Cuisine of India

Cuisine of India

The cuisine of India is characterized by its sophisticated and subtle use of many spices and herbs grown across India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism across its society. Considered by some to be one of the world's most diverse cuisines, each family of this cuisine is characterized by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. As a consequence, Indian cuisine varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse Indian subcontinent. [] India's religious beliefs and culture has played an influential role in the evolution of its cuisine. However, cuisine across India also evolved due to the subcontinent's large-scale cultural interactions with neighboring Persia, ancient Greece, Mongols and West Asia, making it a unique blend of various cuisines across Asia. [] [] The colonial period introduced European cooking styles to India adding to its flexibility and diversity. [] [] Indian cuisine has also influenced cuisines across the world, especially those from South East Asia. [] [] []

History and influences

As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling through many millennia, India's cuisine has benefited from numerous food influences. The diverse climate in the region, ranging from deep tropical to alpine, has also helped considerably broaden the set of ingredients readily available to the many schools of cookery in India. In many cases, food has become a marker of religious and social identity, with varying taboos and preferences (for instance, a segment of the Jain population consume no roots or subterranean vegetable; see Jain vegetarianism) which has also driven these groups to innovate extensively with the food sources that are deemed acceptable. One strong influence over Indian foods is the longstanding vegetarianism within sections of India's Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities. People who follow a strict vegetarian diet make up 20–42% of the population in India, while less than 30% are regular meat-eaters. [PDFlink| [ Indian consumer patterns] |484 KiB ] [ [ Agri reform in India] ] [ [ Diary and poultry sector growth in India] ]

Around 7000 BC, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley.harvnb|Diamond|1997|p=100.] By 3000 BC, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in India [ [ Curry, Spice & All Things Nice: Dawn of History ] ] . Many recipes first emerged during the initial Vedic period, when India was still heavily forested and agriculture was complemented with game hunting and forest produce. In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products and honey. [] Over time, some segments of the population embraced vegetarianism, due to ancient Hindu philosophy of "ahimsa". [] This practice gained more popularity following the advent of Buddhism and a cooperative climate where variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains could easily be grown throughout the year. A food classification system that categorized any item as saatvic, raajsic or taamsic developed in Ayurveda. Each was deemed to have a powerful effect on the body and the mind

Later, invasions from Central Asia, Arabia, the Mughal empire, and Persia, and others had a deep and fundamental effect on Indian cooking. Influence from traders such as the Arab and Portuguese diversified subcontinental tastes and meals. As with other cuisines, Indian cuisine has absorbed the new-world vegetables such as tomato, chilli, and potato, as staples. These are actually relatively recent additions.

Islamic rule introduced rich gravies, pilafs and non-vegetarian fare such as kebabs, resulting in Mughlai cuisine (Mughal in origin), as well as such fruits as apricots, melons, peaches, and plums. The Mughals were great patrons of cooking. Lavish dishes were prepared during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The Nizams of Hyderabad state meanwhile developed and perfected their own style of cooking with the most notable dish being the Biryani, often considered by many connoisseurs to be the finest of the main dishes in India.

During this period the Portuguese and British introduced foods from the New World such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilies and cooking techniques like baking.


The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, "atta" (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are "masoor" (most often red lentil), "chana" (bengal gram), "toor" (pigeon pea or yellow gram), "urad" (black gram) and "mung" (green gram). "Pulses" may be used whole, dehusked, for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad, or split. Pulses are used extensively in the form of dal (split). Some of the pulses like "chana" and "Mung" are also processed into flour ("besan").

Most Indian curries are fried in vegetable oil. In North and West India, groundnut oil has traditionally been most popular for frying, while in Eastern India, Mustard oil is more commonly used. In South India, coconut oil and Gingelly 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 that replaces Desi ghee (clarified butter).

The most important/frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed ("rai"), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida ("hing, perungayam"), ginger (adrak, inji), and garlic (lassan, poondu). Popular spice mixes are garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprised of cardamom, cinnamon and clove; and Goda Masala, a popular spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves are commonly used like "tejpat" (cassia leaf), coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves is typical of all Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, and rose petal essence are used.

The term "curry" is usually understood to mean "gravy" in India, rather than "spices."

Geographical varieties


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.

The samosa is a popular North Indian snack, and now commonly found in other parts of India, Central Asia and the Middle East. A common variety is filled with boiled, fried, or mashed potato. Other fillings include minced meat, cheese ("paneer"), mushroom ("khumbi"), and chick pea.

The staple food of most of North India is a variety of lentils, vegetables, and roti (wheat based bread). The varieties used and the method of preparation can vary from place to place. Popular snacks, side-dishes and drinks include mirchi bada, buknu, bhujiya, chaat, kachori, jalebi, imarti, several types of pickles (known as achar), murabba, sharbat, aam panna and aam papad. Popular sweets include "mithai", such as gulab jamun, peda, petha, rewdi, gajak, bal mithai, singori, kulfi, falooda, khaja, ras malai, gulkand, and several varieties of laddu, barfi and halwa.

Some common North Indian foods such as the various kebabs and most of the meat dishes originated with Muslims’ incursions into the country. Pakistan was politically joined to North India for period prior to the partition of India. As a result, Pakistani cuisine can be grouped together with northern 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 and cashew paste and are preferably 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. Bangladesh's cuisine is very similar to that of West Bengal, corresponding to the link between Pakistani and northern Indian cuisine. Fish is relatively commonly consumed in the eastern part of India, most especially in Bengal.

Like South India, rice is the staple grain in Eastern India too. A regular meal consists of many side dishes made of vegetables. The popular vegetable dishes of Orissa are "Dalma" and "Santula". The most popular vegetable dish of Bengal is Sukto. Deep fried, shallow fried and mashed vegetables are also very popular. Fish frequently features in a regular meal.


South Indian cuisine is distinguished by a greater emphasis on rice as the staple grain, the ubiquity of sambar and rasam (also called "saaru" and "rasa"), a variety of pickles, and the liberal use of coconut and particularly coconut oil and curry leaves. The dosa, poori, idli, vada, bonda and bajji are typical South Indian favorites. These are generally consumed as breakfast. Hyderabadi biryani, a popular type of biryani, reflects the diversity of south Indian cuisine. []

Andhra, Chettinad, Tamil, 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 sambar; a connoisseur of South Indian food will very easily tell the difference between sambar from Kerala, sambar from Tamil cuisine, 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 has three major food groups: Gujarati, Maharashtrian and Goan. Maharashtrian cuisine 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.

North Eastern

The food of the North East is very different from other parts of India. This area's cuisine is more influenced by its neighbours, namely Burma and the People's Republic of China. Its use of well known Indian spices is less. Yak is a popular meat in this region of India.

Popularity and influence outside India

Indian cuisine is one of the most popular cuisines across the globe. [] The cuisine is popular not only among the large Indian diaspora but also among the mainstream population of North America and Europe. [] In 2003, there were as many as 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine in the United States alone. [] A survey held in 2007 revealed that more than 1,200 Indian food products have been introduced in the United States since 2000. [] According to Britain's Food Standards Agency, Indian food industry in the United Kingdom is worth £3.2 billion, accounts for two-thirds of all eating out and serves about 2.5 million British customers every week. [] Chicken Tikka Masala is often hailed as "Britain's national dish" replacing the iconic status previously held by fish and chips. There are now 8,000 Indian restaurants in Britain, employing 70,000 workers.Lloyd, J & Mitchinson, J: "The Book of General Ignorance". Faber & Faber, 2006.]

Apart from Europe and North America, Indian cuisine is popular in South East Asia too because of its strong historical influence on the region's local cuisines. Indian cuisine has had considerable influence on Malaysian cooking styles [] and also enjoys strong popularity in Singapore. [,001100020009.htm] [] Indian influence on Malay cuisine dates back to 19-century. [] Other cuisines which borrow Indian cooking styles include Vietnamese cuisine, [] Indonesian cuisine [] and Thai cuisine. [] Spread of vegetarianism in other parts of Asia is often credited to ancient Indian Buddhist practices. [] Indian cuisine is also fairly popular in the Arab world because of its similarity and influence on Arab cuisine. []

The popularity of "curry", which originated in India, across Asia has often led to the dish being labeled as the "pan-Asian" dish. [] "Curry's" international appeal has also been compared to that of pizza. [] Though the "tandoor" did not originate in India, Indian tandoori dishes, such as "chicken tikka" made with Indian ingredients, enjoy widespread popularity. [] Historically, Indian spices and herbs were one of the most sought after trade commodities. The spice trade between India and Europe led to the rise and dominance of Arab traders to such an extent that European explorers, such as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, set out to find new trade routes with India leading to the "Age of Discovery". []


Tea is a staple beverage throughout India; the finest varieties are grown in Darjeeling and Assam. It is generally prepared as "masala chai", wherein the tea leaves are boiled in a mix of water, spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger, and large quantities of milk to create a thick, sweet, milky concoction. Different varieties and flavors of Tea are prepared to suit different tastes all over the country. Another popular beverage, coffee, is largely served in South India. One of the finest varieties of "Coffea arabica" is grown around Mysore, Karnataka, and is marketed under the trade name "Mysore Nuggets". Indian filter coffee, or "kaapi", is also especially popular in South India. Other beverages include "nimbu pani" (lemonade), "lassi", "chaach", "badam doodh" (milk with nuts and cardamom), "sharbat" and coconut water. India also has many indigenous alcoholic beverages, including palm wine, fenny, bhang and Indian beer. However the practice of drinking a beverage with a meal, or wine and food matching, is not traditional or common in India.

Although the above listed beverages are popular, people prefer to consume drinking water with their food. In fact it is custom to offer drinking water to guests before serving hot or cold drinks, also drinking water does not overshadow the taste of food.


Several customs are associated with the manner of food consumption. Traditionally, meals are eaten while seated either on the floor or on very low stools or cushions. Food is most often eaten without cutlery, using instead the fingers of the right hand. However, these traditional ways of dining are being influenced by eating styles from other parts of the world. Eating with your hands is considered important in Indian etiquette because a person eating with his hands knows the exact temperature of food before the morsel hits his mouth thus preventing blisters in mouth due to consumption of hot food.

Traditional serving styles vary from region to region in India. A universal aspect of presentation is the thali, a large plate with samplings of different regional dishes accompanied by raita, breads such as naan, puri, or roti, and rice. In South India, a cleaned banana leaf is often used as an alternative to the plates for it's visual impact and as a hygienic.

See also

*Indian bread




External links


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