Scientists have figured out what makes Indian food so delicious, from Roberto A. Ferdman at Wonkblog. In Western cuisines, ingredients in a dish are more likely to share flavor components than ingredients picked at random; in Indian cuisines, ingredients in a dish are less likely to share flavor components than ingredients picked at random. (East Asian cuisines are like Indian ones in this respect.) This is a result from a paper spices form the basis of food pairing in Indian cuisine by Anupam Jain, Rakhi N K, and Ganesh Bagler.
The paper describes this sort of “negative food pairing” as possibly originating from a “copy-mutate model”, which comes from a paper called The nonequilibrium nature of culinary evolution by Osame Kinouchi, Rosa Diez-Garcia, Adriano Holanda, Pedro Zambiachi, and Antonio Roque. The copy-mutate model supposes that recipes (well, bags of ingredients) evolve by copying and mutation, where ingredients have an intrinsic fitness and mutations involve replacing inferior ingredients with superior ones. I’m not convinced by this, because there’s no reason to think that Indian food would be more prone to evolution than any other.
I learned about the first paper from my wife, a sommelier. So this raises an interesting question: how do you pair wine with Indian food? Do you pair food with wine that contains the same flavor compounds (which is roughly the Western way of thinking about wine)? Or would it be more appropriate, on some level, to pair with a wine that doesn’t contain the same compounds? Here are some recommendations from Serious Eats for pairing wine with Indian food, and here are some recommendations from a wine pairing web site by the British food and wine writer Fiona Beckett. Make your own conclusions.