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 🙂
Lastly, traditionally Indians eat with their hands. I didn’t learn how to do this properly until I was laughed at by 40 children in an orphanage in Goa (more on that another time). I was not only taught how to do it without making a complete mess, but also why it’s important. It sounds obvious to me now, but cutlery creates a slightly metallic taste! We are so used to this, that we wouldn’t even consider it a thing. Next time you eat Indian, try using your hands only and you might notice the difference (and don’t worry if you get some food on your top, it’s all part of the fun!)
* 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.