Indian cuisine is an art that has been passed on through generations purely by word of mouth, from guru to pupil, from father to son. Indians' hospitality is legendary. The famous words "atithi devo bhava" (the guest is your god) are a sign of hospitality in India, since Indians believe they are honored when they share their mealtimes with guests. Surinder Singh, chef at the Tunnel restaurant, grew up in India surrounded by good food. His father was a professional chef, and it was he who encouraged Singh to go to culinary school in Bombay. With many culinary achievements behind him, Singh's ambition is now focused on becoming a professional chef who can find answers to all the culinary puzzles in the world. Singh takes the credit for reinvigorating classic Indian dishes with his own modern twist. Although the American influence on his cooking is strong, he broadens Tunnel's spectrum of American cuisine using spices and simple, full-flavored recipes.
What impact do spices have on Indian cuisine?
Indian cuisine is culinary heaven for those who prefer spicy food. It's the only cuisine in the world which incorporates an array of seasonings. Extensive use of spices - whole, ground, roasted or stewed - such as cumin, coriander, cardamom, mustard, mango powder, ginger, asafetida, fenugreek, chilies, turmeric, tamarind, saffron and curry leaf is crucial to Indian cuisine.
What factors influence Indian cuisine?
Climate, history and religion. Thus, northern Indians tend to use their spices ground, while southerners start out with them whole and grind them to a paste with cooked onions and other ingredients. The south is the land of rice, while northerners mainly rely on wheat and other grains - except for Kashmir, high in the Himalayas, which produces some of the best rice in the world ... The food of Goa on the southwestern coast gives away the fact that the province used to be a Portuguese colony. Goans eat pork and duck, meats rarely seen outside the area, and use vinegar as a souring agent, like they do in Portugal.
Can Indian food satisfy hungry vegetarians?
Oh, yes. Centuries of Hindu practice and the profound belief in reincarnation have resulted in the most delicious vegetarian cuisine in the world. For protein, vegetarians rely on a wide range of vegetables, both whole and split. Mixed with grain, boosted by dairy products and spiced to the maximum, they provide the most inspiring diet in the world.
Who do you consider the major player in the evolution of modern American cuisine?
Strange as it might seem, I've always wanted to specialize in American cuisine. At 15, I asked my culinary teacher to let me prepare American food. Every cuisine has a need for quick, simple meals. American cuisine has come a long way since the early days of corn, beans and squash, and along the way it has spawned some eminently forgettable food. Nonetheless, the United States remains a great place for great eating. American dishes only seem simple, but in fact they are not. Similar to Italian, American food differs from state to state, from city to city. But the strongest influences on U.S. cuisine came from Africa. Africans brought with them important techniques including smoking meats, frying grains and legumes into fritters, boiling leafy green vegetables, and making up hot, spicy sauces. American food is inconceivable without barbecue in its many variations, all kinds of fritters and a mess of greens.
How did Mexican food penetrate into American cuisine?
If I'm not mistaken, southwestern American cuisine is probably the oldest U.S. regional style of cooking. Prior to 1845, the entire area was part of Mexico. Not surprisingly, its contemporary cuisine is similar to Mexican food, drawing heavily on corn, beans and chilies. Corn tortillas remain the essential southwestern breads. In southern Arizona, wheat tortillas are often preferred over corn, and you might be surprised to find them lying flat under a pile of meat, beans, cheese and sauce rather than rolled when you order a plate of enchiladas. As for pork and beef, these must have been Spanish introductions. In Texas, beef has mixed with pinto beans to become chili con carne.
What about the Italian "culinary invasion" of American cuisine?
Boy, perhaps no ethnic group has exercised as much influence on American eating as the Italians; it's been more than 50 years since Italian dishes became as American as apple pie. The first to enter the U.S. lexicon was spaghetti with tomato sauce, followed by all kinds of pastas and antipastos. Pizza took off after World War II and Chicago soon became the center for a deep-dish double-crusted style that has since spread nationwide as "Chicago pizza." Even Italian farmers helped popularize such vegetables as artichokes and eggplant. Americans today are still discovering the wonders of Italian and Mexican cuisines and will probably be doing so for some time.