Gastronomic paradise: India’s food diversity


New Delhi, August 2 (IANS): Just like India’s geographic and linguistic diversity, the nature of food also changes frequently. It is natural that the eating habits of people in various regions are governed by the dominant crop harvested in that respective area.

India is known worldwide for its tasty and spicy cuisine. Some dishes have become exceptionally famous abroad such as biryani or chicken tikka.

Vikas Khanna, a Michelin-starred Indian chef, restaurateur, wrote in his article “Cuisine and Diplomacy” for the Department of External Affairs that Indian migration has spread the culinary traditions of the subcontinent across the world.

These cuisines were adapted to local tastes and also affected local cuisines. For example, the international appeal of curry and Indian tandoori dishes such as chicken tikka enjoy great popularity.

Indian cuisine in the Middle East has been heavily influenced by the large Indian diaspora. Centuries of trade relations and cultural exchange have had a significant influence on the cuisines of each region, the most notable being biryani. It was introduced by Persian invaders to northern India and has since become an integral part of Mughlai cuisine, he writes.

Chicken tikka masala has been called “a true British national dish”. In 2003, there were up to 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine in England and Wales alone.

According to the UK Food Standards Agency, the Indian food industry in the UK is worth 3.2 billion pounds, Khanna informed.

As the Association for Asian Studies rightly points out, food in India is a marker of identity of caste, class, family, kinship, tribal affiliation, lineage, religiosity, identity. ethnicity and, increasingly, identification with a secular group.

India sought to define itself gastronomically in the face of colonization from the 12th century. First, the Central Asian invaders formed several dynasties known as Sultanates from the 12th to 16th centuries. Then the great Mughal dynasty ruled from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The British came to trade as the East India Company, remained the Crown from the 18th century until 1847, then had their heyday as the British Raj from 1857 to 1947.

The Mughals brought new foods to the subcontinent from Central Asia, including dried fruits, pilafs, sourdough wheat breads, stuffed meats, poultry, and fruits. They also introduced new cooking processes such as baking bread and cooking meat on skewers in the tandoor, braising meats and poultry, tenderizing meats and game with yogurt, and making native cheese.

They borrowed native ingredients such as spices (cardamom, pepper and cloves) and vegetables (aubergines from India and carrots from Afghanistan) to cook their food, creating a unique Mughlai high court cuisine.

From the princely kitchens, the cuisine has made its way over the centuries to the restaurants of the big cities. In Delhi, the capital of Mughal India, as food writer Chitrita Banerji tells us, the Moti Mahal restaurant claims to have invented tandoori chicken.

In neighborhood Punjabi and Mughlai restaurants in metropolitan centres, the menu usually consists of meat and poultry dishes heavily marinated in spices, then grilled and braised in thick tomato or cream-based sauces and served with breads in native sourdough such as naan and rice dishes with vegetables and meats like pulaos and biryani. These foods, in popular and mass-customized versions, are the staple foods of ‘dhabas’ (highway restaurants) all over India.

Indian food historian Madhur Jaffrey states that when the British Raj took root in the subcontinent, English-trained Indian cooks (khansama) prepared a fusion cuisine of breads, mulligatawny soup (from Tamil mulahathani – pepper water), chopped pies and roasts. , puddings and trifles.

These dishes were later adapted to the metropolitan Indian table for Indian Army officers and Anglo-Indian club menus. “Military hotels” – restaurants where meat and poultry were mainly served to troop members and often run by Parsis or Muslims – became popular as the new concept of public catering gained popularity in India urban between 1860 and 1900. The oldest known cafe from this era is Leopold’s Cafe in Mumbai, where the military hotel culture first took hold.

Other “hotels” or restaurants primarily served, as they still do, vegetarian home cooking in a public setting.

“Continental cuisine” in contemporary India includes a combination of English breakfast dishes such as omelet and toast; bread, butter, jam; meat and potato “cutlets”; an eclectic combination of Western dishes such as pizza, pasta and tomato soup with croutons; bastard French cuisine of oven-baked vegetables with cheese and cream sauces, generously spiced to make them pleasing to the Indian palate; crème caramel, trifle, fruit and jelly; and cream cakes for dessert.

All of the southern part of India, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are mainly rice consumers. Many lentils are also used. Fish and various seafood are also very popular here.

Coconuts grow abundantly in Kerala and hence grated coconut and coconut milk are widely used in dishes and curries as a thickening and flavoring ingredient.

According to India Nutrition, Tamil food is characterized by the use of rice, pulses and lentils, its distinct aroma and flavor obtained by the blend of spices including curry leaves, tamarind, coriander, ginger , garlic, chilli, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut and rose water. The word “curry” is derived from the Tamil word “kari” which means “an additive to the main dish or a side dish”. Rice and pulses play an important role in Tamil cuisine.

In the eastern part of the country, for states like Odisha, West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, as well as rice, fish rules the culinary world.

In West Bengal, emphasizing fish and lentils served with rice as a staple, Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle flavors, sweets and desserts, and has perhaps the only Indian tradition with multiple dishes that are analogous to French cuisine and Italian cuisine in structure.

Towards the northeast of the country – Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya – the food will strongly resemble Southeast Asian cuisines. In Meghalaya, the staple food of locals is rice with spicy preparations of meat and fish. They raise goats, pigs, poultry, ducks and cows and relish their meat. Popular dishes are jadoh, ki kpu, tungtoh and pickled bamboo shoots.

The Nagames use little oil, they prefer to ferment, dry and smoke their meats and fish so that their food is healthy and light.

Unlike the eastern and northeastern part of the country, many states in the western part of the country eat mostly vegetarian food. But there, too, there is no lack of variety. The typical Gujarati dish consists of roti (a flatbread made from wheat flour, and called rotli in Gujarati), Daalor Kadhi, rice and sabzi/shaak (a dish made with different combinations of vegetables and spices , which can be sautéed, spicy or sweet).

Towards the northern part of the country like in Haryana due to its high cattle population, dairy products dominate the food variety.

In Jammu and Kashmir, its local cuisine has evolved over 100 years. The cuisine was later influenced by cultures that arrived with Timur’s invasion of Kashmir from the region of modern Uzbekistan. Subsequently, it was heavily influenced by the cuisines of Central Asia, Persia and the plains of northern India. The most notable ingredient in Kashmiri cuisine is mutton, of which there are over 30 varieties.

The gastronomic delights are so vast and interesting in India that it is a paradise for any foodie.


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