Indian Restaurants in London Serving Exotic Food
It’s interesting, sometimes, to take a look at words. What, for example, do we mean by exotic food? “Exotic” traditionally refers to something that comes from a place other than your own. Indeed, the “exo” root of the word is presumably related to the Greek “exo” – as in exoskeleton, exothermic and exocrine. In these words, the root “exo” refers to the concept of being outside – this is as opposed to “endo”, which refers to an interior property. An endoskeleton, for instance, is what you have: while a bug has an exoskeleton.
Exotic food, then, is literally “food from outside”. In which case, the number of Indian restaurants in London serving exotic food is limited to those that genuinely serve dishes whose point of origin is somewhere other than the capital, or more properly somewhere other than the UK.
There are numerous curry houses in the city – as there are all over the British Isles. These places do not serve exotic food. They serve a British approximation of exotic cuisine, which bears about as much relation to the real deal as a grasshopper does to a combine harvester. The average Vindaloo, for instance, has no relation to the cuisine eaten by Indians in India
No – real Indian food (for it is of course Indian food with which this discussion is primarily concerned) is something of an entirely different order. It may be sweet; or hot; or aromatic; or dry. It may use the zing and zest of the curry leaf; the Kaffir lime; or the lemon. It may incorporate fruit in unusual ways. It is often decorative and it is mostlyhealthy.
Actually, the healthy value of the meal a person eats in an Indian restaurant can determine the authenticity (at least in part) of the meal. The real deal, Indian cuisine at its best, is balanced, usually served in small portions, and tends to have an almost didactic aspect – in that the food teaches its dinerto be healthy, both in its constituents and in its presentation.
There are, of course, levels of presentation – and there are also levels of sense in the meaning of words. The accepted meaning of “exotic”, for example, implies a large degree of departure from what might be considered the norm. So exotic food is either food that is unusual because of what it is – like a salamander’s tongue – or because of how it is made and presented.
Some of the finest Indian restaurants in London take the presentation of their food as seriously as its flavour. Thus it is that a fine dining Indian establishment may present its patron with mushrooms filigreed with gold leaf, or food intricately sculpted into traditional shapes. It’s about style as well as substance.
Benzedryl Coleis is a restaurant critic. She has recently published a guide to the best Indian restaurants in London.
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