India is a vast and varied land with a diverse cultural identity that is rare in any other country of the world. India’s beauty lies in its unique diversity. It is divided into various regions and people of varied belief and faith reside in India. The culture of India is as vivid as its people. This vividness extends to all aspects of India, which includes food also. Though there is hardly any similarity between the flavors of food preferred in North India as compared to South India or the taste favored by the people living in the eastern region of India in contrast to that liked by the people residing in the western part of India, yet Indian food as a whole is a representation of a bouquet of flavors that is simply mind blowing. We are going to see the various indian regional cuisine that are famous all over the country.
Indian cuisine is the unified presentation of a large platter of cuisines originating from the various regions of India. This splendid cuisine generally carries the image of being inherently hot and spicy. But the fact is Indian food is a blend of fascinating flavors that range from mild and gentle taste to sizzling and fiery taste. To achieve such diverse flavors a large range of spices and herbs are used in various amounts and the dishes are prepared by using elaborate and time-consuming methods to lend them a distinct taste and aroma. Spices are a significant feature of Indian food. India produces the maximum kinds of spices in the world. Quite naturally, Indian food portrays the use of spices in varying degrees for different dishes. India has such effective spices that when they are used even as little as a pinch in a dish they can considerably influence the aroma and taste of the dish.
Various Indian Cuisine that you may have not heard of
Another element of identity that Indian food is generally associated with is that of Indian curry. The term curry is an English derivation of the native term Kari which means sauce. The Indian curry is not the name of any powdered spice. Rather, it is a delicate and subtle blend of different spices such as turmeric, cardamom, cumin, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, poppy seeds, mustard, fenugreek, pepper, etc.
India has an exceptional presence in the world in terms of food. Indian food, though diverse, has some common traits that define it to the world. Among these traits the most important characteristic is the Indian masala. Indian masala holds an exquisite charm for the world. Masala is basically a blend of a variety of spices and herbs native to various regions of India. Indian spices are the elements that make Indian food so different from all other food cultures of the world. Their extensive use in Indian cooking offers Indian food a distinct aroma and flavor that is hard to find in any other cuisine of the world. No Indian fare can ever be called complete without the use of Indian spices. From time immemorial Indians have used spices to flavor up their food. It is the flavor of the masala that makes Indian food attain its unique taste of being fiery, spicy, tempting and aromatic.
Diversity of Indian cuisine
Indian food is one of the finest examples of the phrase “unity in diversity”. This diversity originates from various factors that are inherent to India. The prime factors that have shaped the diversity of Indian food include climate, soil type, religion, culture, occupation, external influences, etc. Regionally available spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits also significantly influence the diverse nature of Indian food heritage.
India is a vast land and almost all the climatic zones of the world can be found in India. This climatic difference has led to the growth of different kinds of fruits and vegetables in different regions of India. It is only natural that people residing under a particular climatic zone get accustomed to the natural vegetation of that place. Apart from the availability of natural fruits and vegetables common to a particular region, the climate of the place helps in proper digestion of such food stuff. This factor also makes a certain kind of food more popular in one place than in other places of India.
Moreover, India is a secular state where people of all religions have equal rights to follow their beliefs. This is one of the reasons of India being home to nearly all major religions existing in the world. Every religion has some unique features as far as food is concerned. The food habits, preference of food items as well as cooking methods are as diverse as their faith. Along with religion, India is also home to people speaking various languages. People also categorize themselves on the basis of different ethnic identity. All these aspects are reflected in the choice of food of the people and a particular food culture often becomes the identity of a race or region in India.
The range of Indian cuisine can be described to exist between two dietary extremes: pure vegetarians and meat-eaters. The vegetarian cuisine of India has been primarily shaped by Hindu and Jain beliefs. Again, India has been witness to various foreign colonial presences on its land. From the Persians to the Mughals to the British to the Portuguese to the French, Indian history has witnessed the effects of these colonial influences on Indian culture and way of life, which included food as well. The colonial presence in any particular region of India led to the blend of their method of preparing food with Indian style of cooking in that region. A unique and innovative method was developed to cook food combining both the Indian as well as colonial styles and churn out a dish whose taste would appeal to both the parties. So, difference in Indian food culture is also witnessed according to the various regions where colonization was more dominant than others.
Related: Know more about the history of Indian regional cusine.
General Trends of Food in India
The food trends in India are as diverse as the nature of the vast population. Yet a common thread runs along the length and breadth of the country that binds the people in the food culture that is distinctly known as “Indian”. Continue reading to know more about the diversity of Indian cuisine.
Rice and roti are the two main basis of food that is popular across the country. Meat is more popular in the northern part of India. Meat dishes like Rogan Josh (curried lamb), Gushtaba (spicy meat balls in yoghurt), and the delicious Biriyani (chicken or lamb in orange flavored rice, sprinkled with sugar and rose water) are hot favorites among the natives as well as the outsiders. The Mughlai cuisine of the north is a delicious spread of rich, creamy and spicy dishes liberally sprinkled with nuts and saffron. Another world famous item of the north is the awesomely tasty Tandoori dish which can be prepared with chicken, meat or fish, marinated with a number of herbs and spices and cooked in a clay oven. Kebabs are also a specialty of Indian cuisine originating from the northern part of the country.
Apart from the main dishes, there are various delicious snacks that can be found on every street corner. Snacks with irresistible taste like Samosa, fritters, dosa, vada, countless varieties of chaat, panipuri, pav-bhaji, kachori, bhelpuri, poori sabji, putu mayam, kebab, khaman, sev puri, batata vada, chole bhature, medu vada, ragda patties, chicken roll, noodles, momo, etc. are just a few of the huge number of snacks that Indians relish on a daily basis. India also has a wide variety of beverages that people enjoy every day. Tea is the most popular drink in India and every household welcomes its guest with a cup of tea.
Coffee also has a huge following, especially in the southern part of the country. India has a scorching summer season and to combat the heat people of the land relish a number of summer coolers like nimbu pani (lemon drink), lassi (buttermilk), nariyal pani (coconut water), Mausambi juice (sweet lime), thandaai, aam panna, jal jeera, chhanch, milkshake, faluda, fresh juices of individual fruits and mixed fruit juices, etc. These road side delicacies and drinks are quite popular among people of all age groups and from various sections of the society.
There is a fine distinction in the way food is prepared and enjoyed in various regions of India. Regionally India can be broadly divided into four sections where the food pattern has a discrete identity. The northern region of India comprises of a large area that includes many states. Though there are fine distinctions existing in the cuisines of each state, yet as a whole, this region represents a food culture comprising of creamy and moderately spicy gravies that are thick in nature.
The use of milk, cream, clarified butter, yoghurt and nuts are abundant in this region. The region produces a variety of vegetables and fruits and so, delicious vegetable dishes are also common here. This region prefers flat breads such as tandoori roti, Pooris, Chapattis, Nan, Parantha, Kulchas, etc. as compared to rice. A few very popular North Indian Indian delicacies are Mutter Paneer (a curry made with cottage cheese and peas), Biryani, Pulaos, Daal Makhani, Dahi Gosht, Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka, Fish Amritsari, Tandoori chicken, rajma, makki di roti, sarson da saag, paneer tikka masala, etc.
The eastern region of India is a blend of spicy and simple fares. While Bengal is popular for its eternal love for fish, rice and sweets, parts of Orissa and Bihar also shares Bengal’s love of fish. The north-eastern states have delicacies that are simple in terms of preparation but wonderful to taste. Overall, this region applies the methods of steaming and frying to cook food and mustard oil is the preferred medium of cooking the dishes. A few popular delicacies of this vast region are Momos (steamed, meat filled wontons) and Thukpa (a clear soup), Machcher Jhol (fish curry), Bhapa shorshe Illish, Chingri malai curry, kosha mangsho, meat saalan, maasor tenga, iromba, kabok, chakkouba, fish orly, chakhwi, khar, hanhor mangxso, etc.
Western India comprises of the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. The West coast is a region where the preference of fish and shellfish is obviously due to the availability of countless types of fishes in various sizes and possessing different tastes. A few delicacies of this region are Pork Vindaloo, Chicken Xacuti, Goan Fish Curry, Thepla, Undhiu, Daal-Baati-Choorma, Laal Maas, Parsi Dhan Sak, Kolmino patio, Dhandal patio, etc. This region has one of the most diverse styles of food in India. From the spicy and largely vegetarian spread of Rajasthan to the mainly vegetarian food of Gujarat to the spicy Maharashtran fare of non-vegetarian delicacies to the rich food of Goa, the variety food in this region is just amazing.
South Indian is another Indian regional cuisine that is hot in nature. Rice is the basis of meals here and rice-based dishes are quite popular in this part of the country. This cuisine carries the flavor of curries which mainly contain vegetables and are spicy in nature. Rice is relished with sambar (a vegetable stew tempered with whole spices and chillies) and rasam (a soup like lentil dish that tastes sour) and various kinds of chutneys where coconut remains as the constant ingredient. A few delicious items popular down south are dosa (rice and lentil crepes), idli (steamed rice muffins) served with pickles, sambar, uttapam, vada, upma, rasam, and raita. Coconut is used in abundance in South Indian cooking. Coconut oil is the preferred medium of cooking. The South Indians just love to drink filter coffee and curry leaves is a fixture in most of their dishes.
Sweets and sweetmeats are an integral part of the Indian cuisine. Delicious sweet items like rasgulla, gulab jamun, motichoor laddu, gujia, cashew barfi, Mysore pak, adhirasam, anjeer cutlet, holige or obbattu, shakkarpara, kalakhand, jalebi, kopra, balushahi, peda, ras malai, sohan papdi, kozhakkattai, barfi, etc. are very tasty and very popular Indian sweets. Among the desserts the popular items are gajar halwa, kheer, payasam, kulfi, badam halwa, malpua, shrikhand, and a lot of other dishes.
Apart from the delicious regional cuisines and the splendid variety of sweets and desserts, a wide variety of fresh and juicy fruits are found aplenty, like mango, apple, pomegranate, strawberry, jackfruit, melon, orange, grapes, banana, pineapple, chiku, custard apple, dates, guava, figs, plum, woodapple, etc. India is considered the fruit and vegetable basket of the world because of its variety and quantity of production in these items.
Paan is the most common digestive enjoyed by the people in India. Paan is basically a betel leaf in which is wrapped a paste of lime stone powder and water (chuna) and diced or sliced betel nut (supari). Different kinds of paan are available and they are prepared with diverse ingredients but chuna and supari are constant items that are savored with a betel leaf. The other spices or ingredients wrapped in paan are a paste of catechu and water (kattha), sweet powder (a mix of sugar, powder rose leaves, perfumes, menthol and red food color, a mixture of vegetable and fruit powder (Heera Panna), dates (khajoor), grated saffron betel nut (kesari supari), green leaves (hara patta), aniseed (saunf), cardamom (Elaichi), etc.
The variety of Indian cuisine is immensely large and is characterized by vibrant colors and aromatic flavors. It offers the extremes of being fiery, hot and spicy or simple and mild in nature. In short, Indian cuisine has something for everyone to offer from its huge platter.