Cover Learn the nuances of Indian and Persian cuisines (Photo: Andy Holmes / Unsplash)

We wanted to know more about these ancient cuisines that are loved the world over

Manila is truly a melting pot of cultures and flavours, our shores bearing witness to the arrivals of past conquerors and adventurers. Their galleons bore the fruits of their travels and explorations, and to this day, our cuisine is reflective of our rich history and constant evolution. Filipinos are clearly smitten with everything Japanese, and both pancit and paella are so ingrained in our local food culture that they are just as Filipino as they are Chinese and Spanish, respectively. However, there are two exotic cuisines that have always been present in our local dining scene that deserve just as much love, if not more—Indian and Persian food.

Aromatic, complex, and distinct, these are the flavours that fueled empires and fed the flames of romantic legends. There are many restaurants in Metro Manila that serve a combination of both, sometimes we confuse certain dishes to belong to the other. There really are many similarities, considering that India and the Persian empire have quite a history together. India’s spices were highly coveted by Arab traders; in exchange, India received many goods that greatly influenced its culinary tradition. Mughal conquerors, who occupied India between the early 1500s and late 1600s, infused Indian cuisine with Persian flavours and practices. Still, they are two very distinct cuisines with rich histories and flavours that are all their own. Curious? Read on to learn more.

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What are their dominant flavors?

While we may notice that there are many similarities and influences between Indian and Persian cuisines, they are also very distinct in terms of flavours. Indian food, for instance, despite its many regional iterations, is defined by its use of complex combinations of spices. It is common for Indian spice mixes to go upward of five combinations, sometimes combining ten or more. Garam masala is a popular spice mix that contains cardamom, cinnamon, and clove, plus other regional spices or according to personal taste.

On the other hand, Persian cuisine is dominated by the heady aromas of saffron which is their most prized and coveted spice, as well as desserts fragrantly scented with rosewater. In an article for Epicurious, Sarah Kagan called it the “original mother cuisine,” describing the food of the imperial courts as “perfumed stews flavoured with cinnamon, mint, and pomegranates; elaborate stuffed fruits and vegetables; and tender roasted meats".

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Pork is noticeably absent in both cuisines

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Persian Food Victoria Shes / Unsplash
Above Persian Food Victoria Shes / Unsplash

Indians have some diet restrictions due to the large population of Muslims and Hindus. Accordingly, they avoid eating pork and beef but instead prefer mutton, lamb, goat, and chicken for their meat dishes. Indian food also includes a lot of vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, peas, lentils, rice, and yoghurt, considering that one-third of the population is vegetarian as dictated by their Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist faiths. In addition, Hindu followers abstain from eating beef because cattle is considered a sacred animal.

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In predominantly Muslim Iran—which is what Persia is now called since 1935—pork is considered unclean and is avoided at all costs, including all its by-products and ingredients that contain it. For their long-simmering stews or kebabs grilled over coals, Persians prefer beef, lamb, or chicken.

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Indian food is arguably spicier

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Persian Food Tamil Shutter Dreams / Unsplash
Above Spices are common in both cuisines, but can be differentiated by the types of spices used and other ingredients added (Photo: Tamil Shutter Dreams / Unsplash)

The curries and tandoor meats of India are arguably some of the spiciest dishes in the world. Aside from the complex spice mixes that already contribute to the heat level of the dish, chili pepper or powder is used generously in most regional cuisines. As for Persian cuisine, their cooks tend to stay away from spicy chilis, opting for the more herbaceous and fruity flavour profiles for their stews and rice dishes. The common ingredients that are used in preparing various Persian delicacies include fruits (pomegranate, apricots, prunes), nuts (almonds, walnuts and pistachios), herbs (dill, parsley, coriander, mint), beans, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, and lime.

See also: 5 French Mother Sauces that Define the Beloved European Cuisine 

Carbs are essential

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Persian Food Shreyak Singh / Unsplash
Above Biryani, a popular Indian rice dish (Photo: Shreyak Singh / Unsplash)

In both Indian and Persian cuisines, bread and rice are staples of every meal. Rich curries and flavorful daals are scooped up with Indian bread like naan or paratha. Pita bread acts like a wrap that can hold grilled meat kebabs, raw onions, tomatoes, and yoghurt for the Persian snack called shawarma. For small plates of marinated olives, keema, or baba ganoush, the flat bread is ripped in pieces just big enough to act as a spoon to scoop up the tasty bites and dips.

See also: What To Eat: Popular Rice Dishes Around The World

Long grain rice is involved in many elaborate dishes in both cultures, which pair well with stews and curries with thinner sauces. In Southern India, the curries are more tropical using coconut milk and kaffir leaves, and there are more lentil dishes that match so well with rice. Biryani, which is a popular Indian mixed rice-and-meat dish, is very similar to the Persian lubia polo in its complex cooking techniques that are utilized by Persian cooks to conjure maximum flavour.

After this brief introduction, there is nothing left to do but to try these intriguing flavours. For Indian food, restaurants like Royal Indian Curry House and Mantra Bistro demonstrate their fine takes on the classics. And for those who are ready to move on from shawarmas: Hossein’s can give a taste of the best that Persian food can offer, while Kite Kebab Bar serves out flavorful grilled meats in a more casual setting.

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