Cuisine of India

Cuisine of India

Like the people and the land itself, Indian cuisine varies from region to region.
The basic staples of almost every meal include rice, lentils (dahl) and some form of bread known as roti. Whenever possible, try and order a wonderful multi-course meal called a thali to ensure that you get to try a few different dishes.

India is a land of diverse culture and ethnicity. This diversity is also reflected in the cuisine of India. Every culture of India has its unique and exclusive style of cooking. Over the centuries, each new wave of settlers in India brought with them their own culinary practices which, with time, blended into the Indian cuisine as it is known today.

Indian cuisine has also been influenced by environmental, social, religious and political factors from within. Most Indian cuisine are related by significant usage of spices, and by the use of a larger variety of vegetables than most other culinary traditions. Within these recognizable similarities, there is an enormous variety of local styles.

Typically, North Indian meals consist of chapatis or rotis (indian breads) and rice as staples, eaten with a wide variety of side dishes like dals, curries, yogurt, chutney and achars (pickles). South Indian dishes are mostly rice-based, sanbhar, rasam and curries being important side dishes. Coconut is an important ingredient in most South Indian food.

Besides the main dishes, various snacks are also widely popular in Indian cuisine, such as samosa and vada. Among beverages, tea enjoys heavy popularity, while coffee is mostly popular in South India. Buttermilk (lassi),coconut milk and lemonade (Nimbu Pani) are also popular, while India also has many indigenous alcoholic beverages like Fenny and Indian Beer.

Several customs are associated with the way in which food is consumed. Traditionally, meals are eaten while sitting on the floor or on very low stools, eating with the fingers of the right hand.

Indian cuisine is a blend of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian elements. Fruit, vegetables, grain, meat (excluding beef and in later years, with the advent of Islam, pork), fish, dairy products, and honey constituted a normal diet in Vedic times. The end of Vedic period saw the advent of Buddhism and later Jainism, and Indian cuisine was influenced by the principle of ahimsa or non-violence. Indian cuisine turned predominantly vegetarian and was embraced particularly by the priestly-class as they deemed a vegetarian diet to be superior. This was possible partly due to a very co-operative climate where a variety of fruits and vegetables can be easily grown throughout the year.

Over the centuries Indian cuisine has been influenced by the Arab and Chinese traders and conquerors such as the Persians,Mingolians, Turks, the British and thePortuguese.

By 3000 B.C. turmeric, cardamom, pepper and mustard were harvested in India. Rice was domesticated in the Ganges delta around the same period. According to the Ayurveda, food is either satvic, rajasic or tamasic according to its character and effect upon the body and the mind.

Indian CuisineIslamic rule resulted in a blending of the non-vegetarian fare of the Middle East and the rich gravies that were indigenous to India, creating what is known as Mughlai Cuisine. India was also introduced to kebabs and pilafs (or pulaos). The Mughals were great patrons of cooking. Lavish dishes were prepared during the reigns of Jahangir (1605-27) and Shah Jahan(1627-58). It was in this period that the Portuguese introduced vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes in India.

In the modern times, the Indian cuisine has evolved further both due to European influences, and indigenous innovations. Rasgulla was invented in 1868 in Kolkata. In the last century, the Indian Fast Food industry has seen rapid growth.

Due to Indias geography, wheat is a staple of North and West Indian foods. Food from North India is characterised by its thick gravies. Chillies, saffron, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, ghee and nuts are common ingredients. Milk based sweets are a huge favourite too. Rice is the primary constituent of Southern and Eastern foods. Eastern India gets heavy rainfall so rice is the major crop. Fish is very popular in the coastal state of West Bengal.

The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (a special type of whole wheat flour), and at least five dozen varieties of pulses, the most important of which are chana (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or red gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Chana is used in different forms, may be whole or processed in a mill that removes the skin, eg dhuli moong or dhuli urad, and is sometimes mixed with rice and khichri (a food that is excellent for digestion and similar to the chickpea, but smaller and more flavorful).

Pulses are used almost exclusively in the form of dal, except chana, which is often cooked whole for breakfast and is processed into flour (besan). Most Indian curries are fried in vegetable oil. In North India, mustard oil is traditionally been most popular for frying, while in Western India, groundnut oil is more commonly used. In South India, coconut oil is common. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity all over India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee is also a popular cooking medium.

The most important spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, coriander and asafoetida (hing). Another very important spice is garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprising cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Some leaves are commonly used likebay leaf, coriander leaf and mint leaf. Typically in South Indian cuisine curry leaves are used commonly. In sweet dishes, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron and rose petal essence are used.


North India Cuisine

North Indian cuisine is distinguished by the proportionally high use of dairy products; milk, paneer, ghee (clarified butter), and yoghurt (yogurt, yoghourt) are all common ingredients. Gravies are typically dairy-based. Other common ingredients include chilies, saffron, and nuts.

North Indian cooking features the use of the "tawa" (griddle) for baking flat breads like roti and paratha, and "tandoor" (a large and cylindrical coal-fired oven) for baking breads such as naan, and kulcha; main courses like tandoori chicken also cook in the tandoor. Other breads like puri and bhatoora, which are deep fried in oil, are also common. Goat and lamb meats are favored ingredients of many northern Indian recipes.

East Indian Cuisine

East Indian cuisine is famous for its desserts, especially sweets such as rasagolla, chumchum, sandesh, rasabali, chhena poda, chhena gaja, and kheeri. Many of the sweet dishes now popular in Northern India initially originated in the Bengal and Orissa regions. Apart from sweets, East India cuisine offers delights of posta (poppy seeds).

Traditional Bengali cuisine is not too spicy, not too faint. General ingredients used in bengali curries are mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black cumin, green chillies,cumin paste, mustard paste, curd, nuts, poppy seed paste, cashew paste,etc. and cooked in mustard oil.Curries are classified into bata(paste), bhaja(fries), chochchoree(less spicy vapourized curries) and jhol(thin spicy curries).These are eaten with plain boiled rice or ghonto(spiced rice). Traditional Bengali breakfast includes pantabhat(biotically degenerated boiled rice), doi-chirey, doodh-muree with fruits,etc. Bangladeshi cuisine is very similar to East Indian cuisine. Fish and seafood are very popular in the coastal states of Orissa and West Bengal.

South Indian Cuisine

South Indian cuisine is distinguished by a greater emphasis on rice as the staple grain, the liberal use of coconut and particularly coconut oil and curry leaves, and the ubiquity of sambar and rasam (also called saaru'/'chaaru) at meals.

The dosa, idli, vada, bonda, and bajji are typical South Indian snacks. These are generally consumed as breakfast. Andhra, Chettinad, Hyderabadi, Mangalorean, and Kerala cuisines each have distinct tastes and methods of cooking . In fact each of the South Indian states has a different way of preparing susu sambar; a connoisseur of South Indian food will very easily tell the difference between sambar from Kerala, sambar from Tamil Nadu, Sambar from Karnataka and pappu chaaru in Andhra cuisine.Some popular dishes include the Biriyani, Ghee Rice with meat curry, sea-food (prawns, mussels, mackerel) and paper thin Pathiris from Malabar area.

Western India Cuisine

Western India has three major food groups: Gujarati, Maharashtrian and Goan. Maharashtrian cuisine is has mainly two sections defined by the geographical sections. The coastal regions, geographically similar to Goa depend more on rice, coconut, and fish. The hilly regions of the Western Ghats and Deccan plateau regions use groundnut in place of coconut and depend more on jowar (sorghum) and bajra (millet) as staples. Saraswat cuisine forms an important part of coastal Konkani Indian cuisine. Gujarati cuisine is predominantly vegetarian. Many Gujarati dishes have a hint of sweetness due to use of sugar or brown sugar.

Goan cuisine is influenced by the Portuguese colonization of Goa. For instance, beef and pork are consumed there, due to the Portuguese presence. Popular and well known dishes from Goa include the vindaloo (which means garlic wine in the Portuguese language), originally a sour and spicy pork curry, but which more recently are consumed with any meat. Pork sorpotel is also a Portuguese influenced Goan dish. This dish consists of thin pork sausages mixed with onions, and is usually eaten on its own, unlike other Indian dishes which are eaten with rice and Indian breads.