From India to Greece

Except for my native Greek, no ethnic cuisine intrigues me like that of India. I am fortunate to live near a well-stocked Indian grocery, and I have spent many an idle time roaming the aisles, marveling at the aromatic spices and jars of Indian pickle, while munching on their plump homemade samosas. My pantry is now pretty well stocked, from asafetida (“the stinky spice”), to the golden turmeric that stains everything it touches. I also tend to have fresh ginger, garlic, and basmati rice, so that when I want to make something, I have most of it on hand.

However, I usually don’t stray far from a few tried and true dishes: tandoori chicken, lamb vindaloo, and the cauliflower stew called “aloo gobi.” I also once made a batch of hot, delicious naan bread when I visited a farm with an outdoor oven.
Otherwise, most of the various regional cuisines are mysterious to me, and the techniques counter-intuitive to the way I learned.

Indian cooking is slowly breaking into the mainstream. “Street food,” with its puris, chaats, and samosas, is becoming increasingly popular among food trucks and “fast casual” restaurants. Centuries after the Moghuls of northern India introduced kebabs and rice pilao (pilaf) into the lexicon. And a May, 2018 “Food Business News” article believes the “time is right for authentic Indian cuisine in the United States.” The article notes that food shows are demonstrating Indian products, such as a savory yogurt snack with lentil “puff” topping now being carried by Whole Foods.

Sure, even small metropolitan areas support a restaurant or two, but the cuisine has tended to be insular. Finding Indian influences in non-Indian restaurants is much more challenging. That may be changing: Food and Wine recently featured Indian fusion cuisine, including Atlanta chef Asha Gomez, whose cookbook “My Two Souths” reflects her intriguing blend of foods from the American south and southern India, at her popular Atlanta patisserie “Spice to Table.”

Perhaps it is not so strange that I am beguiled by Indian cuisine, after Greek. There are many similarities. Greek kapama stews may feature garlic, vinegar and tomato with aromatics like allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, not so different from Indian vindaloo (which is, however, more fiery). The cooling condiments, Indian raita and Greek tzatziki , each feature yogurt, cucumber and mint in their base. Greek pita and Indian naan breads are soulmates as well.
Indeed, the whole diaspora of eastern Hemisphere cuisine, from China through the middle East to Morocco, is quite the tasty Venn diagram.

All this may prompt the patriarch of My Big Fat Greek Wedding to exclaim, “Everything we eat, comes from the Greeks!” Not quite - though testing the hypothesis provides quite the adventure.


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation.