The Indian Vegan Kitchen, Sample pages (page 51 in book)
Snacks, Chaat, and Beverages Inroduction: Indian Hospitality
Hospitality is central to Indian culture. The Sanskrit saying "Atithi Devo Bhava," meaning "guest is god," conveys the respect granted to guests. Most Indians take pride in making a visitor feel comfortable and cared for. A visit is considered incomplete without offering and receiving food.
When you enter an Indian home, you are immediately taken care of. Within few minutes of entering the house you will be offered a glass of water, a ritual that is ingrained among most Indians. Even the children know how to offer water. You bring a glass of water, that is full to the rim (about 1/4 inch below), and wait until the guests takes hold of it, and smile or nod before you leave. You put the glass down on the table only per guest’s request. There is a gentleness and humbleness to this offering.
A little later you are offered tea, coffee, or a cold beverage with snacks. If the visit was preplanned you may be offered 3 to 5 or more varieties of snacks. The more important the guest, the higher the number of dishes. Even children when visiting their friend’s house will be offered some snack.
The snacks offered can be purchased, homemade or a combination. They are usually prepared ahead of time (for pre-announced guests) and then quickly heated before serving. Two or three types of pickles and chutneys may be served with the snack. Pace yourself, for the host will offer the food personally several times—“please take one more”. Don’t eat too much as that is considered improper. It’s a fine balance that Indians have mastered well. My children, when they visit India, are aghast at how much food they are offered. I, on the other hand, love it and have come to expect it. Indians in America will offer the same amount of food or snack but will not push the food on you quite as much.
Indians love to snack. The most popular Indian snacks are a blend of taste and textures, such as Chivra, Hot-Spicy Cereal Mix, page xx. They are crunchy, spicy, hot, and salty, with a hint of sour and sweet, appealing to all your taste buds.
Other than dry snacks, such as chivra, there are fresh snacks, which can be served as appetizers, between meals, or as meal accompaniments. Subji Samosa (Mixed-Vegetable Pastry) page 62, Baingun Pakora (Eggplant Fritters) page 65, to Kachories are great anytime of the day. I have served them for breakfast, teatime, or as appetizers. I’m even known to make a meal out of them for that special, don’t want to eat the same old rice and beans, Sunday dinner.
A “chaat” is a food class in itself, unique to India. Chaat, literally means to lick! Chaat was traditionally only available in northern India, but with migration and cultural assimilation it is now available throughout India -- a concoction of various foods that are smothered with sweet and sour chutnies and spice blends. It can be made of little crispy fried breads (pani puri) and filled with Jal Jeera (Cumin-Mint Drink) page 76, or made with potatoes, like Potato Patties (Aloo-Tikki), page 71. What makes a food chaat is not what it starts with, but what goes on the top. Chaat never fails to get one’s taste buds going. Young or old, everyone loves chaat. A common Indian phrase is “chaatori hai”, meaning a girl who likes chaat. Although in my experience boys like them equally well. I think it became attached to girls because when women are pregnant their desire to eat chaat increases. This is similar to pickles and pregnant women in America.
Many types of chaat are served with a yogurt topping and thus are not in the scope of this book. Although you can substitute soy yogurt, I chose to skip them, since there are plenty of gloriously vegan varieties to focus on instead. Traditionally, chaat was primarily sold by street vendors, at kiosks. But today it’s available in all types of Indian restaurants, from fast-food joints to fancy dining rooms. There is no substitute for chaat, and once you taste it you’re hooked. It is best shared with family and friends. I’ve been known to have just a chaat party and for my cynical, purist Indian friends who think chaat cannot be a meal, I also make a pulao (rice pillaf) so that they feel nourished.
Water is the beverage of choice with Indian meals. Alcohol is not accepted or served in most Indian homes. Although recently alcohol has gained popularity in India, especially among the elite class, it is still not adopted as an Indian beverage.
The most popular and uniquely Indian beverage is chai, which has swept the world in the last decade. Chai is brewed tea that is mixed with hot milk and sugar. Chai can be plain (still mixed with milk and sugar) or brewed with spices, masala chai. Coffee is very popular, especially in the south. It is also served with milk and sugar. South Indians take their coffee very seriously and as a rule will grind fresh coffee every morning. In north India espresso coffee is enjoyed as a delicacy, which is actually similar to cappuccino, and not at all the European espresso.
Beyond tea and coffee are soft drinks, fruit flavored cold beverages called sherbet, and lemonade served mostly in the summer. Then there are some very typical Indian drinks like lassi (a yogurt drink), which has gained international popularity and tandai (a almond spicy drink). They can be made with soy yogurt, see Soy Products, page 173. Although Indians drink tea and coffee all year long, cold beverages were traditionally only served in the summer (that’s an Aurvedic medicinal influence). But that too has changed, and today, you can get cold drinks any time of the year.
PARTY TIME (Side Bar)
For events such as a stand up buffet or a cocktail party for a number of people, browse this whole book, not just this chapter. Consider serving flatbreads cut in small portions, rice pulao, and a variety of chutneys as dips and spreads. Just remember, Indian food is saucy and can be messy, so plan to have small plates and forks and spoons available, not just napkins. Be adventurous, and mix a variety of Indian foods with your personal favorites.