Born and raised in Mumbai and having done a fair bit of travelling around India has given me not just the best experiences but also the opportunity of sampling food some of THE most amazing food the sub continent has to offer. India has over 24 different states which in itself means the eating habits, recipes and influences on a regional basis varies quite a lot. For me home cooked meals from my mother, grandmother, aunts and family friends will always have that special place spelling warmth, welcoming and with a sense of shared feasting.
See the thing is that's what Indians are all about. Taking a doggy bag away when you come for meal to my house is a done thing. Nothing fills me with sheer joy & satisfaction than cooking large meals for family and friends. My influences of cooking have stemmed from the way the women in my family cooked along with emulating what I ate growing up. That included the street food brigade, coffee house delights, meals eaten at college canteens, rustic food from smaller markets & villages and those 5minute mid night snacks we'd put together with friends.
There really is no way of defining authenticity in Indian food and I'm not even going to attempt it. Most people I know would say exactly that and their food influences would stem primarily from their childhood. Being a chef and writer I see clients, foodie folk and Indian curry lovers constantly striving to taste that traditional Indian dish which might give them a feel for what the real deal is. Also on a constant hunt of discovering what's out there in the local markets, cities and what local people are eating. In India a lot of stalls, restaurants & markets have been around for a good 50-60yrs serving the exact same menu & dishes now as they did when I was a young girl. Ironically none of their recipes change in fact a lot of times even the decor is the same as it was in the 1980's. As a food fanatic myself, one of the reasons I visit these places time and time again is to relive that taste of my childhood years which lingers on and I can never get enough of. These foodie places are now 'the in thing'.
Though there are subtle differences; everyone's interpretation of what an indian meal should comprise of varies and each restaurant, household and market stall will have their own take on it.
My understanding of real Indian food is this - there is always a core recipe and ingredients that most meals comprise of; which in a way work as a guide. If you're emulating flavours that have a history then steering away from it will in no way make that traditional. But of course adding your own take or an influence to it certainly isn't flawed or wrong. Food is a fluid medium and adding something new or refreshing to the mix makes it that much more interesting. As long as the balance of spice, flavours and the resulting curry makes for a hearty and delicious meal is what matters. So next time you're cooking Indian food sticking to precise measurements isn't always a done thing but making the dish your own is.