When I think back on some of my fondest memories, many of them happened around my family’s dinner table. It wasn’t this hard and fast, written down rule in my household that we would have dinner together every night. It was an understood and deeply enjoyed part of our day. I’ve had my hardest laughs, deepest cries and some nasty fights around our dinner table.
Turns out this is a universal experience. Sit an Indian down in your living room (possibly around a dinner table…but that’s for a different discussion), feed them yummy food and they’ll leave your good friend with an invitation to their home in the coming weeks.
The experience is universal, but the flow of the evening is definitely different from what Adam and I are used to in the states. We’ve hosted a few Indian by now, so we feel like we’re starting to get the hang out what comes next. We’re no where close to experts and will continue to learn from our gracious friends, but we thought we’d share with you what a normal dinner looks like with an Indian.
The first difference is that people come over a bit later than in the states, around 7:00pm, and the evening does not begin with dinner. First everyone sits around eating different snacks – normally something salty and something sweet – and drinking chai. This is the time for everyone to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.
Somewhere around 8:00pm is when dinner is rolled out. And when you have guests over, it’s no small meal! Indians hold nothing back when hosting. There’s generally a vegetable dish, some kind of gravy dish with meat, a starch – rice or roti [flat bread] – and salad.
I’m currently learning how to make at least two of each kind of dish. I know how to make dal (their version of refried beans), butter chicken, rice and roti, and understand their concept of a salad though I’ve never tried to make one. I’d say I’m about half way there.
Even though everyone is probably stuffed by this point, there’s generally some sort of sweet dessert that’s served after dinner with the option of more chai.
Because chai is such a common drink in India, I thought I’d share how to traditionally make chai. They sell chai leaves in individual bags, but it’s much more tasty if you make it with loose leaf chai.
To make 1 cup of chai you’ll need – chai leaves, sugar, water and milk. The ratio for the liquids is 1/3 water to 2/3 milk. For the dry ingredients, it’s 1 tablespoon of chai and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
I measure the liquids in the actual cups I’m going to serve them in because different sizes of mugs hold different amounts of liquid and I’m not good enough to judge by looking how much to pour in the pan. So, first pour 1/3 cup of water in the mug you’ll use. Put that water in a sauce pan along with 1 tablespoon of loose leaf chai and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Stir a little to help the sugar dissolve and wait for the water to boil.
When the water begins to boil, add 2/3 cup of milk (again measured in the mug).
The milk will look like almost nothing is happening until suddenly it will start to boil and rise. This change happens in a matter of seconds, so it’s important to not leave the sauce pan while the milk is heating! When it starts to rise, that’s when you know it’s ready.
Pour the liquid into your mug over a strainer.
You can add different flavorings to chai, though that’s not a very “Indian” thing to do. Sometimes we add vanilla or peppermint. You can also replace the water with coffee to have a chai tea latte (or “Dirty Chai” as Adam likes to call it).
Chai Tea (makes 1 cup)
1/3 cup water
1 TBS loose leaf chai
2 TBS sugar
2/3 cup milk
Measure water in mug and pour into sauce pan. Add loose leaf chai and sugar. Mix to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil. Add milk. Watch carefully until chai begins to boil again and rise. Take off heat and pour, over a strainer, into mug.