Why is Indian food served with a slices it tomato, slice o onion, and a lemon wedge?



HalfPint March 27, 2012
My Punjabi college roommate often had some sliced carrots, onions, and tomato as a 'salad' for her dinner. Never experienced it in an Indian restaurant, just at dinners in Indian homes.
HalfPint March 27, 2012
sorry, meant 'with her dinner'.
susan G. March 21, 2012
Most people who answer questions on food52 do so from personal experience, and/or reading and research. It is a common mistake to generalize the part to the whole, and by throwing answers into the pot, we all learn. Thanks for the question, CrashKate. From you and from other people's answers, I now know much more than I did before... and that's why I'm here!
Panfusine March 21, 2012
Welcome to the club Amrita.. Pauljoseph & I have been trying our best to introduce & share recipes for non cliched regional Indian food here at Food52.
Amrita March 21, 2012
@Panfusine: It is unfortunate that people think North Indian food is the only kind of Indian food. I couldn't agree more considering the fact that I'm from Bengal and have South Indian relatives! I have been served chilies with curry leaves and marinated cabbages along with my South Indian meals and I have mentioned in my answer that its either onions or chilies or anything else...the key word here being 'OR'.
I probably should have been more verbose. I was trying to address CrashKate's question regarding just onions and tomatoes but I think including a full list of Indian accompaniments would have been wise.
Panfusine March 20, 2012
no offence taken at all CrashKate, in fact this is a great pickle question you've brought up. its a wonderful point to clarify.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
Just surprised when I asked why they were served like that some people would say they aren't... When clearly, they serve them like that in some places. Frustrating when everybody has an opinion and so few are actually helpful. Actually being the key word.
Panfusine March 20, 2012

Thats an unfortunate vestige of the notion that food from the Punjab speaks for all Indian Food. As Bombay Chow Party pointed out.. onions & lemons are seldom served in south Indian meal.
Amrita, I beg to differ, Most households from the NORTHERN states serve onions & lemons., it certainly does not speak for households 'All over India'.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
Never tried to generalize and be some huge racist, but thanks everyone for being so nice about this.
So yes, actually, they DO since the restaurant we ate at last night kept serving them. At the end of the night we tracked down an elusive server and asked her; it's served as "the salad".
So thanks.
Amrita March 20, 2012
In most Indian households (all over India), meals are served with plates of sliced or pickled onions, lime (not lemon) wedges, whole green chilies and slices or wedges of tomatoes. The onion and chilies add to the spiciness and lime is always great with any Indian dish - it refreshes the palate and balances the spices.
However, these are served in most restaurants in India. I've found that Indian restaurants in Britain usually serve Indian food with raita or chutneys and leave it at that.
Apart from raita and a variety of condiments, Indian food is usually not served with salad of any sort, mostly because traditional Indian food is not based on the protein-starch-veggie concept...its based on a protein-starch-condiment concept. In this case onions, chilies, tomatoes and so on are treated as condiments.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
Turns out we hunted down a server and actually got to ask; the three giant slices are served as "the salad"

Voted the Best Reply!

Bombay C. March 20, 2012
I live in Mumbai and my Punjabi (and hence very north Indian) husband always demands fresh onions and sometimes sliced radish on the side as a garnish and needs a bite of these with every morsel in his mouth. My South Indian mum however always garnishes dishes with fresh corriander but only serves fresh onion when fried fish or other spicy but dry dishes are served. On the whole the garnish maybe meant to provide the counterpoint of a crunchy texture as well as fresh flavour to each spicy bite but the exact choice of garnish does vary according to region and dish.

Though you may only see onion, tomatoes and lemon wedges in the resturants in America, finely chopped coriander, crunchy fresh green chillies and sliced onions are probably the most pervasive garnishes across the country. Other common garnishes across India include freshly grated or sliced and fried coconut, fried curry leaves in the south, fried garlic, fried green chillies, sliced fresh radish, carrots, pomegrenate seeds etc in the north. Roasted peanuts are also commonly used in the western states.

Other factors that influence the garnish vary from agricultural (what is available.. example onion, carrot and radish is widely available in the North and coconut in the south), nutritional (the fresh vegetable garnishes are probably the most common way of providing the required dose of fresh uncooked vegetables in lieu of a salad), economical (onions used to be one of the cheapest and longest lasting vegetables available in the north), traditional (butter chicken MUST be served with pink pickled onions as a garnish) to belief systems (many believe that the astringent qualities of red onion is helpful in combating the dry heat of the north indian summer).

Lastly, Lemon and spices that are used as garnish (roasted cumin, dried and fried chillies, powdered red chilli) are like seasoning and allow the eater to adjust the flavour balance to his/her taste... the way many continental restaurants offer sprinkling of freshly ground pepper at the table.
Sourav March 20, 2012
It's a counterpoint to the spiciness, yes. It's also a handed down Indian version of a garden salad started by the British.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
You're the only one who got this right! Thanks for your helpful answer :)
softpunk March 20, 2012
So anyone who didn't agree with the statement posed in your question is wrong? No offense, but why bother asking? I do agree that this answer is interesting, but so are the answers below outlining regional differences.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
I asked because we couldn't find our server. We wondered of maybe each one of them was to compliment or contrast the flavours. But in the end, it was just a salad.
ReneePussman March 20, 2012
It isn't. None of the Indian restaurants in my city do that.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
Yeah, it is. We live in a city with a wider variety of of restaurants I guess. So we eventually hunted down an elusive server last night to ask her for our selves; it's served as "the salad"
softpunk March 20, 2012
No, it isn't. You must have just Northern Indian restaurants in your area. In Vancouver, where there are many, many Indian restaurants, including one owned by possibly the most famous Indian chef in the world, this is not a common thing. Lemons don't even make sense. Like the other posters here have said, limes would be regionally appropriate.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
Yeah.... Try Saravanaa Bhavan on W Braodway. Then you too, may question why dishes can be served with these things. I live in Vancouver too.
softpunk March 21, 2012
Basing this onion and lemon thing on 1 restaurant is the definition of generalisation.
Sam1148 March 20, 2012
I've never had that in Indian resturants. Cucumbers slices in yogurt, or naan bread and herbs maybe.

Maybe it's local your resturant, I see there is a dish like that on this blog.

It's not uncommon for spicy food to be served to with a fresh veggie salad to counterpoint some of the spicy dishes.
softpunk March 19, 2012
I think that might just be a big generalisation based on the restaurant(s) you frequent. I have never been served Indian food with those garnishes.
CrashKate March 20, 2012
Not a "generalization" the place we went to last night did. Thanks for your super helpful answer.
softpunk March 20, 2012
You are very welcome. As you can see from the answers below it actually is a generalisation.
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