Don’t Fear the Spice

You may have heard that the food in India is mostly curry based and everything has a little extra kick to it… or that it’s just outright spicy! I know that’s exactly what I thought prior to coming to India. Growing up, I intentionally avoided all things spicy because I simply couldn’t tolerate it. To say the least, I was very nervous about what I’d have to endure eating once in India. Initially, I was expecting to eat a lot of rice and dal (aka rice with a soupy stew-like sauce predominately made of lentils) and believed all foods entering my mouth would be incredibly hot. Yes, I have found this to be very typical and I still often reach for that cool glass of water to put out the blazing fire I’m experiencing on my tongue.

One of my most memorable experiences was the day I encountered many firsts while being in India. I attended my first Indian wedding and was completely focused on how to handle wearing a sari for the first time, that I forgot about the food I’d have to face… trying Chicken Biryani for the first time. Here’s a little background of what I was getting myself into. Biryani is known as “spicy rice” in South Asia and is a classic favorite among Indians. Even though the spice level varies, depending on who cooked it, the meaning of its name speaks for itself. Back to the story… I was nervously sitting at a table with a couple of Indian friends wondering how eating this Chicken Biryani was all about to go down. I was eating my first bite and the taste was delicious, until my mouth was in flames and felt like steam was coming out of my ears. My Indian friends then turned to me and said, “Oh yes, this is very spicy.” I sighed in relief knowing I wasn’t the only person who thought the dish was flavorfully hot as I finished eating.

The good news though, is that over time I’m learning to enjoy some Indian staples. Getting over the fear to try new foods and tastes, I’ve now found a few that I consider my favorites.

  • Paratha: a flatbread that’s either plain or stuffed with cheese
  • Paneer Pakora: fried cheese
  • Chicken Fried Rice (low spice level)
  • Butter Naan: a flatbread drenched in buttery goodness
  • Chicken Keema – minced chicken with vegetables and seasonings

Apart from the selection of Indian cuisine that I do like, I have also discovered familiar American comforts that help me to live daily in India and not just survive. In Delhi alone, there are endless options from Alfredo pasta, to chicken burgers, to pizza, to french fries (my personal favorite). My mother is grateful to know I am eating more than the granola bars and bags of licorice I brought with me to India. Though, it can never hurt to have a few of those snacks on hand just in case…