The Dummy Guide to Indian Dining

Text By: Madhulika Dash 

Dining habits you would find in India only 
Caution: Do not step out without learning these rules! 

We Indians have a peculiar nature of adopting. We just about adopt anything, albeit with a few little tweaks here and there. Take the case of tea. For the beverage that is some 5000 year old, we decided to adopt only when it added value of our habit to drinking spiced milk, or the famous Indo-Chinese with its quintessential crispy (though crisp is the word) potatoes and chilli corn. In that sense of course we are trendsetters. Let’s face it: we introduced China to a very intrinsic part of their diet the Schezwan sauce! And the Brits to the joy of curry and tikkas.  

But all that pails in front of what we did with our dining out habits. From revolutionizing the concept of cutting chai to the famous one by two portioning, here are a few Indian dining ‘gems’ that makes eating out in India a delightfully progressive experience.  

The Outstanding One By Two Rule 

We may not be stock market experts, but when it comes to dining out, Indians have figured out the math of how to get a bang for their buck pretty well. The one by two rule, which began in Chinatown of Calcutta in the early days of industrialization, where cheap good food was the necessity, is said to have started after workers saw that the soup when divided into two – by the kitchen staff and not you – serves you more than half. Back then it was a good marketing strategy, today of course it’s the best hack to have a good, filling meal on a budget.  

No wonder many seasoned hoteliers explain it as smart portioning strategy… Smart, of course! 

The Clever Pink Sauce 

Ever wondered why Shah Jahan took a fancy to have a colour-rich feast for each of his meals. Clearly, Babar had no notion as such, even when he hailed from Samarkhand – the Paradise town of Spice Route back then! 

Simple: because in India, we can devise ways to bring VIBGYOR on the table! Result: Pasta in Pink Sauce. Yes, you heard that right – Pink. Essentially, made (bastardized, as a chef would put it) by mixing Béchamel with Pomidoro in a blind assessment till it attains a possible closeness to colour pink, it is our idea of killing (read: having) two birds (read: flavours) in one - with that extra Indian tadka of spice. And just like that Italian is adopted! 

That’s Non-Veg 

For the rest of the world, you are either a vegetarian, which is a special case, or you are an all-eater. Not in India, my dear. Here we have as many segments as they are languages: So, we have vegetarians who love their greens but not mushroom and potato; vegetarians who eat egg but not meat; and vegetarians who would not eat onion and garlic – and anything grown under the ground, and then of course vegetarian who eat fish (it’s healthier)! So where does it place the “extra”population who eats everything – you know meat that is red, white, pink and lean. As Non-Vegetarian or simply Non-Veg, you dum, dum!  

The Half n Half 

Okay stop there. You’ve got it right. It’s half of the full portion that can be ordered. Yes, we can! But let me tell you that’s part of our eating out ingenuity – the other brilliance is where we can order two different dishes and create four out of it with a simple “Bhaiya isko adhaa kat kar lao”. And just like that your two dishes has doubled, with no extra charges!  

Half Plate Vs Full Plate 

For onlookers, it’s akin to the small plates and big plates system of a European menu, with one tiny detail: our half plate is actually bigger than their big plates! Introduced of course as a way to cater to both joint family (the way India dines) and nuclear family (the way modern India dines), it’s our way of super generosity when it comes to food. Where else can a plate be quantified as: half plate main char pieces aur full main aath piece (four pieces in half, and eight in full plate). Of course, it’s a master-scheme for no waste, assured patronship. 

The Four OT  

The Indian culinary ledger is considered to be the most extensive in the world, and yet a majority of a Indian restaurants (and a generous segment of hotels too) can make this elaborate, complicated cuisine with just four curry base – red, brown, yellow and green (which is usually palak). Each incidentally having a different flavour, texture and taste – identified and enjoyed by only an Indian palate. How these four mother sauces were created remains the best kept secret! 

The Veg Curry 

Now this is a bummer to most food writers too: of all the curries made that do not use any meat broth as base, it is quizzically only the yellow curry, which is considered vegetarian. And has worked well for all vegetarian tantrums in India – don’t want garlic, yellow curry’ want medium spiced, yellow curry; want no onion, no oil: definitely yellow; one something shakahari, yellow veg curry. 

The Famous Doggy Bag 

We don’t waste food. Period. And how do you do that in a restaurant? We make sure to get even the last piece of kebab, half a sandwich or even the half eaten pizza packed to be eaten in the comfort of our home.  

Menu DIY 

There are customizations of a dish than there are Indian customizing a dish. Consider this: Ice tea, but with no ice; chilli chicken but make it less spicy; hot and sour soup, hot not too much sour; dum aloo; potatoes but those little ones because they are less on starch. And the best of all, chicken tangdi, boneless! 

Side Essentials and Free (Apne Haq ka Hissa) 

No meal in India is complete without these must-haves – and they will be free by the way. Chinese: soy, chilli and chilli-dipped vinegar; Indian: freshly sliced onion, chillies and lemon along with the papad basket when food arrives; kebabs and pakoras with chutney (extra if need be); and English tea, with a little more than half cup tea, extra milk and sugar – with cookies; and daru with chakna (roasted, seasoned and garnished with onions if you please) 

Pic credit: istock pictures