Know your Indian chutneys, what they go with and where to find them


As exciting and satisfying as curries, biryanis, and dosas are, when it comes to Indian cuisine, condiments are just as important in making every meal a memorable one.

And there are two that we’ve probably all seen on the table when visiting an Indian restaurant, but what exactly are those ubiquitous pools of green and brown sauce that almost always arrive with our orders?

These tasty concoctions are two types of chutney, a broad term that includes dozens of condiments made from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, spices and more. The word “chutney” itself is a holdover from the British colonial period, modified from the Hindi word “chatni”.

These condiments have a complex history which, according to some scholars, can be attributed to Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 1600s. According to tradition, the ruler fell ill and was prescribed a diet consisting of sturdy foods and fiery that were still easy to digest. Thus was born the chaat, which includes the mostly fried snacks we know today as samosas, pakoras and the like. And chutneys were the key to these dishes, both terms being derived from the Sanskrit word “chaatni” or “lick”.

Hari chutney, the green version you see on tables today, is usually made with a mixture of mint and cilantro, often with a bit of burnt chili. This chutney is an essential accompaniment to almost any form of chaat, where its verdant, vegetal flavor contrasts well with savory fries often filled with lentils, potatoes or other hearty ingredients.

The darker brown concoction is imli chutney. It derives its characteristic flavor from tamarinds and is often sweetened with dates or sugar. The sweet and sour flavor profile of this chutney makes it similar to ketchup or barbecue sauce to put on everything, although imli chutney is most traditionally used to enhance the flavors of chaat.

If you shop at the supermarkets, the only chutney you’re likely to come across is Major Grey’s, which is usually made with mango, raisins, and other ingredients. This sticky, sweet and vinegary condiment is attributed to an almost certainly fictional 19th-century British Army officer and has become the most popular form of chutney in the United States.

Fortunately, in San Antonio, several grocery stores have a wide selection of chutneys that go way beyond Major Grey’s, including classic varieties of cilantro-mint and tamarind. My favorite stores include Himalayan Bazar at 8466 Fredericksburg Road, Manpasand International Food Market at 3727 Colony Drive, and Ali Baba International Food Market at 9307 Wurzbach Road, all located in the northwest of the city, near Interstate 10 and Wurzbach. Road.

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