About #SpiceChroniclesWithRMG

#SpiceChroniclesWithRMG is an Instagram LIVE research project I began on 6th May 2020. 

For me 2020 was meant to be a year of learning and deep immersion into studying Indian food and initially it looked like the lockdown would jeopardize that. But then I discovered Instagram LIVE and it opened up a whole new world of possibilities. A chance to learn about Indian cuisine from a world of food experts with no geographical limitations to hold us back! It led to the conceptualisation of a rather ambitious plan; Spice Chronicles With RMG, to chronicle how we use spices in Indian kitchens!

At a global level, today, spices, herbs and blends thereof, are a hot trend. Availability, accessibility, discovery, and more, have driven them to a popularity unlike ever before. But in all the global conversations around spices, there is a large gap in understanding them in context to their place in Indian cuisine. Understandable, because as Indians we ourselves have a limited perspective on our food. In India culinary knowledge has been handed down orally from one generation of cooks to the next. 

Knowledge that is eroding through a lack of documentation, changes in culinary traditions and lifestyles. And even there we have inherited the knowledge of DOING things, using spices and ingredients a certain way, cooking with various techniques, pairing specific foo
ds with certain spices, such as  giving a tadka to dal. But we haven’t inherited the knowledge of WHY we cook and eat the way we do.

Each weekday the series goes LIVE with a food expert from a regional cuisine to take a deep dive into a specific aspect of spices. It is now at the 119th episode, having begun in Kashmir and travelled down the Map of India through the North, Central, Western, Southern and East-Central regions of India, the series has been evolving organically as we travelled through the spice boxes of different regions, communities and even homes. Over its duration the series has sought out and curated conversations with culinary and subject matter experts ranging from food historians to food scientists, spice growers to farmers and sellers, food explorers to grandmothers, chefs, home chefs, cooks and more.  Some of our 120+ valued guests include Dr. Pushpesh Pant, Kunal Vijayakar, Sangeeta Khanna, Jasleen Marwah, Saee Koranne Khandekar, Chef Ashish Bhasin, Preeti Deo, Krish Ashok, Tanya Abraham, Kalyan Karmarkar writers, Anurag and Priya of Red Scarab Media, Kaveri Ponnappa, Chef Thomas Zacharias, Chef Suresh Pillai, Chef Sribala, Revathy Shanmugam, Dr. Nandita Iyer and more!  

Episode Guide (updated periodically)

Section 1 - Introduction to Spices in the Indian Cuisine context

Episode 01 - The Indian Way with Spices  - No culinary culture uses spices like Indian cuisine. In this introductory episode of #SpiceChroniclesWithRMG we look at The Indian way with spices, covering topics like, what are spices, the categories, forms, techniques of spices used in the Indian Kitchen.

Episode 02 - Tadka or Tempering with Spices - This episode explores the Tadka or the concept of tempering with spices the Indian way. Not to be confused with tempering of chocolate or eggs in patisserie, tempering in the context of Indian Cuisine refers to the technique of spluttering spices (or blooming spices - (as some western food writers describe it), in fat, typically ghee (clarified/brown butter}, or oil.

Episode 02-B Tadka practical + Uttarakhand Jakhiya Aloo & Jambu ke Tadkewali dal
Segment 2 of the 2-part episode on Tadka. A small practical on Tadka or tempering with spices with recipe demonstrations for Jakhiya Aloo & Jambu ke Tadkewali dal from Uttarakhand. (Jakhiya and Jambu are two spices used in the cuisine of Uttarakhand Read more on Jakhiya and get the written recipe for Jakhiya Aloo.

Episode 03 - The Indian Spicebox P01- Chillies & Turmeric In India every home has a spice box. Known as Masala Dabba, Masaldani, Namakdani and various other names, as you travel around India.  And within this spice box, is contained all the collective wisdom, inspiration and flavour of the Indian home kitchen/ Like the name, the contents of the spicebox also vary from region to region, kitchen to kitchen and cook to cook. In the first part we explore two spices that are ubiquitous in the masala dabba across India, Turmeric and Chillies deep diving into their history, best  practices, variations and usage. 

Episode 04 - The Indian Spicebox PO2 - Meet the Apiacaea family of Spices 
Did you know that Ajwain (Carom), Anise, Asafoetida (Hing), Caraway (Shah Jeera), Coriander seed, Cumin (Jeera), Dill (Sowa) and fennel (Saunff), all belong to one big happy family of flowering plants? Or that except Asafeotida, all of these that are referred to as seeds are actually the dried whole fruit ? Many of these populate the Masala Dabbas of India. In part 2 of the Masala Dabba exploration, we meet the entire family and learned a hole lot more about them.

In this episode I share memories and stories of spices and Chai Masala from my chai masala. Masala Chai is the preferred tea in most Gujarati homes - a bracing beverage brewed or rather cooked with layers of spices, first dry spice powders and whole cardamom, then fresh herbs like lemongrass and mint. And the Chai masala for this is usually made in large quantities. Most families have their own favourite blend, but the masala will usually include some or all of the following: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, peppercorn cloves nutmeg and mace.   (Also get my Dadi's Chai Masala Recipe here )

Simply put, in this episode we explore how spices work with our senses, our nervous system and our memories. Also we explore all the other tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami in connection to spices. An important step towards understanding how spices operate in cuisine profiles and how chefs and cooks can use these reactions to deliver more interesting food experiences.

In this episode we talk about one of the most humble under-appreciated most impactful ingredients in the world: SALT in the Indian context. An area relatively unexplored to date. From being valued as currency to being maligned as a health hazard, salt has many claims to fame. But it most valuable claim to fame is its intrinsic value in the kitchen! Salt tastes good—and makes everything else taste good. It also is intrinsic to bringing out the nuances of spices. 

Section 2 - An Overview of India's connection with spices from different perspectives. 

Indian Cuisine and Spices... Why we eat the way we do... with the first of my guests the eminent food historian Dr. Pushpesh Pant. When Dr. Pant speask, you shut up and listen. And it is no less in the riveting episode in which he covers Indian culinary History, likens spice notes to art and music, and the Indian home to an alchemist. Lose yourself in his amazing references to food and spice history, calling out the Columbian exchange and more! Every second of this session was learning and thought provoking! The perfect kick-starter to the second phase of #SpiceChroniclesWithRMG. 
Know Our Guest - Dr. Pushpesh Pant is a noted Indian academic, food critic and historian. One of India's leading experts on Indian cuisine, prolifically published both as a columnist and author.

This episode is an exploration of Sharbats with Chef Ashish Bhasin. Sharbats are traditional syrups, infused with a variety of ingredients. Introduced to India by the Mughals in the 16th century sharbats  were popularised in the Indian subcontinent by Babur, who sent for frequent loads of ice from the Himalayas to make a cool refreshing drinks. Made with fruit, flowers and spices, and savoured as cooling drinks in the summer to this day. 
#KnowOurGuest - Award winning Chef Ashish Bhasin is currently the Executive Chef with the Leela Group is one of the most celebrated chefs in India. A font of knowledge and fantastic recipes, Chef Bhasin has also been the driving force behind  many culinary trends during his 20-year career. 

This episode takes a deep dive into the art and science of Indian Cuisine. Cooking in India goea beyong transforming raw ingredients into cooked food. It is an art, a form of therapy, medicine and more. Culinary culture and traditions of India are rich with the art of flavour and taste, but they also have therapeutic values and a sound backing of scientific reasoning. Reasoning we are often unaware of because we have inherited the 'How To' but not the 'Why' of the way we cook. 
#KnowOurGuest - Sangeeta Khanna is a food and nutrition consultant and recipe and product developer who consults with many renowned food brands. A prolific writer, has authored several books. She shares her food knowledge on 2 blogs in addition to contributing to several publications. 

Episode 11 - Curry Capers with Kunal Vijayakar  
In this episode Kunal Vijayakar, intrepid foodie, takes us on an exploration of the phenomenon that is curry, we explore what it means in the Global and Indian context.  (The first part of this session was eaten up by Instagram, but any conversation with Kunal is always amazing so even what we did manage to save makes for fab listening. I did take notes down that I will put into a post as soon as I can.)
#KnowOurGuest #TheFoodie himself Kunal Vijayakar (Actor, Food writer and Author). We loved to watch him eat his way around India as host of the show Foodie  that ran for 9 delicious years! Having authored Made In India – his first cookbook, he also writes on food for many publications. Check out his brand new #youtube channel Khaane Mien Kya Hai 

The Indian kitchen has evolved systems of food preservation. Prepping and storing spices and spice blends in the hot summer month of May is a time tested practice (which is why we celebrate Masala Day on 20th May annually). This is when spices would be sun-dried, processed and put away for use round the year. (East Indian Bottle Masala in beer bottles with wax seals is my favourite example.) But how did packaged masalas come to be? Could Curry powder, the packaged spice blend created for British officers to carry back with them, eventually packaged into the Madras Curry Powder be the first packaged masala? What inspired the idea of carrying the secret flavours of a curry or a regional flavour with one so they can be replicated in faraway places? Where along the way did clever spice traders,  realise that there was a business opportunity in packaged masalas? These are some of the questions we mull over in this episode. 

Section 3 - North India Deep Dive 

Everyday cooking is art that changes from region to region in India, with cooks of each region using spices as paints to build flavour into their dishes. From this series we begin mapping spice usage in India via conversations with regional cuisine subject matter experts.

This first episode explores spices in Kashmiri cuisine. We lost the live for, but Jasleen  generously shot this small video to replace it. We explore the Kashmiri masala dabba and the unique spice 'cake' of Kashmiri Cuisine called the Vaaer or Masala Tikki which is the go-to spice blend in the Kashmiri kitchen. Made from wild onion called Pran that is indigenous to Kashmir, Garlic, Kashmiri Chilli and more. There is also a Kashmiri Pandit version sanse onion and garlic made with Udad Dal. 
#KnowOurGuest Jasleen Marwah is a passionate proponent of Kashmiri cuisine, who has chosen to showcase her culinary heritage through pop-ups, tie ups and collaborations with restaurants under the name Namak Swad Anusar in Mumbai.
#Shelfwatch - Buy Ver Tikki Masala and other Kashmiri spices from Kanz and Mahul.

The cuisine of Uttarakhand uses simple spices, and temperings. However there are a few indigenous spices found locally that make it distinctly different. In this video I showcase Jakhiya, Jambu, Bhaang, Gandherni, the spices typically used in tempering in Uttarakhand and the signature Pisyun loon or Pahadi Namaks of Uttarakhand. 
#Shelfwatch - To buy Uttarakhand spices message me. 

This episode the shares insights on Himachali cuisine the special local spices and herbs that make it unique. From Nitika Kuthiala. Learn about the Kangra Dham the amazing breads of the region and more! 
#KnowOurGuest Nitika is a home chef, chronicler and proponent of Himachali cuisine who does pop-ups, under the name Pahadi Pattal in Noida. Her pop-ups showcase elements of Himachali cuisine such as the celebratory (Dhaam), as well as seasonal dishes rarely found outside of Himachali homes.

In this episode, Anubhuti Krishna shares insights of spices in HER North India beyond Delhi. The Tameez, Tehzeeb of Ganga Jamuni culture and cuisine, the way use of spices changes as you travel around different regions within UP, and so much more! 

#KnowOurGuest - Anubhuti Krishna is an intrepid traveler, evocative story teller, and riveting writer (her writings resonate with the heart) follow her on Intsatgram as @thatgirlinmuddyboots, watch for her great stories in various publications and follow her blog for more - That Girl in Muddy Boots 

A fabulous conversation in which Ganga Jamuni culture conversations continued in context to Lucknow or Awadh, its syncretic culture, the traditions around the Dastarkhwan, Food practices, mealtimes, her memories of growing up in Lucknow, the ginsighar (storeroom) in her childhood home, the importance of the Hakims in the food and cooking of the royal family of Awadh.

Episode 18 - History and Evolution of Punjabi Masala with Chef Bali
This episode was so fantastic. I love how Sadaf manages to bring research, history, knowledge facts and stories together. Its always amazing to talk to him because 10 new ideas will come of it! Sadaf showed us his spice cabinet, talked us through the spice profiles of Bihar and Jharkhand and showed us his spice discoveries. He also shared some of his insights on masalas and his recipe for Qeema Masala.
#KnowOurGuest A consultant Chef,  Sadaf has been a MasterChef India contestant and is author of Daastan-e-Dastarkhān, - an evocative journal that takes you from Bihari kebabs to the influences of the spice trade in vegetarian dishes of coastal Mappila cuisine to a lost recipe born out of competitions between chefs during the Nizami era! He also recently contributed to Desi Delicacies an anthology of food writing from Muslim South Asia. He blogs at Food and Streets and podcasts at Naan Curry Podcast

Oh Man! What to say about this session ! as Deepa said, Monika really took us on a picnic to Delhi The live got eaten by Instagram, but I had to put this up today! Baarish is coming, Monika is nostalgic for Dilli, Kala Chaat Masala was made, I had to crunch this out ASAP for her! We had 2 parts and 1 1/2 hours of footage total! Which I had to download from two sources, trim, splice together, then convert (and for tech not so savvy me, trust me that is some crazy stuff there!) Took all day! But please watch, because its all amazing as only Monika can be and I just have to go taste that Nimbu ki Subzi and Nimbu ka Paratha someday, the citrus lover in me is fascinated!

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