Thursday, May 1, 2014

Asian Food Festival - Indian Subcontinent

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I am excited and honoured to host the Asian Food Fest (AFF) for the month of May. The theme for this month - Food and Cuisines from the Indian subcontinent which comprises the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

When Wendy from Table for 2..... or More approached me last year to host this event, I agreed immediately and picked the Indian subcontinent from the list as my choice of theme for the month I am hosting. As a food enthusiast, I have always love Indian dishes for they are typically prepared with a lot of flavour and spices that will have my taste buds sitting up and taking notice. However I must admit, in the past, I did not cook Indian recipes at home regularly partly because I have 3 young kids at home whose taste buds are still not used to the spices in Indian cuisines and also due to the fact that Indian recipes generally use a long list of ingredients and spices which might not be readily available in my neighbourhood market. 

I am sure this will change after this month. So let's get started...

Indian cuisine is characterized by its sophisticated use of herbs and spices and the influence of the longstanding and widespread practice of vegetarianism in Indian society. Food is an integral part of India's culture and history, with cuisines differing according to community, region, and state. Indian cuisine is distinguished by a great variety of foods, spices, and cooking techniques. Furthermore, each region, religion, and caste has left its own influence on Indian food.

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In India, food, culture, religion, and regional festivals are all closely related. Historical incidents such as foreign invasions, trade relations and colonialism have also played a role in introducing certain foods to the country. Early recipes first surfaced when India was predominantly inhabited by Vedic Hindus. Later, Christians, British, Buddhists, Portuguese, most importantly Muslims from Turkish, Arabs, Mughals, and Persians settlers and others had their influence. Vegetarianism became prominent when India was under the rule of Ashoka, one of the greatest of Indian rulers who was a promoter of Buddhism. Indian meat and fish cuisine is mostly influenced by the Muslim population.

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With different climates in different parts of the country, India produces a variety of spices, many of which are native to the Subcontinent, while others were imported from similar climates and have since been cultivated locally for centuries. Important spices in Indian cuisine include chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), turmeric, cumin (jeera), fenugreek, ginger, coriander and asafoetida (hing). Garam masala is another very important spice which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprised of cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Some leaves are commonly used like bay leaf, coriander leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves is typical of South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron and rose petal essence are used.

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North Indian cuisine
North Indian cuisine is distinguished by the higher proportion-wise use of dairy products; milk, paneer (cottage cheese), ghee (clarified butter), and yoghurt are all common ingredients, compared to that of southern India, where milk products, though consumed in large quantities, are usually used unaltered. North Indian gravies are typically dairy-based and employ thickening agents such as cashew or poppy seed paste. Milk-based sweets are also very popular fare, being a particular specialty in Bengal and Orissa. Other common ingredients include chillies, saffron, and nuts.
Tandoor is commonly used in North Indian cooking. It is a large and cylindrical coal-fired oven for baking breads such as naan and khakhra and main courses like tandoori chicken. Fish and seafood are very popular in the coastal states of Orissa and West Bengal.
Another important feature on North Indian cuisine are flat breads. These come in many different forms such as naan, paratha, roti, puri, bhatoora, and kulcha.

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Neighbouring Countries

South Indian cuisine
South Indian cuisine is distinguished by a greater emphasis on rice as the staple grain, the liberal use of coconut and curry leaves particularly coconut oil, and the ubiquity of sambar and rasam (also called saaru) at meals.
South Indian cooking is even more vegetarian-friendly than north Indian cooking. The practice of naivedya, or ritual offerings, to Krishna at the Krishna Mutt temple in Udipi, Karnataka, has led to the Udipi style of vegetarian cooking. The variety of dishes which must be offered to Krishna forced the cooks of the temple to innovate. Traditional cooking in Udupi Ashtamatha is characterized by the use of local seasonal ingredients. Garam masala is generally avoided in South Indian cuisine.

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Bangladeshi cuisine
The culinary tradition of Bangladesh has close relations to surrounding Bengali and North-East Indian cuisine as well as having its own unique traits. Rice and fish are traditional favourites. With an emphasis on fish, vegetables and lentils served with rice as a staple diet. It also has the only traditionally developed multi-course tradition from the Indian subcontinent that is analogous in structure to the modern service à la russe style of French cuisine, with food served course-wise rather than all at once.

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Pakistani cuisine
Pakistani cuisine is a refined blend of various regional cooking traditions of South Asia. Pakistani cuisine is known for its richness and flavour.
Pakistani dishes are known for having aromatic and sometimes spicy flavors, and some dishes often contain liberal amounts of oil which contributes to a richer, fuller mouthfeel and flavour. Brown cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and black pepper are the most commonly used spices in the making of a wide variety of dishes throughout Pakistan. Cumin seeds, chili powder, turmeric and bay leaves are also very popular. In the Punjab province it is further diluted with coriander powder. Garam masala (aromatic spices) is a very popular blend of spices used in many Pakistani dishes.
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Sri Lankan cuisine
Sri Lankan cuisine is one of the most complex cuisines of South Asia. Due to its proximity to South India, the cuisine of Sri Lanka shows some influence, yet is in many ways quite distinct. As a major trade hub, it draws influence from colonial powers that were involved in Sri Lanka and by foreign traders. Rice, which is consumed daily, can be found at any occasion, while spicy curries are favorite dishes for lunch and dinner. Some of the Sri Lankan dishes have striking resemblance to cuisine of Kerala (a state in the south-west region of India on the Malabar coast), which could be due to the similar geographic and agricultural features with Kerala.

Regional adaptations
During the colonial times, Indians and Sri Lankans were brought into Malaysia and Singapore for work and then stayed on to be part of our countries. Together they bring along their culture and cuisine. But as times go by, the local Indian cuisine evolved to something we call our own. 
For example, the curry powder we use here is a localised version. In India, they will use Garam Masala and different dishes will have their own blend of masala. Unlike here, we tend to use the same curry powder quite liberally for a lot of dishes. Even the term curry is a generic English term primarily employed in Western culture to denote a wide variety of dishes whose origins are Southern and Southeastern Asian cuisines.

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Putu Mayam is a local name for Idiyappam, the rice noodles that is usually eaten with coconut and brown sugar here. And same goes to the local Roti Canai or Roti Pratha. The proper name for this dish in India is Laccha Paratha. Paratha in India is actually similar to what we know as chapati.

And so, for this month's event, we will not accept dishes that use curry powder and not named accordingly to its roots to the Indian Subcontinent. Thank you for your understanding and coorperation.

To join:

1. Who can join? Anyone can join.
2. Prepare a dish (sweet or savoury) that is from India/Bangladesh/Pakistan/Sri Lanka, be it old time favourites, modern goodies or dishes that has been localized. Take a picture of the food or many pictures.
3. Provide recipe that is credited (from books, internet, friends or family or your own, be specific). Submissions without stating recipe sources will not be accepted for all forms of submission.
4.Submit your entry latest by May 31, 2014.

To submit:

a. Prepare a dish (sweet or savoury) that is from India/Bangladesh/Pakistan/Sri Lanka
b. Blog about it from May 1, 2014 – May 31, 2014
c. Include this caption below your blog post
"I am submitting this post to Asian Food Fest - Indian Subcontinent hosted by Chef and Sommelier."
d. Submit your entry via the Linky provided at the end of this blog post.

2. Facebook user

a. Like the Asian Food Fest Facebook page.
b. Prepare a dish ( sweet or savoury ) from India/Bangladesh/Pakistan/Sri Lanka
c. Take a picture and upload it into Facebook on Asian Food Fest facebook page, on the timeline.
d. Provide recipe with picture.

Bloggers can submit old recipes to Facebook, but please state "OLD BLOG POST".
Anyone that has once cooked a Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani/Sri Lankan dish and have a picture and recipe can submit to Facebook. Not necessarily a recently done dish.

Useful Links:

Indian Cuisine
North Indian Cuisine
South Indian Cuisine
Indian Spices

Indian Master Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
One of the top Indian food blogger Sailaja Gudivada
Leading vegetarian blog with vegetarian and vegan recipes by Dassana Amit
Another Indian vegetarian blog Veg Inspirations by Usha R
Collection of Indian regional recipes by a working Mum who travels around the world - Edible Garden 
Indian Chef and food writer Maunika Gowardhan
Recipes by regions and categories


  1. Oh dear! I love Indian but I don't think I can cook any of their awesomely delicious dishes. :(

    1. C'mon Arthur! I'm sure you are capable of coming up with one dish or two! :D

  2. Ahah! Alvin, challenge accepted!

    1. Great Phong Hong! Looking forward to your entry!

  3. Alvin, I will try to submit one post....hopefully I can do it; just to support you

  4. Replies
    1. Hi hi Jozelyn! I'm great but, as you would have realised, I'm kind of busy to update my blog lately. This month's AFF will push me to be more active! :D

      Hope to see your entries soon!

  5. Alvin, I'm sure you'll get many interesting posts this month :)

    1. Thanks Grace! And I'm many of those will be coming from you!

  6. These pictures are making me crave for Indian food. I am going to Little India tomorrow for my Indian cuisine fix.

    1. Lol! So what did you have today at Little India?

  7. Absolutely love this month's theme! Time to crank up on Indian dishes! Helped to promote this on my facebook page as well - Hope to be able to submit a new recipe soon. Cheers guys!

    1. Hi LC! Welcome to my space! Looking forward to reading your posts!

  8. I came here through Wendy's blog and this is such an awesome event! Will link up an entry for sure :)

    1. Hi Padmajha! Thanks for your support in advance! :D

  9. Hi Alvin,
    my first post.... Bhindi Subzi, just to support you.

  10. How I wish I could submit a post. I think I will support by checking out the recipes.

  11. Just linked another post - another one to go. Thanks for hosting!

  12. Hi Alvin,
    Kerala-style curry dish from me!

  13. Lovely
    I really like this.These are my favorite dishes.
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  14. HI, Discovered your blog by accident, was wondering if I can a link a country that is somewhere near to all these countries but little known cuisine :).

    1. Hi Nammi! I'm sorry to let you know that this event was closed on May 31. The theme for this month (June) is French Indochina hosted by Kelly:

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