Arabic delicacies including mandi, kabsa, falafel, hummus, shawarma or meshkak and salads like fattoush are becoming the favourite meal choices of many Indians. As such, there are thousands of specialised Arabic restaurants in India doing pretty good business as food-savvy diners throng them.
Arabic cuisine characteristically attracts people looking for healthier options as they are nutrient-rich and grilled rather than fried. Another major highlight is the availability of this food at an affordable rate.
Cashing in on the interest of people who love feasting on Arabic food, restaurants and food joints are popping up with Arabian delicacies in substantial numbers in cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kozhikode and Bengaluru among other cities in India.
Most of those exclusive Arab eateries have been started by Indians with connections in the Gulf countries, whose travels back and forth have led to the idea that there is a market for mostly grilled meat dishes that are well-priced and convenient to order.
In some outlets, even the decor and ambiance are arabesque. Step into any restaurant, especially for an evening meal, and you’ll be enticed by the rich and inviting aroma of mandi and the like. Ask for a sulaymani in any tea shop, you’ll get sweet black tea with lemon.
Initially, their presence to a large extent was limited to the Malabar area in Kerala but slowly found its way to most parts and continues to grow more and more each day. Now the aroma of Arabian food wafts across not only in cities, even other smaller towns have a fair amount of hotels serving Arabic cuisine or their versions.
The culinary bequest of the Indian and Gulf Arab interaction is remarkably impressive. Centuries of trade relations and cultural exchange resulted in a significant influence on each region’s cuisines.
Several historians have drawn parallels between Arabic and Indian cuisines. When the Arabs travelled, they brought with them the ingredients from their hometowns. These ingredients were used in cooking.
With a monopoly in the spice trade during the first millennium, these Arabs wanted to tap into the lucrative Indian spice market and spruce up their basic traditional food.
Even before Abu Fazl wrote about how delicacies were whipped up for the imperial Mughal kitchens of Akbar the great in his A’in-i Akbari, the southwestern coast of India used to break fasting with culinary delights based on recipes brought across the seas from the Middle East.
Often when the monsoons delayed the return journey home, many Arab traders chose to settle in Kerala and marry locals instead. From this time, organically Arabic culinary practices got blended with the local palate giving rise to the so-called Mappila or Malabar cuisine.
Further to the growth of Arabic food has been the Islamic customs are the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, festivals, and marriages, each of these celebrations has specific traditions in Arabia, and each day calls for specific kinds of food.
Not only are ingredients similar in both regions, but the two share a commonality in the way they eat certain dishes.
Rice is a staple that is often the main course in both the Gulf Arab and Indian regions. Eating rice by hand is a norm in both countries and has deep roots in history and is often still practiced in traditional settings to keep in touch with the culture.
Therefore, although India and Arab countries differ in certain disciplines, the similarities in dishes, spices, and ways of eating are a testament to how both sides absorbed a diversity of influences, enriching their respective cultures.