Indian cuisine has always taken the world by storm. It holds unique and bold flavors which are unmatched by any other cuisine. However, it would be inaccurate to presume that the sole flavor of India is spice. In fact, it contains all six primary tastes.
These include sweet (madhura), salty (lavana), sour (amala), pungent (katu), bitter (tikta) and astringent (kasya). This reveals the wide variety of assorted dishes. From Aloo gobi and Chana masala to Gulab jamun and Kulfi. The list is extensive and every dish is delicious!
In this blog, we will discuss many of the Indian dishes, the history of Indian cuisine and its impact globally.
Cuisine: Diversity of Dishes
India is truly a country which is enriched with a rich culture and heritage. It has become a strong influence on other countries, not only on religion but also cuisine. The renowned chicken tikka masala is not part of traditional Indian cuisine. In fact, Britain created the dish based off of their experiences in India and recreated that back home.
India food is also diverse due to the fact that different dishes are served in different parts of India. Whilst certain dishes originate from Southern India, like Dosas, other regions, such as the North, are famous for their Samosas. There are varying dishes dependent upon the region in India. The cooking methods and ingredients used may also differ.
This emphasises the vast array of dishes. Most importantly it emphasises how food is an integral part of their life. It is not just about getting a takeaway tikka masala but rather about making the food from scratch. Of course, you will get a much more delectable dish, but you will always know you have used the freshest ingredients. You will also feel accomplished once made. It will make you appreciate the dishes more and have a truly authentic Indian dish.
Differences in Cuisine
The North, East, South and West of India are the four main regional styles of cooking. North India, for instance, was influenced by the Moghuls that ruled India. They introduced the use of saffron and added pureed cream and nuts to make the gravy richer.
Furthermore, naan was not created by the Indians but rather by the Afghani society. Naan does not form part of the average daily diet in India. However, other countries have made the mistake of associating naan with traditional Indian food.
South Indian food consists of mainly rice and coconut. Those who reside in Southern India favour the rice crepes and steamed rice cakes. A fan favourite of many! Rice forms majority of their daily diet. It is not only eaten with every meal but lunch has three servings of rice! Hindus are divided into meat eaters and vegetarians but the cuisine in Southern India accommodates both.
Western India varies in different and unique culinary experiences. In Gujarat, the food is heavily influenced by Parsis, Hindus, Muslims and Jains. Each of these different cultures have their own unique cooking method. The diet of Parsis consists of chicken and seafood. On the other hand, Jains are strictly vegetarian for religious reasons.
Likewise, the Gujaratis are primarily vegetarians and Gujarat is known and celebrated for their vegetarian dishes. Maharashtra is a famous state in India due to its well-known capital, Mumbai. It consists of five-star hotels and restaurants, serving coastal favourites. This includes seafood, with flavours of red chilies and coconut.
Eastern states have significantly different flavour profiles and cooking techniques. Bengali cuisine is known as being delicate and subtle. Fish and rice are the central component of their dishes. They often start their meal with a vegetarian rich dish and end with a delectable milk-based dessert.
Alternatively, Orissa is known for their squash blossoms which are dipped in a riced based paste. These are then deep-fried and made into patties, both of which are delicious options. Seafood also makes up a large proportion of their average daily diet, unlike meat which is scarcely used in cooking.
Bihar and Jharkhand are similar in their cuisine as they often utilise vegetables and beans in their cuisine. However, they still do add a Western flair to their cooking by including beef, pork, goat and chicken.
Whilst regional cuisine differs, their flavours are all unique, boundless and delightful.
History of Indian Cuisine
The history of Indian food began in the Harappan era. During this time, the staple ingredients in every day dishes was refined. These included chickpeas, rice, wheat, lentils and millet and was the diet for many. They also often used fruits and cinnamon to add an abundance of flavour to their dishes.
Amazingly, grains were first used to made stews or soup but subsequently used it to make naan and chapatis. This in itself portrays the evolution of food, cooking methods and ingredients used in India.
Indian cuisine can be dated back thousands of years ago. Its food has been influenced by both the Sikh and Hindu religions and their traditions. However, the cuisine has also been inspired by the traditions of the British, Portuguese and Persian societies. This fusion of ideas and influences has created the food we know and love today!
The mix of spices, vegetables and different techniques from other countries has been the influence of many dishes. It has allowed for them to be unique culinary creations and flavours which did not originate in India, rather from abroad. This has diversified Indian cuisine and what we associate with it but most importantly, it has diversified the love for food.
Meat vs Vegetarian Dishes
Whether a person is a meat eater, or a vegetarian is dependant upon their religion and beliefs. The wealth of that individual will also impact on whether or not they can afford to eat luxury items such as meat. Other areas of the world have discouraged vegetarian dishes. This is especially imminent in the olden era as it was viewed as the food of the poor. This is a huge misconception as the vegetarian dishes in India are equal to meat dishes in its taste and popularity. The bold and spicey flavours heighten the vegetables. Not only that but it is also extremely healthy. Whilst meat is needed for protein, vegetables can also be a source of this and other nutrients that we need.
In the costal areas of India, there is a predominance of seafood dishes. Although, this is to be expected considering they catch fresh produce daily. This adds further flavour to their dishes. There is a popularity in meat dishes such as kebabs and curry lamb or chicken. This is due to the influences that the Muslim customs passed on to Northern India. The Biryani is also an admired dish which consists of meat, layered with rice. This is then flavoured with orange, sugar and rose water.
South Indian cuisine is more suitable for vegetarians due to their variety of vegetarian dishes. This is in comparison with meat dishes. The dishes of the South consist of mainly vegetables marinated in a gravy of strong spice. Examples of dishes which you can try in the South include Coconut Chutney and Masala Dosa.
The Masala Dosa is widely popular and consists of fermented rice and lentils. This is a healthy and wholesome alternative to meat. The West Coast predominantly includes fish. For example, salmon, Dahi Mach and Malai (prawn coconut curry).
Cuisine: The Spices of India
Spice is the integral ingredient in any Indian dish, sweet or savoury. Many savoury dishes use ground spices to make a gravy. This is most commonly referred to as a masala. The most commonly used spices in Indian cuisine is nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, cloves and saffron. Below, I will further explain the flavour profile of the main spices used in Indian cooking.
Cumin is nearly always used in Indian cuisine. They are adding either at the beginning of cooking to flavour the oil or added later. It adds a warm and roasted flavour to the dishes. It is often used in many different dishes to add an earthy depth of flavour.
Ground turmeric is essential to every Indian dish and add gives a slight peppery taste. It also adds a golden colour to the curries.
Red Chili Powder
Chilies are what gives Indian dishes heat and flavour. It also creates a deep red richness in colour to the dish. You could either used fresh chilies, either ground or chopped. Alternatively, a powdered form of red chilies can be added. This is the most commonly used form.
No Indian dish is complete without coriander. It can be used whilst cooking or as a garnish to the dish. This adds a citrus and earthy tone to any dish. Coriander is used in the form of seeds or fresh leaves.
Garam Masala is an essential spice of India. It is known for its warmth and depth of flavour it gives to every Indian dish. Every region of India has their own recipe of how to make Garam Masala. Each consists of a certain blend of spices to create their own unique creation.
Cardamon pods can be found in either their green or black form. It is a sweet and aromatic spice. The green cardamom is often used for desserts, whereas the black cardamon is used for savoury dishes. You could use the pods in the dish or grind the seeds to add to the savoury or sweet dish.
Saffron is an expensive spice and is a necessity in Indian desserts. Grown in the Kashmir Valley, it takes much time, energy and money to produce this spice. Hence, its expensive price tag. It adds a floral aroma, flavour and gorgeous golden hue to the dishes, both savoury and sweet.
Nutmeg is used in many dishes in India and adds warm notes to the dishes. It can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes.
Cloves add an aromatic and strong flavour to dishes and are mainly used in savoury meals.
Rice and Bread
In Indian cuisine, rice is often used, as well as beans such as chickpeas and lentils. Chickpeas is also utilised as flour by passing the chickpeas through a mill. The end result is flour known as dhuli moong or dhuli urad. Bread is another staple of Indian cuisine. This is typically made with whole wheat flour.
Bread, such as roti and paratha, are cooked using a Tawa (grill) and a tandoor oven. The tandoor oven uses charcoal to primarily cook naan, kulcha and khakhra. It can also be used to cook the famous tandoori chicken. Another way to cook Indian bread is by frying it in oil. This is often the case with puri and bahtoora.
Cuisine: Indian Sweets
Indian sweets are known for their unique flavour and most importantly being delicious! There are a wide variety of different desserts. Some are sweeter than others and some have more of a suitable sweetness. I will now go through a few Indian sweets which are the most popular.
Gulab jamun are deep-fried dumplings which are soaked in a sugar syrup. The syrup itself is flavoured with rose water. This dessert is extremely sweet but just as yummy!
Jaleebi is deep-fried sweets which are soaked in sugar syrup. It is made from chickpea flour and its orange colour is obtained from saffron or colourings.
Kheer is a creamy Indian rice pudding flavoured with cardamom, almonds and raisins. However, you could add any toppings you like!
Ladoo are sweets made of either chickpea flour, semolina or ground coconut. This is dependant upon the region it is made in. The batter is cooked into a paste and rolled once cooled. It can be topped with ground pistachio nuts! Yummy!
Barfi is a fudge like dessert, usually cut into diamond or square shapes. It is made from condensed milk and sugar but can be flavoured with a variety of different ingredients. This can include coconut, almonds and edible silver leaf.
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