Before you’ve even tasted your first mouthful, one of the most notable things about Indian cuisine is its intense aroma. With the base of so many Indian dishes made up of a blend of aromatic spices and ingredients, they can really pack a punch for all the senses. These complex masalas are part of the reason why so many of us have regular curry cravings and wait with anticipation for that first mouthful.
The aroma of Indian food is not just from a dish’s ingredients, it is also one of passion and tradition. It’s enough to make your mouth water and your stomach growl. In celebration of this fact, here are some of the most pungent ingredients India’s cuisine has to offer:
Hing: Also known as asafoetida, this is one of the most extreme examples of a feisty ingredient. It has also been dubbed by some as ‘devil’s dung’ or ‘stinking gum’ – testament to its truly powerful aroma. For anyone avoiding onion and garlic for religious or dietary reasons, hing is the perfect substitute. Derived from a plant in the fennel family, hing is available in either powdered or crystalline versions (the latter being the more pungent of the two). However, once added to hot oil it adopts a more onion-like smell and gives any dish an added kick.
Curry leaves: Used in equal measures in cooking as well as in Ayurvedic medicine, curry leaves have many benefits. With their earthy, spicy, citrusy aroma, the smell can linger on your skin the day after as a reminder of that oh-so delicious meal. Buy your curry leaves fresh to ensure the best possible flavour and use them liberally.
Methi: Also known as fenugreek, this spice is used in a wide array of Indian dishes to enhance a dish. The odour produced by methi is something that also stays with you once your curry has been devoured. Its smell is one that most closely matches the ‘classic’ curry aroma. Used in a variety of ways, the fresh leaves are treated like a vegetable, the dried leaves add depth of flavour to sauces and the seeds are used in many a masala blend.
Bombay duck: Contrary to what its name suggests this is not one of our feathered friends in any way, shape or form. Instead, it is a highly pungent dried fish that is eaten as an accompaniment to curries. In 1997, Bombay duck was banned by the EU, but thanks to a ‘Save Bombay Duck’ campaign the ban was lifted and it became available in the UK again.
Kala namak: Black salt is in fact pink in colour and is extremely – and we mean EXTREMELY – smelly. It smells more of boiled eggs than salt and is used to add additional hydration to drinks such as jaljeera or minbupani, and to give an extra pizzaz to raita, chutneys and chaat masala.
All of these delightfully whiffy ingredients play their part in Indian cuisine and if they have given you your own curry craving, then one of London’s fine dining Indian restaurants will satisfy your hunger for something special.