A Tale of Two Curries: Two Perspectives on India
The Curry Myth
From 1757 to 1947, nearly 200 years, the British Empire had a hold on India. Obviously, this created many problems, but something unconventional bothers me the most: food! When British traders and their families immigrated to India to seek their fortunes, they had to eat something, and it was going to be difficult to eat the foods that they ate at home in a country that did not share the same climate or agricultural practices as Britain. Instead, these people approximated the food they were used to. They made things like meatloaf made with Indian spices like cumin and red chiles, or Mulligatawany soup, a chicken soup made with lentils and Indian seasonings. Welcome to Anglo-Indian cuisine! Probably the most interesting result of this mixture is the myth of curry. “Curry” does not exist as a dish in and of itself. There is no Indian dish that is called just “curry.” “Curry” is what the British called the spiced sauce in which much Indian food is cooked and served. There are many, many, many different curries, and you definitely cannot find just one recipe that will tell you how to make “curry.”
If you braved the crowds for Usdan lunch on Tuesday, you may have seen a sign for “masala dosas” perhaps you brave souls out there ventured to taste one. Maybe you even heard me squeal with excitement while you were waiting in line. A masala dosa is crêpe-like, made from rice and lentil batter, and filled with spiced potatoes. It hails from southern India, where it is typically served with sambar (a spicy lentil soup) and coconut chutney. I knew none of this when I arrived in the monsoon-muddied, colorful, bustling streets of Bodh Gaya in late August.
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I made it my mission to try as many restaurants as possible—not a terribly difficult feat, considering the size (hint: small) of Bodh Gaya. One night after Zen meditation, we headed to a restaurant called Madras, which, so we had heard, was quick, cheap, and tasty. A favorite of residents of Bodh Gaya (Sunday nights there resemble Usdan lunch at noon!), Madras boasts three dishes and no menu, along with milk coffee—which tastes like coffee ice cream—a.k.a. the greatest drink ever. We sat in the yellow tent restaurant sipping some Maazas and ordering masala dosas (and more masala dosas). This was the beginning of a tradition: Madras Mondays!