Indian cuisine

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Template:Cuisine of India The multiple families of Indian cuisine are characterized by their sophisticated and subtle use of many spices and herbs. Each family of this cuisine is characterized by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. Though a significant portion of Indian food is vegetarian, many traditional Indian dishes also include chicken, goat, lamb, fish, and other meats.

Food is an important part of Indian culture, playing a role in everyday life as well as in festivals. In many families, everyday meals are usually sit-down affairs consisting of two to three main course dishes, varied accompaniments such as chutneys and pickles, carbohydrate staples such as rice and roti (bread), as well as desserts.

Diversity is a defining feature of India's geography, culture, and food. Indian cuisine varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse subcontinent. Generally, Indian cuisine can be split into four categories: North Indian, South Indian, East Indian, and West Indian. Despite this diversity, some unifying threads emerge in the art of Indian cuisine. Varied uses of spices are an integral part of food preparation, and are used to enhance the flavor of a dish and create unique flavors and aromas. Cuisine across India has also been influenced by various cultural groups that entered India throughout history, such as the Mughals, Persians, and European powers.

History and Influences

As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling through many millennia, the subcontinent 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 eats 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 and Jain communities. At 31%, slightly less than a third of Indians are vegetarians.[1].

Around 7000 BCE, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley.[2] By 3000 BCE, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in India[3]. 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.[citation needed] Over time, some segments of the population embraced vegetarianism,[citation needed] facilitated by advent of Budhism 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.[1]

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 Arabs and Chinese, and invaders such as the Mongols, Turks, British 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 introduced foods from the New World such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilies and cooking techniques like baking.


A typical assortment of spices used in Indian cuisine.

The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are 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 is 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), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing), ginger (adrak), and garlic (lassan). 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 South 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


Makki ki Roti and Sarso ka Saag are two of the most popular dishes in Punjab.

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, kulcha and khakhra; 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 dishes include buknu, gujiya, chaat, daal ki kachauri, mirchi bada, jalebi, imarti, several types of pickles (or achar), murabba, sharbat, pana and aam papad. Popular sweets include mithai, such as gulab jamun, peda, khurchan, petha, rewdi, gajak, milk cake, balushahi, bal mithai, singori, kulfi, falooda, khaja, ras malai, gulqand, 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 advent into the country. Pakistan was part of North India prior to the partition of India. As a result, Pakistani cuisine is very similar to northern Indian cuisine.


Rasogolla, also known as Rasgulla, is one of the most popular sweets in India.

East Indian cuisine is famous for its desserts, especially Bengali 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 region. Apart from sweets, East India cuisine offers delights of both vegetarian (such as loohi, cholar dal, dum aloo, kalar kofta/bara, dhokar dalna) and non-vegetarian (chingri malai kari, doi mach, chiken kobiraji, kosha mangsho, sorresbatta). Eastern Indian foods have touch of special spices like panch poran/panch phutan, kalo jeera/kalonji, shorsho bata/sorisa bata (mustard seed paste) and posto/posta (poppy seeds).

East Indian cuisines employ thickening agents such as cashew or poppy seed paste. Milk-based sweets are also very popular, being a particular specialty in Bengal and Orissa. Bangladeshi cuisine is very similar to East Indian cuisine. Fish and seafood are very popular in the coastal states of Orissa and West Bengal.


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The South Indian staple breakfast item of Idly, Sambhar and Vada served on a banana leaf.

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.

South Indian cooking is more vegetarian-friendly than nemple in Udupi, Kataka, has lional cooking in Udupi Ashtamatha is characterized by the use of local seasonal ingredients. Garam masala is generally avoided.

The dosa, idli, vada, bonda, and bajji are typical Sian snacks. 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 sambar; a connoisseur of South Indian food will very easily tell the difference between sambar from Kerala and sambar from Tamilnadu and pappu pulusu in Andhra cuisine.


Western India has four major food groups Rajastani, Gujarati, Maharashtrian and Goan. The Goan cuisine is a mixture of the traditional cuisine with a heavy use of rice, coconut and fish and some Portuguese influence from the colonial era. Maharashtrian cuisine is has mainly two sections defined by the geographical sections. The coastal regions similar to goa depend more on rice, coconut, and fish while the mountanous and plateau region use groundnut in place of coconut and depend more on wheat, Jawar and Bajra. Saraswat cuisine forms an important part of coastal Konkani Indian cuisine.

Indian Cuisine in the West

Britain has a particularly strong tradition of Indian cuisine that originates from the British Raj. At that time there were a few Indian restaurants in the richer parts of London that catered to British officers returning from their duties in India. Currently, the favourite dish in the United Kingdom is supposedly Chicken Tikka Masala, even before fish and chips.[citation needed]

In the 20th century there was a second phase in the development of Anglo-Indian cuisine, as families from countries such as Bangladesh migrated to London to look for work. Some of the earliest such restaurants were opened in Brick Lane in the East End of London, a place that is still famous for this type of cuisine.

Mulligatawny Soup

Its name taken from Tamil for "pepper water" ('Millagu' is pepper and 'Thanni' is water), mulligatawny is a type of Anglo-Indian soup.

Tikka masala

File:Chicken Chili HR2.jpg
Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken Chilli have become extremely popular in the West.

In the 1960s, a number of unauthentic "Indian" foods were developed, including the widely popular "chicken tikka masala". This tendency has now been reversed, with subcontinental restaurants being more willing to serve authentic Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani food, and to show their regional variations. In the late twentieth century Birmingham was the centre of growth of Balti houses, serving a newly developed style of cooking in a large, wok-like, pan, with a name sometimes attributed to the territory of Baltistan, (however, the Hindi word for bucket is also Balti). Indian food is now integral to the British diet. Chicken tikka massala is thought to be Britain's most popular dish. [4] There are now 8,000 Indian restaurants in Britain, turning over in excess of £2 billion and employing 70,000 workers. [5]

In the past Indian food adapted to its surroundings, and mild "Indian-style" dishes like Chicken Korma and Chicken Tikka Masala became hugely popular. However, since Indian food has now become an everyday part of the British diet, there has blossomed an avid and enthusiastic market for authentic Indian cuisine, which has seen many more inventive restaurateurs create new and vibrant dishes which challenge the customers palate rather than pander to everyday tastes. Dishes like Mirchi Rasoi Jhinga, the Hariyali Sheekh Kebab and Jhangi Champey have their roots in Indian Britain rather than India.

After the Immigration Act of 1965, South Asian immigration to the United States increased, and with it the prevalence of Indian cuisine, especially in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, the New York City neighborhoods of Murray Hill, Jackson Heights and East 6th Street, and in Edison, NJ. All-you-can-eat buffets with several standard dishes are typical in some Indian restaurants in the United States.[citation needed]

Indian restaurants are common in the larger cities of Canada, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver where large numbers of Indian nationals have settled since 1970. A number of the more adventurous restaurants have transformed their offerings into so-called Indian "fusion" menus, combining fresh local ingredients with traditional Indian cooking techniques.

Due to the large Indian community in South Africa, the cuisine of South Africa includes several dishes of Indian-origin; some have evolved to become unique to South Africa, such as the bunny chow. Many others are modified with local spices.


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A cup of chai.

Tea is a staple beverage throughout India; the finest varieties are grown in Darjeeling and Assam. It is generally prepared as masala chai, tea with a mixture of spices boiled in milk. The second 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". Other beverages include nimbu pani (lemonade), lassi, badam dood (milk with nuts and cardamom) & Chaach (made from curd/yogurt ) , 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.

File:Madras Kappi.jpg
Filter coffee is a morning ritual for many Chennaiites

Coffee is a major social institution in Southern Indian Tamil tradition. Its also called the Madras (a) Chennai Filter Coffee and is unique to this part of the world. They generally use gourmet coffee beans of the Arabica variety. The making of filter coffee is like a ritual, as the coffee beans are first roasted and then powdered. Sometimes they add chicory to enhance the aroma. They then use a filter set, few scoops of powdered coffee, enough boiling water is added to prepare a very dark liquid called the decoction.

A 3/4 mug of hot milk with sugar, a small quantity of decoction is then served in Dabarah/Tumbler set, a unique Coffee cup....Chennai Filter Coffee


File:Vegetarian Curry.jpeg
A traditional North Indian thali

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 losing popularity as modernization has modified these customs. Silverware and Western-style seating arrangements are becoming the norm in urban areas of India.

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 placed under the food as decoration.

See also


  • Diamond, J (1997), Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-03891-2.


  1. Thakrar, Raju (22 April 2007). "Japanese warm to real curries and more". Japan Times. Retrieved 2007-04-23. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. Diamond 1997, p. 100.
  4. Lloyd, J & Mitchinson, J: "The Book of General Ignorance". Faber & Faber, 2006.
  5. Lloyd, J & Mitchinson, J: "The Book of General Ignorance". Faber & Faber, 2006.

External links

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