It was in the 19th century that Indian labourers migrated to Malaysia to work in rubber estates and on railways, bringing with them cooks from the land of overwhelming curries and rich onions. Here in Malaysia, both Northern and Southern Indian cuisine have been adapted to produce sensational curries, delicious bread and creative desserts.
Coriander, turmeric, cumin and curry feature heavily in Indian dishes along with rich ingredients such as ghee, yoghurt and chilli. The best way to describe Indian food is elaborate, fragrant and hot. Indian food typically utilises three main elements, 'Masala' or fragrant spices, “Dhal', lentil soup in a pasty texture and chutney. Bread is oven-baked into circular, flat shapes while meats are usually cooked in curries or fried in bright batter.
Today, Indian food is commonly enjoyed by all Malaysians in restaurants and more popularly, 'Mamak' stalls, which are bare-back al fresco restaurants on sidewalks and street corners. Indians, like Malays, usually eat with their hands but forks and spoons are becoming common-place. Hindus (the main religion of Indians) do not eat beef. Below are some Indian culinary favourites.
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Mutton Kurma or mutton curry is a delightful dish of lamb or mutton cooked in a medley of spices - coriander, aniseed, peppercorns, turmeric, cloves, star anise, cinnamon sticks, nutmegs and cardamoms. Cumin is its main ingredient, giving the curry a rich yellow complexion. The taste is simply a delightful blend of spiciness that's not too overpowering with an explosive zing in the middle.
A favourite for breakfast, Roti Canai is the ultimate in simplicity and taste. It is basically a kind of pancake made by combining wheat flour, oil, ghee, or butter, rolled up into a ball and then swung into the air until it takes a flat, oval shape. It is then fried on a hot iron plate and served with dhal, chicken or fish curry. There are many variations on the same theme that include putting in eggs to make it 'Roti Telur', sardines to make it 'Roti Sardin', bananas to make it 'Roti Pisang' and so on.
Whole spring chickens or chicken quarters are marinated in a deep red batter with yoghurt and spices and then skewered on a metal stick. They poles of chicken are gingerly placed in a steaming hot circular oven from the top. Covered for a time and then lifted out, the result is a delicious red chicken that is wonderful to the tongue. Tandoori chicken goes well with a spicy mint sauce and plain or unleavened Naan bread.