Whenever I talk about India (quite a lot, incidentally), one of the things I find myself repeating is the huge diversity across the country. Moving from one state to another is like going to a different country. I’m talking about language (over 200 dialects in India), cuisine (it’s not just about curry, people), landscape, economy, education, literacy levels, dress sense… the list goes on. But there are a few constants. Wherever you go in India, people WILL have darker than white skin. People WILL drive like lunatics. And most importantly, people will constantly do the Indian “head wobble”.
So what is this head wobble I speak of?
Indians of all ages perform it and to varying degrees of “wobbliness”. It can be frantic and visible to every human within a 10 meter radius,or it can be so subtle that you might not even notice it unless you are accustomed to the way of the wobble. The confusing part is that the head wobble can mean a range of things. Here is a short list of what it can represent:
- “Thank you”
- “You’re welcome”
- “I don’t know”
When I visited the motherland for the first time, there was a lot of confusion. Asking a waiter a simple question would be met with head wobbles and grinning. To somebody who is new to this strange Indian action, your first instinct is to think “Well, that didn’t answer my question. Does he mean this dish WILL or WON’T be spicy?” As time goes on though… it will still make very little sense! But it does become funnier. Once you embrace the ambiguity of this national gesture and maybe even start rocking your own head wobble, you’ll learn that it doesn’t matter what it means. Just enjoy the madness and try to perfect your own.
I tried an experiment on a 24 hour train journey once (you can expect a whole new blog post discussing Indian trains…). I walked up and down carriages, peering into cabins and giving a little nod of the head. I received the odd smile, but largely people carried on as they were. The occasional one would obviously ask me why I looked Indian but wore western clothes and spoke with a strange accent, but that’s normal.
When I traded the slight nod with a head wobble, all hell broke loose. Stern and weary faces were instantly replaced with welcoming smiles and, of course, a reciprocated head wobble. I was offered seats, food, drinks, babies (to hold, not keep) and generally made to feel like part of the family. When I eventually had to tell people that my girlfriend at the time was waiting for me in another carriage so I had to go, it just prompted them to ask questions about why I wasn’t married! Again, that’s a whole other topic.
The moral of the story is: if you want to build instant rapport with any local Indian, all it takes is a little bit of casual head wobbling. (Practice in front of a mirror… I can assure you, you WILL look ridiculous). More importantly, if you want to keep from pulling all of your hair out and getting constantly frustrated, you need to accept as early as possible that most of your questions will be met with a wobble and more often than not, leave you more confused than before you asked the question.
Only in India…
I always found it strange when I went out for a curry with my “Western” friends. A starter, main, naan bread and rice EACH?! That’s crazy talk. Mixing all the curry with the rice first, then using the naan to mop it up? Madness. Let me explain…
At home, we used to eat Indian food at least 3-4 times a week when I was growing up. The format was pretty standard: 2-3 chappatis, a curry, some side vegetable dishes, pickles, rice and dal. All sounds pretty familiar right? Here’s the catch:
You always eat your shak (curry) and rotli (chappatis) first. When you’re done with that, it’s onto rice and dal. Poppadoms (or papad) are a thing, but not as you’ll know from a curry house. They are flatter in shape and have spices in. Oh and no mango chutney – I don’t think I’d still be alive if I’d been eating mango chutney 3-4 times a week as a child.
Another big difference is how in Indian culture it’s all about sharing lots of dishes. Or eating out of a thali (like a compartment tray, which a friend of mine said reminded him of prison, lovely*) with about 12 different elements to the meal, including dessert. Yes, dessert on the same plate as your starters, mains and sides. We don’t even wait until the savoury is done before moving onto sweet sometimes… the cold, sweet dish is often used as a way to “de-spice” in between mouthfuls of heat.
Variety is key. Sharing is caring. And any other cliches you can think of 🙂
* He hadn’t been to prison himself, just from what he’d seen on TV. Don’t let this put you off, I’m confident that the thalis we serve up at pop ups is much better than prison food.
Following on from previous posts, it was really important to me that The Indian Guy was true to what Indian people (or at least Gujaratis, and there’s a lot of us in the UK!) eat at home around the globe.
You won’t find the majority of our dishes in any curry house. In fact, unless you have been to India or have Indian friends, it’s unlikely that you would have even heard of some of our dishes.
From deep fried, crispy sharers, to fun starter kits and uniquely flavoured curries, we are determined to keep to the theme of #morethanjustcurry. In fact, I didn’t even want naan bread on the menu originally… but I also know it’s important to give the people what they want 🙂 We also do theplas, which are like a spiced chapati and peas paratha, like layered flat bread. All made from scratch using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
We don’t use a lot of oil and we don’t make anything so spicy that it blows your head off: these are two of the things which can often make people regret going out for a curry. It always surprises people when I say I’m not a fan of spicy food, but there it is. Maybe I’m the only Indian who prefers a Korma to a Vindaloo?! This reflects in our dishes – everything is mild to medium spiced, with the option to add a side pot of chillies for those who do like to get their sweat on whilst they eat 🙂
We deliver the food in recyclable packaging, with easy to follow heating instructions on each dish. All you need is an oven. If you’re wondering why we deliver the food chilled, there is one simple reason – to reach more people. It also turned out that by delivering chilled food instead of hot, we don’t have to pay VAT, but that was an accidental bonus 🙂
If you didn’t already know, all of our food is 100% vegan. I am myself vegan, but I was a full-blown meat eater when I started the business. The food has almost always been plant-based (it was vegetarian for the first 6 months) because that’s how the best dishes on the street of India are born, probably due to the climate. As you can imagine, meat and dairy doesn’t hold up well in the baking heat all day. Many of our customers are vegan, but almost the same number are not. Until you try it, you won’t know what I mean when I say these dishes don’t need meat. In fact, adding meat would ruin it. Trust me, I tried!
Cast your mind back to May 2018. I had recently made a big career change, going from the world of sales management in the Finance Sector, to becoming a Support Worker for CCP, a local Cheltenham based charity who do amazing things for the community.
A few months in, I still wasn’t satisfied with my working life. As much as I enjoyed being away from a stuffy office and actually working for a good cause, something was missing. It was at this point, I decided I needed to take the plunge and start my own business. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, so now was a good a time as any. What would I do though?
Well, I’d been saying for many years that Cheltenham was lacking real Indian food. That’s not to say we don’t have some great curry houses. But most curry houses don’t serve Indian food! It’s like the UK’s best kept secret. All the delicious dishes I grew up eating were nowhere to be seen in any restaurants. Not even just in Cheltenham, but generally apart from a few, not many “Indian restaurants” in the country seem to serve traditional, authentic Indian street food or food which Indians actually eat at home. In fact, did you know that the Chicken Tikka Masala was invented in Glasgow?!
Whenever any non-Indian friends of mine came to an Indian event, they would always bang on about how good the food was and how different it is to what they had come to expect of Indian food. I mean, did you know that Indians rarely even eat naan bread at home??*
So that was it – I wasn’t much of a cook, but I knew there was an opportunity to introduce this familiar, yet so unfamiliar cuisine to the people. I asked my mum to write up some recipes of my favourite dishes, checked with my wife that she’s happy for us to live on a shoestring budget (again), read the instructions of how to use a hob, washed my hands and got to work.
Little did I know that in less than 6 weeks, I’d be launching The Indian Guy at a popular brewery where I’d actually have to ask people for money in exchange for this “amazing food”. Let’s just say, s**t got real… fast.
* It’s important to note that I’m from Gujarat, one of about 17,000 states in India (massive exaggeration, but hopefully you get my point). So a lot of my words are coming from the perspective of a Gujarati Indian and my opinion may differ to someone from Punjab, or Mumbai for example #disclaimer
Hello and welcome to The Indian Guy blog! I (Jin) will be writing about various topics on this page, from the story behind our business journey to fun facts about life in The Motherland (India, in case that wasn’t obvious) 😉
Please feel free to share, leave a comment and most importantly – get in touch if there’s anything in particular you would like me to write about. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my best to come up with a witty and factual (ish) article for your entertainment!
In the meantime, stay safe, be kind to each other and if you haven’t tried our food yet… why not?!