Want to know what’s the most popular Indian spice in Hong Kong? It’s turmeric
Indian spices such as pepper, cardamom, cumin and fenugreek are also finding their way into Chinese preparations like dumpings, char sui and congee.Updated: Sep 04, 2017 15:44 IST
Marie Cho, a 30-year-old Hong Kong homemaker, knows India by three of its assets - the Taj Mahal, Aamir Khan and spices. While the marble monument and the Bollywood actor are at a fair distance, she is happy to have fragrant spices at hand.
Indian spices have found their place in the Hong Konger’s taste buds, and kitchen. More and more people in the former British colony have been including cardamom, pepper and other condiments imported from India as key ingredients in their local cuisine. “You will find Indian cardamom, cumin and fenugreek in all my dishes. Small cardamom is the principle ingredient in my food now,” said Marie.
She first learnt about Indian spices when she visited an Indian restaurant in Hong Kong. She can still recall the taste of the daal makhani and seekh kebab she had there. “When I cooked these dishes at home I realised the Indian pepper and cumin I was using could be part of my Cantonese dishes, too. So that is when I started using Indian spices in many of my dishes,” she added.
India is among the top producers, consumers and exporters of spices in the world. Over 60 varieties of spices grow in the country because of its varied agro-climatic conditions and soil types. About 6.9 lakh metric tonnes of spices are exported to over 150 countries.
Wang Yi, a 45-year-old entrepreneur, uses Indian black pepper in many local dishes he cooks for his family. He has never visited India but is a very big fan of the spice. The strong taste of the Indian pepper gives his dimsums an extra “zing” that make the steamed dumplings, and thereby him, immensely popular among his teenaged daughters and their friends, he laughed. Wang said he used Indian spices not only because of the flavours, but also because of their medicinal effects.
Indian turmeric, for instance, is gaining attention for health reasons. About 83% of Hong Kong’s imports of turmeric, which researchers say has anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effects, are from India. Among the Indian spices that have shown a marked rise in the Hong Kong market are nutmeg, mace and cardamom. Imports from India grew in the first six months of 2017 by almost 50%, compared to last year, data provided by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) show.
Pepper imports during this period went up by 113.3%. Indian pepper is much in use in restaurants and street food eateries serving Cantonese food, where the traditional spices are pepper, cinnamon and star anise. “I heard about people using Indian spices in their food at home. I experimented with pepper, cardamom and fennel seeds and came up with dishes that were familiar but different in taste, Karysuen, the owner of a roadside eatery, said.
Some Cantonese restaurants are trying out food preparations on the lines of Indian-Chinese, a version of the cuisine popular in India, and are tweaking recipes by using Indian spices in traditional dishes such as congee (rice porridge) or char siu (a way of preparing barbecued pork).
Peking Dumpling, a popular restaurant in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai area, uses Indian spices in its sauces and allows customers to try out and choose flavours. We use different flavours of Indian spices such as saffron, black pepper and cumin to bring out their special taste in our sauces, said restaurant cook Kimball Ho.
Taste and flavour are not the only factor drawing Hong Kongers, towards Indian spices. They are also opting for natural Indian products to minimise their exposure to chemical content, an issue that many locals feel strongly about. “India produces a lot of spices of medicinal value. People are becoming more discerning and they want to know about the ingredients and their importance for a healthier life,” said Sophia Chong, Assistant Executive Director, HKTDC.
Many in Hong Kong, known as a bustling food hub, with some restaurants rated among the best in the world -- have also been experimenting with different kinds of cuisines. “The demand for Indian spices is growing in Hong Kong also because these days people are interested in cooking international cuisine and the philosophy behind different kinds of food,” Chong added.
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