The Indian Spice Box – Masala Dabba

When you think of Indian Cuisine, what do you think of first? Spices, I hope! If the word curry came to your mind, curry is just a medley of ground spices.

Though voyagers have sailed the sea for centuries looking for India and taking back spices (and gold and other things!) with them, Indian food, has only recently become popular (other than curry and chicken tikka masala). Today you find cuisines from all over India around the world.

India is a land of a billion people and as diverse as can be. Each part of India varies geographically, and therefore what they grow and eat in that area. Kerala, God’s own Country, as it is called and where the spice trade started, is situated on the southwest coast; between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. Coconuts and spices grow in abundance and the food reflects what is grown. Rajasthan on the other hand is situated in the northwestern part of India, on the Thar desert. The scarcity of water influences their food and some of the famous Rajasthani food would be the dal- baati- churma, laal maas, and their amazing kachoris. Punjab in the north of India lies in a fertile plain with many rivers flowing through it. They are known for the best dairy and paneer. Butter chicken, which is famous around the world is Punjabi cuisine. West Bengal on the east coast is known for its fish and preparations with mustard. Tamil Nadu in the South is known for their idli, dosa, Khara kuzhambu and sambar, and Karnataka, where I am from, is known for akki roti, benne dosa (from Davangere), pandi curry, kadambuttu and paputtu (from Coorg) and kori gassi (from Mangalore). These are only the tip of the iceberg. Different cultures and religions also shape the food here and the spices used. The famous biryani varies from region to region and spices from the milder Mughlai flavours to the spicy Donnne or Dindigul biryani to the fiery Andhra biryanis; all scrumptious!

Each household in India will have a spice box called the masala dabba. It is usually a round box made of stainless steel (most common) or brass. In each of these boxes, there are around 5 to 7 round container that holds the spice and a small spoon. You even find beautiful wooden ones now. My sister-in-law, Lakshmi gifted me a brass masala dabba which is hexagonal in shape. Had never seen that before.

Each of their spice boxes will look different depending on their cuisine and what they use most. In my spice box, I have all the spices I use for tempering. They are all in one spot and easy to reach. Also, this is what my mom has in hers. Some people like to keep their powdered spices in their boxes. The spices also differ.

These are the spices in my masala dabba

  • Mustard seeds
  • Cumin seeds
  • urad dal
  • channa dal
  • Red chillies
  • Black pepper
  • Garam masala spices- cloves, cinnamon and cardamom

My mother also puts in the whole asafoetida. I use powder and the smell overpowers the other spices, so I have that in a separate container. I may have to get another one next time for more spices. Here is what my masala dhabba looks like. Show me what yours looks like.

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