Madam Ji is a traditional-modern fusion of Indian cuisine

India, the second most populous country in the world, is home to one of the most vibrant cuisines in the world. A country with thousands of years of history, the origins of Hinduism, Buddhism and countless languages ​​and cultures, Indian cuisine is a vast subject. From the ghee and yogurt sauces of North India to the flavorful, coconut-rich dishes of the South, Indian cuisine is incredibly diverse.

For this article, our expert is Madame Ji, a modern Indian restaurant located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Opened by chef and owner Abishek Sharma in the summer of 2020, Madam Ji wants to offer a new kind of culinary experience to Indian cuisine. “Indian food is more and more accepted and more accessible than ever, which seems incredible to me,” said Sharma. “This is no longer an ‘exotic’ or ‘rare’ encounter, which means people have higher expectations than ever before.”

Spices

It is impossible to discuss Indian cuisine without delving into the role of spices in India. The spices for Indian dishes can range from fragrant to subtle or spicy, each playing a role in the final flavor. It is also important to understand that curry powder does not exist in Indian cuisine. The creation of curry powder was a Western invention, although curry powder was also used in Japanese cuisine (Japanese curry is derived from a British interpretation of Indian cuisine).

Instead, the closest thing to western curry powder in India is masala, a blend of spices and herbs that can vary widely by region and household. A good masala is what gives many Indian dishes their patented flavors. Creating a masala mix involves a variety of fresh spices contained in a masala dabba, a circular spice container filled with round stainless steel containers of powdered and whole spices. Creating a great Indian dish is highly dependent on layering and balancing these spices. Often the spices are dry roasted before cooking to release all the aroma and fragrance.

Regional and religious diversity

South Indian cuisine on a banana leaf.
South Indian cuisine in Tamil Nadu, India.

A common misconception is that all Indian cuisine is heavily spicy and rich. “I believe Indian food is always misrepresented as heavy and overly spicy,” Sharama said. “But what people don’t see is the sheer amount of fresh ingredients and superimposed sweet spices that are incorporated into each dish.” In fact, there are many examples of Indian dishes that are not heavily spiced with chili peppers or high in butter. Most American Indian restaurants serve North Indian dishes, made with ghee (clarified butter), yogurt and wheat-based bread. But in other regions, such as the south or the coasts, the use of coconut, mustard oil and rice is more common. Although many dishes are spicy, each region of India offers dishes with varying levels of spice.

Many Indians are also vegetarians and this has a profound effect on the cuisine. Indian cuisine is heavily influenced by the country’s countless religions, from Hindu vegetarians to Muslims and Jains who don’t eat pork, to strict vegetarians who also don’t eat root vegetables and certain fruits. Even McDonalds is not immune to these influences – the beef patties in the Indian version of the Big Mac are replaced by chicken (called Maharaja Mac).

A New Spin – Modern Indian cuisine

madamjinyc / Instagram

This evolution and influence of modern sensibilities in Indian cuisine is not limited to fast food only. At Madam Ji, Sharma tries to put a different spin on classic Indian flavors while retaining aspects of the tradition.

“At Madam Ji, we love to take traditional and nostalgic dishes and serve them with our interpretation of modern palates and style,” said Sharma. “We make sure that traditional spices and flavors are not lost but highlighted, whether it’s a fusion or a high classic. “

Unlike larger portions of traditional Indian items, Sharma offers smaller bites at Madam Ji with a modern and delicate presentation. These small bites allow guests to try multiple dishes, allowing for a more varied dining experience. The mix of flavors can be quite unique at Madam Ji, like the goat cheese naan and the American mac and cheese filled samosas. Of course, not all of Madam Ji’s dishes are so contemporary. Madam Ji’s range of tandoor roast meats will be familiar to any fan of classic Indian tandoori chicken or lamb, though Madam Ji’s chops are delicately served with an array of vegetables and a garnish of microgreens. At Madam Ji, there is a careful balance between the modern and the traditional. Sharma has gone to great lengths to include more classic dishes, like the bone-in homemade chicken curry slowly cooked with spices and onions and served with roasted bread. An interesting element of Madame Ji is her cocktail and wine program. The majority of Indian restaurants in America do not offer personalized cocktails. Madame Ji decided to challenge this narrative by creating several Indian-inspired cocktails.

Even Madam Ji’s interior represents something different, opting for an elegant and trendy vibe instead of the more formal look of a traditional Indian restaurant in America. All of this leads to a combination of the old and the new, an evolution of Indian flavors. Yet the foundation of Indian flavors is never overlooked at Madam Ji. “We get creative with our ingredients while making sure Indian flavors are the star of the show,” said Sharma.

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