Thursday, March 25, 2004

After Centuries, the Vegetarian Feast of India Finally Arrives

The Vegetarian Feast Has Arrived...According to the New York Times

A crispy dosa (crepe made from rice flour) typical of South India, with sides of sambar (lentil soup), coconut chutney, and potato .

I am really glad that this story on vegetarian Indian food has run in the New York Times. I guess the food writer has finally discovered that Indian food is (1) not just the heavy Punjabi curries and South Indian dosas that most non-Indian connoisseurs of Indian food in the United States are familiar with, and (2) that there is a plethora of diverse vegetarian Indian food options, outside of the standard generic "vegetable curry." I don't know about you, but I am kind of bored of the generic "vegetable curry," the vegetables in really buttery gravy that is typical to most of Indian food available in the states.

Sorry, I digressed.

While I do think the article could have done more to highlight the numerous and distinct regional styles of cooking available in India, the article is a good starting point for people who have love for Indian food.

From the article:

Indian restaurants outside India have rarely reflected the central role of vegetarian cooking in Indian life, or its varied flavors. Where Americans see "vegetable curries," Indian cooks distinguish among dry and sauced, southern-style (flavored with mustard seeds and curry leaves) and Northern-style (cooked in tomatoes and onions), chili-hot and creamy-cool dishes. To one who eats this way from birth, Mr. Rathnam said, "a dish that is spicy and sweet tastes completely different to one that is spicy and sour. Religion, economics, demographics and geography conspired early on to make India one of the most prolifically cultivated regions on earth. Today, there are about 220 million strict vegetarians in India, according to the Anthropological Survey of India. Indian Hindus, Buddhists and Jains all aspire to an ideal of ahimsa, or nonviolence, that prohibits the killing of anything living or with the potential for life (hence, Indian vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs)."

"Traditionally in India, cooking is intimately entwined with purity, spirituality and caste. "It's almost impossible to generalize about a country as diverse as India," said Rathi Raja, executive director of the Young Indian Culture Group, in Manhasset, N.Y. "But this much is true: although many of the old ways of religion and class are breaking down, eating vegetarian still has a big place in Indian culture." As New York's South Indian population has swelled, the lighter, livelier foods of those regions are being added to the mix. Gujarat, where many of New York City's Indian high-tech workers come from, has a particularly high percentage of vegetarians. "They are bachelors, these guys," said Sridhar Rathnam, the chef and an owner of Madras Cafe in the East Village. "So they don't know how to cook. And they need restaurants."

Believe me, I understand the craving for good Gujarati vegetarian food, and if you cannot get veggie Gujarati food, any veggie Indian will have to do. I know New York has some good vegetarian restaurants, and now thanks to the people behind the "Indian Delight" fast food Indian restaurant in The Old Post Office Pavilion here in DC, people craving or wanting to try Gujarati food, in addition to other Indian regional cooking can eat at their new K Street establishment Nirvana.


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