lot of chilli, cumin and coriander. Durban curry is said to be hotter and redder in colour.”
Just a 45 minute flight to Johannesburg and the curries are different, again. “Johannesburg’s history is different to that of the east coast and again the dishes available are influenced by Cape Malay and Durban-style curry along with traditional Indian influences. It’s a reflection of the city, its melting pot status and how cuisine came to life in very different circumstances,” says Kumar. “South African curries are definitely reflective of its rich cultural diversity. Cape Malay curries for example are less red and spicy compared to the traditional Durban curry.”
Eleven hours away, in London, curries are again somewhat different. “The British have adapted traditional Indian curry to include pre-prepared curry paste and the use of vegetables like carrots and cabbage to bulk up their gravy,” notes Kumar, and adds that the love of curry in the United Kingdom has led it to become an unofficial national dish on the island.
Kumar’s Yoga Indian Cuisine focuses on north Indian cuisine. The aroma emanating from the kitchen all afternoon and evening is absolutely irresistible. Yoga’s samosas, stuffed floor to ceiling with either lamb, corn or potato are delicious as a starter or take-away office snack while for mains it may be a better recommendation to dine there daily, and order a different item off the menu every time. It’s that good. Yoga’s meals are well-priced and has a lot of flavour beyond its mild, medium or turned-up heat. Try his lasses or the delicious, milkshake-like Bombay Freeze as a side drink.
About the author:
Hein Kaiser is a seasoned journalist, broadcaster, producer, and marketing communication professional and has worked in a variety of markets, sectors, and countries. He presently hosts the 360 Brunch over weekends on Mix 93.8FM, writes for the Citizen and consults to various companies on a strategic level