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Ancient India
Indian Food and a Short History of Spices

Indian Food and a Short History of Spices
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   7.52

     challenging words:    Biryani, cardamom, dosa, long-held, mace, peppercorn, Roti, tandoor, Tandoori, travelogue, turmeric, cuisine, monopoly, coriander, foothold, unleavened
     content words:    Sri Lanka, In Tamil, Spice Islands, Molluca Islands, Middle Ages, Marco Polo, Il Milione, Far East, Christopher Columbus, North America

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Indian Food and a Short History of Spices
By Vickie Chao

1     When it comes to Indian food, the first thing that comes to most people's minds is probably curry. Curry is thought to have derived from a Tamil word called "kari." Tamil is a language spoken by the Dravidian people of southern India and northern Sri Lanka. In Tamil, kari means sauce. It is basically a mixture of spices and herbs. This mixture (called curry powder) can change its ingredients from one region to another. It can be mild. Or it can be spicy. Regardless of what goes into the concoction, there is one thing for sure. When cooked with rice, meat, fish, or vegetables, curry powder gives the dish a unique, savory taste. It makes some of us want to eat more!
2     Of course, Indian cuisine is more than just curry. Roti is a round, flat, unleavened bread. Dosa is a thin, folded pancake. Tandoori chicken is marinated chicken chunks skewered and cooked in a type of clay oven called a tandoor. Biryani is flavored, orange-colored rice cooked with meat or vegetables. All of these are popular items that we can find in almost every Indian restaurant. What the four dishes, along with the rest of Indian foods, have in common is that they owe their flavors entirely to a wide variety of spices, such as cumin, coriander seeds, pepper, cloves, and turmeric.
3     Using spices in cooking has had a long history. It may go back as far as 52,000 years ago. Though we cannot know for sure how primitive men came across this practice, it is quite possible that it was by chance. Since then, spices have played a vital role in our diet. In earlier centuries, spices were considered very valuable. Thus, traders of seasonings were destined to become rich. Spice trading was long dominated by the Arabs. They transported their spices to Europe via Egypt. To protect their profits, the Arabs were always very vague about where they got their supplies. When asked, they would invent crazy stories to convince the listeners that they had to go through a lot of dangers to obtain the spices they were selling. They never told them that they got their goods from India, China, the Spice Islands (present-day the Maluku or Molluca Islands of Indonesia), and other nearby regions.

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