Salt Spots: India

It’s the sixth day that Lisa’s been without her smart phone & frankly, it feels as if I’m in The Great Indian Desert without water. We chat on whatsapp throughout the day which makes the fact that she’s there and I’m here almost bearable; at the moment I’m painfully aware of the fact that we live on separate continents on opposite sides of the planet &  it simply makes no sense whatsoever. The fact that I miss my granddaughter so much that I can’t breathe simply salts the massive wound.

When it comes to salt, there’s no more cruel story than India’s and when I was reading On the Salt March a few weeks back it struck me that the Indians would probably still have been buying their own salt from the Brits had not been for that protest march in 1930. At that stage the Brits controlled the salt trade in most of the world and (this is the bit that set me off) it was a criminal offence if anyone, other than the Brits or their agents, produced or traded in salt. So if you lived on the coast & had a little salt pan near your house (and there was loads of salt on the coast), you weren’t allowed to harvest that salt – you had to walk to the nearest village and buy your salt from a shop. How insane is that? Not only that, it was illegal for any Indian to produce salt in India. By the time Gandhi decided to take a 386 kilometer (240 mile) walk that would last 23 days, the entire Indian population had had enough of the Brits; at the end of the walk, he picked up a handful of muddy salt and famously said: “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.

Then he started boiling some sea water to make his own salt & asked all Indians living along the Indian coast to start making their own salt if it “was most convenient and comfortable” to them, despite the fact that the Brits would be spitting mad. It was the beginning of the end of the Brits in India but it’s not as if they hadn’t asked for it: it wasn’t their country & the stringent salt taxes they had imposed were condemned by all Indians  – if you bear in mind the many cultures, religions, creeds & casts it’s quite something for everyone to agree on one thing; besides that the government back in England weren’t impressed either. At the 1885 Indian National Congress in Bombay, the issue of salt tax was already raised and there were continued protests until Gandhi took a stand (the Indians called it a sathyagraha) which, I might add, wasn’t the last one:

  • Shortly after Gandhi’s arrest Sarojini Naidu lead the sathyagrahis to Dharasana Salt works in Gujarat & was promptly arrested; despite the fact that the sathyagrahis were non violent, the police managed to kill 32o of them (according to American journalist Webb Miller).
  • Rajagopalachari broke the Salt Laws at Vedaranyam in Madras Province in the same year causing thousands to be arrested.

The Brits turned a deaf ear at first but it forced them to invite Gandhi to come to England where he attended the Second Round Table Conference where he made a formal request to Sir Archibald Rowlands; it didn’t really succeed as he would have liked, though. Rowlands issued an order to abolish the tax but the order was vetoed by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell who had his hand really deep in the cookie jar. It was only repealed when Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister of the Interim Government in 1946.

Today’s recipes are all from Athul Kochhar because he’s one of my favourite chefs and because he’s recipes always work; here’s hoping you enjoy making them as much as I did.



For the chicken

  • 2 x whole chickens, skin removed, jointed
  • 200ml yoghurt
  • 2 tsp ginger & garlic paste (you can buy the paste in most supermarkets)
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp mango powder (available from specialist Asian stores)
  • ½ tsp fenugreek leaf powder
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour
  • 1 tsp saffron water or ¼ tsp edible orange colour
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • pinch salt
  • 50g melted butter, for basting
  • 1 tbsp chat masala (available from specialist Asian stores), to serve
  • 1 lime wedge, to serve

For the lentil salad

  • 200g black chickpeas, sprouted or cooked
  • 110g green lentil, sprouted or cooked
  • small bunch watercress
  • small bunch baby red chard leaves
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • ½ tsp chopped fresh ginger

For the dressing

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • pinch salt
  • pinch sugar
  • 1 green chilli chopped (optional)
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted, ground
  • 1 tsp chat masala (available from specialist Asian stores)

For the mint chutney

  • 200g fresh mint leaves
  • 110g fresh coriander leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped red onions
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 green chilli, chopped finely
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 5 tbsp thick Greek-style yoghurt


  • Make deep incisions into the chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks.
  • Whisk the yoghurt in the large bowl, add the remaining marinade ingredients and mix until well combined.
  • Rub the marinade over the chicken until it is completely coated, then chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C & out the chicken onto the rack above a roasting tray and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes (or on a charcoal grill for about 12-15 minute until cooked).
  • Preheat the grill to high.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and rest for 2-3 minutes; baste thoroughly with butter and roast under the grill for 3-4 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a skewer & it is completely cooked through.
  • For the salad, mix the ingredients together and set aside.
  • Whisk the dressing ingredients in a bowl together until well combined and pour it over the salad.
  • For the mint chutney, put all the ingredients except the yoghurt into a food processor and blend until well combined.
  • Remove the mixture from the food processor and whisk together with the yoghurt until well combined. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and chill in the fridge until required.
  • Squeeze the lime juice over chicken, dust with chat masala and serve with the lentil salad and mint chutney.


  • West Coast: for the past 5,000 years salt has been produced all along the west coast of India; more accurately, the salt came from the Rann of Kutch (a marshland that’s cut off from the rest of the Indian subcontinent during monsoon time when the seas inundate the low-lying areas); during summer the sea water evaporates during & leaves a crust of salt that becomes the salt pans where it’s collected by the malangis.
  • East Coast: it’s always been found along the coast of Orissa; the best salt in the country is found in the salt pans (called khalaris) in Oriya & the demand for Orissa salt in Bengal has always been massive so when the Brits took over the administration of Bengal, they knew they’d hit the jackpot; they quickly  monopolized Orissa salt & to make sure there was no smuggling & illegal trade, they sent in their armies


I’m inclined to agree with Schleiden (in Das Salz) who’s adamant that there’s a direct correlation between salt taxes & despots; it can’t be a coincidence that all despotic civilizations tax salt production & trade. The tax itself originated in China in 300 BC & in time it constituted more than 50% of China’s revenue & contributed to the building of the Great Wall of China.


Salt has been taxed in India since the era of the Mauryas & it was prevalent even during the time of Chandragupta Maurya & a lavananadhyaksa made sure that everyone paid the tax (25% of the total value of the salt). In Bengal, the Mughals also taxed salt at the following rate: 5% for Hindus & 2.5% for Muslims – no prizes for those who guessed that the Mughals were muslim.


The British occupied India for the sole purpose of making money which is why they formed the British East India Company in the first place; let’s not have any illusions about that.

  • Two years after the BEIC trounced Nawab of Bengal & his French allies, they nicked a sizeable piece of land (containing sizeable saltworks) near Calcutta, doubled the rent & while they were at it, charged everyone for transporting salt.
  • In 1764  they started to control all the money made from salt at Bengal, Bihar & Orissa.
  • A year later the new governor general decreed that only the senior officers of the BEIC were allowed to trade in salt & from that point on, they monopolized the salt trade to the disgust of the British government who said as much.
  • All salt had to be delivered to depots & merchants were forced to buy salt from these depots.
  • The British government was livid about this & stopped the monopoly in 1768 but 4 years later the new Governor of India (Hastings) was overcome by his own greed & brought salt under BEIC control yet again but with a few concessions that saw the salt works leased out to local farmers; it was a disaster & corruption & exploitation of the malangis forced Hastings to introduce a new system.
  • In 1780 the Hastings took over control & the salt works were divided them into agencies that were governed by a British controller & from that point onward the malangis sold salt to agents at a price plus tax – it worked.
  • The Brits, consumed with greed, increased the tax so much that by 1788 most Indians couldn’t afford to eat salt with their food; the BEIC  were making buckets of money.
  • In 1804 the British monopolized salt in Orisa & came up with a scheme whereby they lent money to the malangis so that they could produce salt; in this way the malangis became their debtors & eventually they were nothing more than slaves to the Brits.
  • Locals had no option but to resort to smuggling  & to stop the smuggling the BEIC put up customs check points throughout Bengal; the Brits were so devastated by the potential loss of income that they put up a fence of thorns (which later became a stone & mortar affair) all along the western borders of Bengal & eventually it stretched across the whole of India & was guarded by about 12,000 men


  • By 1858 the Brits derived 10% of its revenues from salt & by 1880 they were making 7 million pounds per annum from it.
  • In 1900 – 1905 the country was one of the largest producers of salt in the world.
  • In 1923 the salt tax was doubled & in 1927 a bill was passed to increase it again – this was vetoed.



  • 4 chicken legs, skin on
  • 1 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 400ml thick coconut cream
  • 4-6 young lime leaves, finely shredded
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • For the spice paste
  • 350g shallots, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh root ginger
  • 1 small ginger flower, chopped (optional, available from some specialist Asian grocers)
  • 1 tsp chopped galangal
  • 1 tsp chopped turmeric root
  • 4-6 candlenuts or macadamia nuts
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, soft inner stem roughly chopped
  • 2 fresh red chillies, roughly chopped
  • 1 dried red chilli, broken up
  • 1 tsp blachan (shrimp paste), lightly fried until fragrant

For the garnish

  • vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • 10 shallots, sliced
  • mint leaves
  • 1 red chilli, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • steamed rice, to serve


  • For the chicken, place the chicken legs into a shallow dish and sprinkle over the turmeric and salt; cover and chill in the fridge overnight, to marinate.
  • Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge half an hour before you are ready to cook it.
  • Meanwhile, for the spice paste, blend all of the spice paste ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
  • To cook the chicken, heat a large frying pan over a high heat, add three tablespoons of the oil and, when it is smoking, add the chicken. Fry the chicken for 4-6 minutes, or until golden-brown on all sides.
  • Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
  • Heat a wok over a medium heat, then add the remaining vegetable oil, the onion and the spice paste and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until fragrant; then add the reserved chicken and cook for 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the coconut milk, lime leaves and sugar; simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through, then add the lime juice and stir well.
  • For the garnish, half-fill a deep, heavy-based saucepan with vegetable oil and heat until a breadcrumb sizzles and turns golden-brown when dropped into it. (CAUTION: Hot oil can be dangerous. Do not leave unattended.)
  • Fry the shallot slices until crisp, then carefully remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
  • To serve, spoon the curry into four serving bowls. Sprinkle with the crispy shallots, mint leaves, red chillies and cucumber slices. Serve the steamed rice alongside.


  • The first laws to regulate the salt tax were made by the British East India Company.
  • In 1835 a commission reviewed the salt tax and it suggested that all Indian salt be taxed so that imported English salt would sell – so they did & Liverpool salt came streaming in.
  • Not satisfied that they were already raping the country, the Brits monopolized salt in terms of the Salt Act & to make sure only they produce the stuff; if anyone (other than them) produced salt, it was punishable with 6 month imprisonment
  • The BEIC didn’t stop there & cut & trimmed the Act to suit them until, in 1888, Lord Dufferin increased the salt tax so much that imported Cheshire salt became cheaper than local salt.
  • Despite the fact that Cheshire salt was much inferior to Indian salt, thousands of tons of the stuff was imported.
  • In 1878 they Brits adopted a uniform salt tax for British India & the princely states and now it was not only illegal to produce salt but it was illegal to possess it!
  • Section 39 of the Bombay Salt Act which was the same as Section 16-17 of the Indian Salt Act empowered a salt-revenue official to break-into places where salt was being illegally manufactured and seize the illegal salt being manufactured.
  • Section 50 of the Bombay Salt Act prohibited the shipping of salt overseas.
  • The India Salt Act of 1882 made sure that salt could only be manufactured & handled at official government salt depots.


  • Because salt became unaffordable to most people, diseases due to iodine deficiency was rife.
  • These laws were criticized back in Britain & the first people to do something about it was the Bristol Chamber of Commerce when they submitted a petition opposing the Salt tax; herewith an excerpt: “The price to the consumer here is but about 30s per ton instead of 20 pounds per ton as in India; and if it were necessary to abolish the Salt tax at home some years since it appears to your petitioners that the millions of her Majesty’s subjects of India have a much stronger claim for remission in their case, wretchedly poor as they are, and essentially necessary as salt is to their daily sustenance, and to the prevention of disease in such a climate…”
  • In India opposition to the grossly unfair Salt Tax was only just beginning and in February 1885 at the Indian National Congress held in Bombay, a prominent congress member pleaded against the salt tax; in February 1888 it was criticized at a public meeting at Cuttack & in 1888 at the Indian National Congress, Narayan Vishnu from Poona vehemently opposed the Act & a resolution was passed demanding it.
  • In 1895, George Hamilton stated at a session of the House of Commons that the “time has, however, now come when the Government finds itself in possession of larger surpluses and it is, therefore, its duty as guardian of public exchequer, to reduce taxation on salt”.
  • The Brits in India answered by doubling the salt tax in 1923 & when Das demanded it’s repeal in 1929, nobody even listened but by 1930 Orissa was close to open rebellion.

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