What about Indian cuisine is authentic or not?

by Shannel Doshi

As an Indian, I have often found it hard to taste authentic Indian food in America. While New York has one of the best Indian restaurants in the country that provide good Indian food, the taste and style of the dishes are modified and molded to address the American tongue.

According to an article on The Washington Post in 2016, the American palate has undergone something of a renaissance over the past century, evolving to incorporate the cuisines of the immigrants who have made the United States their home. But these foods have been incorporated on our terms — not on the immigrants’.

 

Krishnendu Ray, the chair of nutrition and food studies at New York University, writes in his new book The Ethnic Restaurateur that the people who make the “ethnic food” eat are not always what they seem. Nor is the food, which is not nearly as authentic as we imagine it to be. The same applies for authentic Indian cuisines. Most Americans experience Indian food in poorly branded, Taj Mahal-themed restaurants with all-you-can-eat buffets featuring mysterious curries, rice and naan. While delicious, that experience hasn’t evolved in most cities of America for at least the past 30 years.

There are absolutely authentic elements to Indian food in America, but what’s important to keep in mind is that India is a vast country so what’s typical varies greatly from region to region. The most common Indian food in the U.S. comes from North India and is more specifically often Punjabi. Also a very large population of the subcontinent is vegetarian, so vegetable dishes are far more common.

 

Fun facts about authentic Indian food:

 

  • This may come as a shock, but the delicious, creamy dish of chicken tikka masala is technically not “authentic” Indian food. Yup, you read right. Though Bangladeshi chefs first merged the flavors of tikka masala and small pieces of chicken, the dish only started becoming popular when it was introduced in Britain, where it was claimed as a “British National Dish” in 2001.

  • The most generic Indian dish, curry, is served in the U.S. with vegetables, chicken, lamb, shrimp or paneer. Curries are absolutely of Indian origin, but in India there is a lot more variation. Each area in India (and often each family) has their own unique blend of spices to make up those that have become somewhat standardized in the U.S. So you will find countless curries across India, but they may not taste quite like the American versions we’re used to and will likely be spicier.

  • In India, spice is king; sometimes the hotter the spice, the better. Indian food in America, however, while spice is used, it is used to a much lesser degree in both quantity and heat. ​That isn’t to say that you can’t find authentic Indian cuisine in the U.S., but because of the length of preparation and cooking time involved, authentic Indian food isn’t as prevalent in the States.

  • Americans love their meat and potatoes. In India, a significant percentage of the population is vegetarian—much more so than in the States—for varying reasons, including cultural (Indian food is often influenced by religion, specifically Hinduism, which mandates that eating beef is taboo).