Spice magic of India | インドのスパイスの魔法

Spice magic of India

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Their unshakable confidence and the sharp look in the eyes derive,
I guess, partly from their food.


December morning in Rishikesh was colder than I expected. As the headwaters of the Ganges flow through the city, a clear, cold wind was blowing from the riverbank. I pulled the front of my jacket together as I crossed the Laxman Jhula Bridge, which was packed with the passers. Down a stair-stepped alleyway with guest houses and souvenir shops, I smelled l the delicious aroma of spices coming from a small shop at the corner.

A spice merchant from Rajasthan

Cooking Masala” is a small but well-stocked spice shop run by Mr Amit, who responds to his customers attentively with an ex-businessman manner.
The aroma on the street was from Masala Chai (spiced tea), which he prepared for tasting.
“It’s a very good spice blend with black cardamom.”
Amit said, as he poured the chai into a small paper cup for me.
The hot liquid, quite sweetened, was quickly absorbed into my empty stomach. The deep scent of cardamom stimulated inside of my nose. Ginger and pepper warmed my cold fingers and toes.

Amit told me that he is from Rajasthan, a desert area in western India, where spices are used a lot to prevent the food from spoiling in the hot climate. His family grows spices, but they could not sell well. So he quit his job to help his family and opened a spice shop here in Rishikesh, which is a popular destination for foreign visitors.
Besides, Amit runs Indian cooking classes, being a teacher himself.
“I want people to taste the quality of our spices, by using them in actual cooking. And, if you take my class just for one time, you will know almost everything in Indian home cooking.” He said.

The course fees were, for example, 2,500 rupees (about €30) for one including recipes of three kinds of curry.
I felt that this price was a little high, thinking that a meal in a restaurant costs only a few euros.
But the taste of the masala chai and Amit’s pride in his spices convinced me to take his lesson.

The magic red sauce

We put on a reversible apron with a fancy pattern, handmade by his wife, and Amit’s cooking class began.
“When you go to a restaurant in India, despite the variety on the menu, the dishes arrive very quickly. Do you know why?”
Amit asked us and explained.
“All Indian chefs have a magic red sauce that they use for every dish. They prepare the sauce in a big pot, and for each dish ordered, they cook it with the main ingredients. By doing so most of the dishes will be ready.”
The magic red sauce, as he calls it, is made with onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and a spice blend called ‘Garam Masala’, which is the basis of curry flavours.

Amit also told us there is a secret to get the most flavour out of the spices.
“The solid spices, such as cumin and coriander seeds, should be fried in oil, while the powdered ones should be cooked with water to prevent them from burning.”

To cook the red sauce, first you heat the cumin seeds and solid Garam masala in an oiled pan until they make nice aroma. Then, add the chopped onions and fry until browned. Add the smashed ginger and garlic, and tomatoes. Add a little water, add the spices and simmer.He emphasized that the tomatoes should be cooked well until all the water has evaporated.

When you see the oil separating from the water, that’s a sign that the sauce is ready.”
We cooked three kinds of curries by combining different ingredients with the sauce; Chana masala with chickpeas, Palak Paneer with spinach and cottage cheese, and Paneer Butter Masala with grained cashew nuts, sultanas and cottage cheese.We also made vegetable biryani, chapattis and after-meal chai.

The cooking class lasted a full five hours.He printed out all the recipes and neatly put them in an envelope and gave it to us. He also said that he would send us PDF files of the recipes that he couldn’t use in today’s lesson by email. After the lesson, he introduced a set of spices used in the course. Then, we were guided to a next room filled with clothing products managed by his wife.
That made me think he is indeed a businessman.

The restaurant full of Indian energy

There was a restaurant that was known well among travellers in Rishikesh. There was no name on the sign, but people called just it “Rajasthani restaurant”.

The restaurant was always crowded with locals, whether it was lunchtime or not. The floor was slippery with oil. We managed to sit squeezing into a spot next to a family with kids. But the plates of the previous customers were still on the table. There was only one waiter in this super-busy restaurant. The young waiter, however, was calm as if he keeps everything under control. He piled up the plates with one hand and handed us the menu with the other.

The Indian set meal, called Thali, arrived shortly after we ordered, and was much larger than we had expected.
There were a few different curries served in a small stainless steel bowl, and each of them was well spiced. Bowls of fresh vegetables and pieces of lemon and a sweet coconut milk porridge accompanied. Switching back and forth between the different flavours, we indulged into the meal. Even after I got quite full, I could not help wanting more after a short break.
I looked around and saw everyone was also eating like crazy. The restaurant is noisy, with the sounds of stainless steel dishes touching each other, waiters taking orders and children screaming. And yet everyone is enjoying their meal.

I stood up to soothe my stomach and looked into the kitchen, which is separated from the customer tables by a glass window. The kitchen was full of something like masculine energy. Young boys and middle-aged men with big bellies were joking each other and laughing. But as soon as the waiter shouted the order, they turned to a serious face and began to work so fast as if they were in one wheel.
I was convinced that this is where the powerful deliciousness of their meals come from.

Sometimes I wonder where the strength of Indian people comes from.
It may be the harsh climate and living conditions, the fierce competition of a large population.
And I think the magic of spices also plays a part in giving them the energy to overcome these challenges.


Thanks to:

Cooking Masala


Back to English






「Cooking Masala」は、元ビジネスマンらしくスマートな接客のアミット氏の営む、小さいが品揃え豊富なスパイスの店だ。

アミット氏はインド西部の砂漠地帯、ラジャスタン州の出身だと言う。厳しい暑さで腐らないよう、この地方の料理はスパイスをふんだんに使う。彼の家族はスパイス栽培をしているが、あまり売れなかった。そこで彼は、家族を助けるため仕事を辞め、外国からの訪問者の多いここリシケシでスパイス屋を開いたのだ。 それだけではない。アミット氏自らが講師となって、インド料理を教えている。




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Thanks to:

Cooking Masala

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