What is an Ootappam?

lentils-riceOotappam, alternatively spelled as uttapam, is a type of flatbread that traces its roots back to South Indian culinary traditions. It is similar in many ways to the more familiar dosa, in that it is made from a dough comprised of rice and lentils that it allowed to ferment.

What makes it distinct from the dosa is that it is thicker, and more frequently is made with chopped vegetables.

When preparing the dough of an ootappam, the chef starts with two parts rice, generally basmati, and one part lentils, usually gram dal. Both of these are ground together and mixed with sugar and salt, then set aside to ferment for between four and fifteen hours. After the fermentation is complete, it is poured out in disks of about four inches across onto a griddle or pan, in the same way one might prepare a pancake.

As it cooks, the chef may sprinkle it with olive oil and vegetables. It will be allowed to cook until the surface begins to bubble, and then flipped over to cook on the other side.

In South India, ootappam is a common breakfast dish, as well as a favorite dish to serve during fasting days. It will often be served with a curry known as sambhar, made from lentils, onions, coconut, and eggplant, or a coconut chutney. At our Bellevue Indian restaurant, you can enjoy this old favorite with ghee, onions, onion chilli, masala, or vegetables. Come and experience the taste of this old South Indian favorite today!

The Many New Year Celebrations in India

diwaliIn India, New Year’s Day is one of the most popular celebrations. This is a time when people will put on their most colorful apparel and gather with their friends and family to indulge in fun-filled activities. They will sing together, play games, dance, and throw lavish parties. Many people will also flock to the country’s restaurants, movie theaters, night clubs, resorts, and amusement parks.

The familiar New Year held on January 1st on the Gregorian calendar is very popular throughout India, but a number of traditional alternatives are also recognized by different groups. These include all of the following:

  • Diwali: One of the most significant religious events in India, this is recognized as the New Year celebration by the Marwari. This day falls on either October or November.
  • Bestu Varas: This is the new year recognized by the Gujaratis. It occurs on the day after Diwali, and involves exchanging gifts and sweets among friends and relatives.
  • Vishu: The Malayalam New Year, Vishu usually occurs in early April. The most important part of this celebration is the Vishukkani, wherein followers arrange symbols of prosperity so that they are the first things they see on the new year.
  • Gudi Padwa: Falling at some point around March or April, this is the New Year celebration of the Marathi. It is on this day that Marathis will erect a special, decorated flag over their homes to invite good luck in the coming year.
  • Losoong: The New Year for the people of Sikkim, Losoong marks the end of the harvest season, usually in December. The colorful dances and celebrations attract many tourists every year.
  • Vaisakhi: This is the harvest festival for the Punjabi people, which usually occurs in mid April.
  • Puthandu: The Tamils mark the start of the new year on this day, which takes place on the 14th of April. This is a day for visiting temples and paying tribute to important deities.
  • Cheti Chand: India’s Sindhis celebrate this day on either March or April. This day is devoted to honoring the water, and Sindhis will visit the bank of a nearby lake.
  • Ugadi: This day marks the beginning of spring on either March or April, representing the Telugu New Year. Observers will ritually take part in oil baths.

The Value of Fish and Omega-3

omega-3Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of any diet. There are various ways to get the omega-3 your body needs, though fish is the most highly-recommended source. Whenever possible, try to get your omega-3 by eating fish two or three times a week, rather than taking dietary supplements.

The benefits of omega-3 are many, and include the following:

  • Heart Health: Omega-3 serves to lower the levels of triglycerides in your blood, reducing your risk of heart disease.
  • Reduction of Arthritis: The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 reduces the stiffness and joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Reduction of Asthma: A diet rich in omega-3 can reduce the symptoms of asthma.
  • Prevention of Mental Decline: Research has indicated that a regular diet of omega-3 fatty acids serves to protect you from age-related mental diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Meanwhile, it may prevent the gradual memory loss associated with aging.
  • Reduction of ADHD: It has been indicated that children with ADHD experience a reduction in their symptoms, as well as improved cognitive skills, when they get enough omega-3 in their diet.
  • Improvement of Mood: Cultures that eat omega-3-rich foods tend to have lower rates of depression. The acids also seem to enhance the effects of antidepressants, and reduce the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.
  • Infant Health: Eating omega-3 while pregnant facilitates the development of your unborn child.

At Spice Route in Bellevue, you can get the omega-3 fatty acids you need from our various seafood dishes, including our fish vindaloo, our shrimp curry, and more.

A Brief History of Mulligatawny

curryMany people in the United States recognize the name mulligatawny as that of an Indian-style soup. However, this is technically not the case. Depending upon whom you ask, mulligatawny is either not Indian or not a soup.

The word “mulligatawny” comes from a pair of Tamil words, “mulliga” and “thanni”. These translate to “pepper-water” or “pepper-broth”, a name based on the fact that the original dish was made primarily with peppers. In India, the term was applied not to a soup, but to a sauce. This sauce would be served with rice, much like other curry-style Indian dishes.

Mulligatawny became a soup during the late 18th century, during the time of British colonialism in the country. The British stationed in India developed a taste for a lot of local dishes, many of which made their way back to their home country and throughout the Commonwealth. The British East India Company was responsible for introducing England to a dish inspired by India’s mulligatawny sauce.

Early versions of the dish probably consisted of a chicken and lamb broth, fried onions, and some form of curry powder. It was adapted over time to suit English tastes, going through different incarnations and gradually gaining popularity as a soup throughout the world. The people of Australia had a particular liking for the soup, and are responsible for much of its popularity in its current form.

Today, mulligatawny is often served in the form of a thick, spicy soup made with curry powder, vegetables, nuts, and rice. You can experience the taste of this long-time favorite at Spice Route in Bellevue.

Vegetarianism in India

vegetarianismVegetarianism is a big deal in India. Back in 2007, a UN FAO study determined that the country had the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world, with as much as 40% of the population identifying as some form of vegetarian.

Even among those who do eat meat, less than 30% will eat it regularly. Most traditional cuisine prepared in India nowadays will make use of no animal products, with the exceptions of milk and honey.

Vegetarian diets are so important in India that the country devised a color-coded system for food vendors to clearly indicate what diets their offerings accommodate. Food marked with a green dot in a green square will be strictly vegetarian, while those featuring a brown dot in a brown square will indicate that it contains milk, honey, or other animal products.

The motivation behind vegetarianism in India is based in a big part on religious beliefs. Many dogmas practiced in the country forbid, or at least discourage eating meat. According to ancient Vedic scriptures, “There is no sin in eating meat… but abstention brings great rewards.”

In the modern day, Hinduism teaches its followers to avoid meat, a practice that scholars believe came from influences from the strictly vegetarian belief system known as Jainism.

For many, practicality plays a big role in their vegetarianism. Eating beef fell out of practice, since the animals are highly valued for their milk, the fuel created by their dung, and other products. Even when it was common to eat beef, the milk cows were not butchered.

Join Us for Our Diwali Buffet!

diwali-spice-routeDiwali, the “Festival of Lights”, is one of the most important times on the Hindu calendar. In honor of this holiday, Spice Route will be preparing a special Diwali Buffet for our diners. Join us on Wednesday, November 11th to celebrate with a selection of quality, South Indian-style dishes!

The roots of Diwali go back to ancient India, when it probably started out as a harvest festival. Different belief systems will attach different lore to the first Diwali; to some, it is the anniversary of the marriage between Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Others associate it with the return of the god Rama, his wife and his brother from exile, as described in the ancient Hindu tale titled Ramayana, or the return of Pandavas as detailed in Mahabharata.

Various groups in various parts of the world will mark the occasion with different customs, but, in whatever form it may take, it is always a celebration of the triumph of the forces of good over evil.

Preparations for the festival start weeks in advance with various religious rituals. People will decorate their homes and businesses lavishly with flowers and colorful diyas and rangolis. Diwali itself arrives either on October or early November, depending on the phases of the moon. When the festivities begin, people will gather together with friends and families to partake of traditional feasts and sweets.

The night of the full moon is the most important night of the five-day celebration; it is here, on the darkest time of the month, that communities will light up the night with candles, lanterns, and firework displays. It is from this that the celebration gets its name, as well as its reputation for being the biggest and brightest festival in India.

No matter who you are or where you come from, Diwali is a time for people to come together in the name of peace, kindness, and charity. Come celebrate at Spice Route in Bellevue!

What is a Kurma?

The kurma, alternatively known as “korma”, “khorma”, or “qorma”, is a dish originating from Central Asian culinary traditions. Its name is derived from from an Urdu word meaning “braise”, which serves to describe how the dish is traditionally made. Generally, it will come in the form of braised meat or vegetables, prepared in a spicy sauce made with water, stock, and either yogurt, nut paste, or cream. A number of main ingredients will be used in the dish, including lamb, chicken, turnip, beef, and others. Its flavor comes from a mixture of spices that generally includes ground coriander and cumin. Other common spices include chili and ginger. In South Indian versions, chefs will often add bay leaves and dried coconut to the mix.

Though korma has traveled far and been adapted by numerous cultures, it traces its origins back to the Moghlai cuisine of Central Asia. Historians place its invention back at some point in the 16th century, during the Mughal incursions into the area of modern-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The earliest forms of the dish were cooked in mud pots over a wood stove made from mud; many believe that these old cooking techniques were responsible for much of the dish’s incredible taste. You can still find people using the same techniques throughout the rural parts of India to this day.

At Spice Route, we offer a variety of kurma dishes, including our lamb kurma, our shrimp kurma, and our fish kurma. Come and experience this time-tested taste today!

The Influences of South Indian Cuisine

spice-route-gallery-4043South India is a hot and humid area. Coastline runs along each of its states, giving it ready access to seafood. It has historically enjoyed abundant rainfall, making fresh fruits, vegetables, and rice available in abundance. It is therefore characteristic of largely vegetarian dishes, with some seafood-based options thrown in.

Rice represents the biggest staple food to the South Indians. This will usually come in the form of boiled rice, steamed cakes made from a rice batter, or a form of pancake made from a batter of rice and lentils.

No meal in South India would be complete without rice in some form. Lentils are also a big part of most meals, coming in at a handy second place as a staple.

The biggest seasonings in South India include curry leaves, mustard, pepper, tamarind, chilies, fenugreek, and asafetida. This accounts for why South Indian cuisine is largely known as the spiciest of India’s culinary traditions.

At our Bellevue Indian cuisine restaurant, we specialize mostly in dishes inspired by South Indian dishes. Come and sample this delicious tradition today!

Mango: India’s Delicious Super-Fruit

mangoThe mango is a fruit native to the tropical regions of the sub-Himalayan plains of India. Delicious and highly nutritious, mango is considered by many to be “the king of fruits”. It is for this reason that it has been a big part of Indian dining for many years.

Nutritionally, mangos are among the richest of fruits, often identified as “super-fruits”. When you eat mango, you are enjoying all of the following benefits:

  • A 100 gram serving of fresh mango gives you 25% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, as well as flavonoids like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. These compounds are valuable for maintaining healthy vision and skin, as well as protecting you from oral cancer.
  • A high vitamin C content and strong antioxidant compounds found in mangos have been found to protect you from colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia.
  • A 100 gram serving of fresh mango contains 156 milligrams of potassium and only two milligrams of sodium. Potassium serves to remove excess sodium from your blood, helping regulate the blood pressure of people struggling with high sodium levels.
  • Mangos are high in fiber, helping you to maintain a healthy digestive system.
  • The strong iron content of mangos makes them a strong choice for people who need a meat-free source of iron.
  • Mangos contain a variety of other nutrients, including vitamin E, vitamon B6, and copper.

At our Bellevue Indian restaurant, you can enjoy the benefits of mango in the form of our mango lassi or our mango shake.

The Story of Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken tikka is an Indian dish that is largely attributed to the Punjab region. The word tikka translates to “bits” or “pieces”, describing the way that the chicken meat is prepared. Traditionally, the chicken is cut into small pieces and marinated in a sauce made from yogurt, lemon or lime juice, and a blend of Indian spices which may include cayenne, coriander, cumin, ginger, garam masala, and turmeric. These pieces are then placed on skewers to be baked in a tandoori oven. In India, people will prepare chicken tikka for special, celebratory occasions.

Often times, particularly in the West, chicken tikka is served with a masala gravy to produce the familiar chicken tikka masala dish, like the kind you can find at Spice Route. Though the origins of this particular preparation are unclear, it is largely thought that it was first served by Indian restauranteurs living in the United Kingdom. It is said that a bus driver sent a plate of curry back to the kitchen, telling chef Ali Ahmed Aslam that it was dry. Aslam, who was eating tomato soup at the moment, mixed some of the soup into the curry with an assortment of spices. The driver loved the end result, and brought his friends back again and again to try it.

If you’re a fan of this classic dish, come visit Spice Route for quality Indian cuisine in Bellevue today.