Tonka, Melbourne: A Culinary Experience
Describe about the Report for Restaurant Review and Essay on Indian Cuisine.
Indian cuisine has been understood to revolve around curry and spice, but the sheer length and breadth of the country and the myriad influences of travellers and rulers from other cultures have allowed the local cuisine to incorporate influences that make the food culture unique and interesting. A first time visitor is likely to notice the attractive interiors of the restaurant that overlooks the Flinders Street. The attentive staff is helpful with selections from the menu for those who are uninitiated in the finer points of Indian cuisine. The masala papads topped with tangy salsa set the tone for my Indian evening in Melbourne. Pani puri offered the crunch coupled with potatoes, mung beans and a tamarind and dates chutney. A range of sea-food prepared in style that departs from the usual tikka curry and yet lifts the flavours ably supported by the use of spices makes one want to try more of those. The subtle use of poppy seeds, black cardamom and roasted coconut in a lamb curry or the kale pakoras, the chick pea fritters lightly spiced offer ample stimulation to the taste buds that yearn to experiment more. The kitchen staff deserves compliments for their culinary excellence. The use of skilled techniques and the high quality ingredients make a unique mark and one cannot but marvel at the diversity of Indian cuisine.
The use of white balsamic vinegar in a curry points at the Portugese influence on the Goan recipe. The curry had a surprising combination of ingredients with a balance of flavours that speaks volumes about the superior culinary skills of the chefs at the Tonka. The engaging manner in which the wait staff suggested and explained the items on the menu made it easier to choose from the long menu a combination that left our palates satisfied. And the restaurant was full to capacity with the service and cooking staff working in a smooth manner to cater to the diners who seemed to be enjoying the ambience, the food and the service to the fullest. Flavourful morsels of the food are enjoyed best when the ambience and the soft music that reminds you of India, the place where the delicious food is originally from.
The gulab jamuns and the carrot halwa are desserts that are a wonderful close to a meal that is a gastronomical delight. Both the decadent desserts are melt in the mouth delicacies that are prepared fresh every morning. The use of milk and ghee in the desserts lend a creaminess to the desserts that is difficult to ignore and stays on your palate for a long time. I would caution only about booking well in advance if you are visiting the place on weekends, book your tables well in advance.
The Diversity of Indian Food Culture
As is to be expected, you pay for the delectable stuff brought to your table, it is a fine dining experience and the bill proves it beyond doubt. And will I visit again? Yes I shall visit again and as often as I can.
Far from popular belief, Indian food is diverse and represents cultural, social and religious nuances that distinguish the north from the south and the east from the west in the manner that local ingredients are used to the way food is presented. Most Indians prefer to eat with the fingers of their right hand, cutlery finds little favour with them, and in doing so they are able to feel the texture and the temperature of each morsel of food. Food is part of rituals and offerings of food are common among Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Community kitchens in temples are common and so are langars in the state of Punjab. People who follow the faith of Islam, iftar is common during Ramzan, where large groups of people share food from a large common platter (Vasudeva, 2015). The vegetarian way of life is commonly practised where pulses and dals are used as a source of protein to create a large variety of dishes though Indian cuisine has a range of non vegetarian delicacies. Traditions of cooking and the choice of ingredients are often determined by the ancient science of medicine - ayurveda.
Family meal time is an elaborate affair with the whole family enjoying a sit-down meal on very low stools. Food is served on large metal platters called thalis. A thali consists of several dishes most of which are served in katoris. Vegetables with spices, dal, rice, breads called rotis, salad and curd or raita constitute a complete meal. Drinks usually do not form part of a meal. Although lemon juice or raw mango and sugar juice - aam panna may be consumed during the summer months (Dassana, 2016). Bael juice is suggested to provide relief from the hot summer months and is considered to have medicinal properties. A variety of dry or wet chutneys form an innate part of meals. In south India meals may be served on banana leaf. Other varieties of leaf plates are used during community meals. At the end of meal, paan, the betel leaf with betel nut, fennel, coconut, rose petal preserve- gulkand, green cardamom, shaped into small conical parcels is consumed and is believed to aid digestion. (Sheriff & Elsharri, 2010).
Food Rituals and Offerings
Indian cuisine has been classified as the Sattvic food, food connected with spiritual beliefs and is devoid of garlic and onion and Rajasic food, food consumed for pleasure but does not include beef. Herbs and spices are central to cooking and many have medicinal benefits. Ginger flavoured tea has medicinal properties and is known to relieve sore throat and cold. Lassi and chaas are made from yoghurt and are known to aid digestion and are probiotic. Most spices have medicinal properties and are used to enhance flavour of the food. Spice mixes called garam masala are used to flavour savoury and sweet dishes. Several varieties of spice mixes are used. These may be made at home or bought in ready to use sachets. Turmeric has been used in sweet and savoury dishes. The raw turmeric pickle has probiotic properties. It has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, sore throat, and irritable bowel syndrome (Prasad & Agarwal, 2011). Coriander, cinnamon and cumin are known to possess antioxidant properties and reduce inflammation and are considered beneficial for heart health (Vasanthi & Parameswari, 2010).
The Indian bread basket consists of pan roasted breads called roti, chapati, paratha or the baked naan or baati, all of which are made from whole wheat flour. Breads are also made from corn meal, millets, ragi and even rice.
The use of dairy in Indian cuisine is common because of the largely vegetarian diet. Paneer or cottage cheese has been historically prepared using heat and acid to coagulate milk (Kumar, et al., 2014). A variety of sweet and savoury recipes make paneer a popular choice among Indians and people who relish Indian delicacies around the world. The rasgulla is one such dessert. The use of ghee or clarified butter in Indian cooking and the use of milk in the preparation of desserts impact creamy texture to food. Coconut oil is used in the south and mustard or groundnut oils are traditionally used for cooking (Anon., n.d.). The use of coconut is more common in South India (Rao, 2012).
Consumption of fermented foods is common all across the sub-continent. Idli, dosa, and appam are made from fermented batter made from rice and black lentil. Kanji is a drink made by fermenting mustard and carrots in the north of the country. Various vegetables, sea-food and fish are used to prepare pickles. Fermented drinks such as ambali are prepared from cereals ragi and finger millet. (Sarkara, et al., 2015).
Vegetarian and Nonvegetarian Delicacies
Basmati rice is just one of the many rice varieties cooked in India. Puffed rice or murmura, flattened or beated rice - poha are also widely consumed. Steamed rice is commonly eaten with lentil soup. Khichdi is lentil and rice comfort food popular among followers of ayurvedic way of preparing food.
People in the coastal areas traditionally consume sea food and rice as staples. Various curries using spices are part of their food culture. While the north indian style of cooking borrows heavily from the influence of the Mughal rule in India. The cuisine of Delhi, Lucknow and Agra makes ample use of the mud oven called tandoor. French influence on food is evident in the cuisine at Pondicherry, former French colony whereas cuisine in Goa has a definite influence of Portugese cuisine. (O'Brien, 2014).The Muligatawny soup is the result of British influence on Indian food.
Street food generally consists of fried, high calorie food such as bhel puri, potato stuffed samosas, lentil-stuffed and deep fried kachoris and corn on the cob coated in a spice mix. Tropical fruits such as papaya, mango, jack fruit, guava, bananas are commonly consumed. Apples, apricots, plums and pears are also consumed. The observance of fasts or giving up food on certain days of religious importance is commonly practised. The observance of fast among hindus allows for a selective vegetable based diet that includes, sago, sweet potato, milk and milk products.
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