India is one of the most populated and diverse countries – and some of its nuances are reflected in its cuisine.
Joining host Don Marsh to discuss the diverse flavors, styles and recipes of Indian cuisine was Sauce Magazine’s art director, Meera Nagarajan, and her mother Revathy Nagarajan. They focused on the food varieties in north and south India and dispelled common misconceptions about the cuisine. They stressed that curry is not only a spice, but rather a number of dishes, and that not all Indian food is spicy.
Sauce Magazine recently featured Indian cuisine in its magazine. They listed staples in the Indian pantry as well as an overview of local Indian restaurants. In the St. Louis region, about 45 restaurants cater to the Indian diet. So, are they authentic? “Yes – and no,” Revathy said.
“In this country, we can request [chefs] to make [the flavor] mild, but if you go to India, to a south Indian restaurant, [the food is] always hot, hotter and hottest.”
Revathy alluded to different staples of Indian food. The meals typically start with bread and rice to pair with spicy liquid dishes, like rasam, a spicy tomato soup. In many Indian households, it ends with buttermilk flavored with cumin and salt. Side dishes are typically made to eat with rice.
“South Indian people, we’re made of rice. If you cut us open, it’s going to be a bag of rice that spills out,” Meera joked.
St. Louis Public Radio’s digital media director, Madalyn Painter Talla, also joined the conversation. She said she was always interested in Indian culture and food, but her marriage to an Indian man and help from her mother-in-law helped broaden her understanding of the cuisine. Talla explained that her mother-in-law stressed the importance of home cooking as a social activity, as well as cultural preservation of Indian culture.
“The most difficult thing about learning to make it is that my family doesn’t use any recipes,” Talla said. “It’s about getting the right balance of spices. For me, what I’ve learned is that Indian cooking is about being masterful with your use of spice.” She emphasized that spicy heat should not overpower other flavors.
When it comes to making a tasty meal, Revathy said she reflects on her mother’s best advice: “Be in a happy mood. If you’re in an angry mood or disgusting mood, don’t cook.”
Helpful resources for novice cooks of Indian cuisine:
- Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India by Chandra Padmanahan
- Curry: A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham
- Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen by Meera Sodha
- India: The Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant
Some options of where to go to get Indian food staples:
- Global Foods Market, 421 N Kirkwood Rd, Kirkwood, MO 63122
- Seema Enterprises, Inc., 10635 Page Ave, St. Louis, MO 63132
- United Provisions, 6241 Delmar Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63130
- Bombay Bazar, 1761 Clarkson Rd, Chesterfield, MO 63017
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.