Good Food, Roadhouse

Indian Cuisine in America: What’s in Your Spice Cabinet?

The Roadhouse will be hosting our Indian Spice Special Dinner on April 18, at 7:00 pm. Spice Trekker Philippe de Vienne from Epices de Cru in Montreal, will be our special guest—and he also worked with Chef Alex Young to create a delicious Indian menu!

Within the past two months, I have been asked the following question at least five times: “What is your favorite type of Indian food?” The truth is, I love all kinds of Indian food. What I love about the question itself is its implication of how global cuisine has evolved over the decades for Americans. As our exposure to regional foodways has expanded, our food experiences have become bolstered by the array of flavors Indian cuisine offers.

Lavanya Ramanathan states in the Washington Post that “The ebb and flow of global influences is the only constant in American food….Our exposure to a world of foods has never been greater; our palates have never been more primed.”

Thinking outside the take-out box
The influence from waves of immigration on the availability of foods available to us is impressive. The idea that Indian cuisine is now an everyday consideration (like pizza) for dining out in America is progressive. The incline of the Indian population in America has been steady since the 1960s, since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which lifted nationality quotas established by previous legislation around immigration. By the year 2000, the Asian-Indian population made up the fourth largest immigrant community in the United States, enriching our country with exceptional professional talents and really, really good food.

Indian food’s fast-growing popularity in the United States is often linked to the cuisine’s complexity and balance and how it appeals to the emboldened American palate. According to Indian-American Top Chef Master, Floyd Cardoz, “Our love for flavorful food surpasses that in any other country, and that is the reason why ethnic food is so popular in the U.S.” It’s easy for one to say “I love a good red curry” or “Tandoori really knocks my socks off”, yet understanding the nature of why Indian food is so wonderful is key to unlocking how delicious it can be as it develops in our menus and home kitchens.

Curry under a microscope?
So why do we love Indian food so much? According to Roberto A. Ferdman, in an article for the Washington Post,, scientists were able to nail down, on a molecular level, the compounds in Indian food and what makes them so special. Their research showed that in contrast to Western types of cuisine, Indian recipes use ingredients with flavor compounds that do not overlap. In other words: “…all those ingredients — and the spices especially—are all uniquely important because in any single dish, each one brings a unique flavor.”

Consider the onion versus the coconut. No similarities whatsoever. Yet throw them into a really good curry, and they are amazing together. The number of combinations in which the components of an Indian dish can be offered is astounding considering all the different ingredients and spices that can be found across the subcontinent of India. As Indian cuisine has traveled across the oceans over time, what keeps it intact?

Spices are nice…

However one might choose to rub them together in a recipe, spices appear to be the critical component in preserving Indian food’s integrity throughout its travel across the globe. Without these spices, we could not enjoy the Indian food we have come to love and incorporate into the American dining experience.

If anyone understands this concept, it’s the de Vienne family from Épices de Cru in Montreal. Whether it is cumin, masala, cayenne, coriander, allspice, or cardamom (just to name a few), the Spice Trekkers know how to place spices in a dish in such a way that each one shapes the flavor pattern with the rest of the ingredients. The truth is, we can find many of these spices on our shelves at home, but without guidance, the complexity of using them to cook an Indian dish could be daunting.

By traveling the world and spending time in different regions with growers, Philippe and Ethné de Vienne have developed a healthy understanding of those essential flavors that is worth its weight in…well, spices. Sharing their knowledge about these spices in the cookbooks they’ve written and the education they offer has contributed to an appreciation of Indian cuisine by making it more approachable for chefs and home cooks to recreate.

Let the flavors marry.

When asked about the momentum of Indian cuisine in American culture for Visi R. Tilak’s Wall Street Journal article in 2012, Suvir Saran, Indian American chef and author, said “I do think folks are more cognizant of Indian foo, and we are certainly coming of age. However we are not there yet….We are not wedding food yet.”

Five years later, Zingerman’s Roadhouse Catering is proud to offer an Indian menu for any event, including weddings, thanks to Philippe de Vienne from Épices de Cru. With his guidance, Chef Alex Young has refined the menu, and and we will offer it to our guests for the Indian Spice Special Dinner #207 at the Roadhouse. For a taste of progress, purchase your tickets to this incredible dinner today.