Indian Cuisine – Your Path to a Better You!

Indian cuisine encompasses a wide variety of regional cuisines native to India. Given the range of diversity in soil type, climate and occupations, these cuisines vary significantly from each other and use locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruits.  Indian food is also heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices.

The development of these cuisines has been shaped by Hindu and Jain beliefs, in particular vegetarianism which is a common dietary trend in Indian society.  There has also been Arab influence on North Indian cuisine from the years of Mughal and Delhi Sultanate rule.

Indian cuisine has been and is still evolving, as a result of the nation’s cultural interactions with other societies.  Historical incidents such as foreign invasions, trade relations and colonialism have also played a role in introducing certain foods to the country. For instance, potato, a staple of North Indian diet was brought to India by the Portuguese, who also introduced chilies and breadfruit.

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Indian cuisine has also shaped the history of international relations, the spice trade between India and Europe is often cited by historians as the primary catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery.  Spices were bought from India and traded around Europe and Asia. It has also influenced other cuisines across the world, especially those from Southeast Asia, the British Isles and the Caribbean.

Indian cuisine reflects a 5000-year history of various groups and cultures interacting with the subcontinent, leading to diversity of flavors and regional cuisines found in modern-day India. Later British and Portuguese influence added to the already diverse Indian Cuisine.

The beginnings of Indian Cuisine lie with the ancient Indian civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.  Since then, Indian Food has been influenced by a number of factors and each of these has made the food of India known the world over.

Experience yourself the diverse and wonderful dishes and experiment with cooking and tasting some of the most popular food recipes of the various regions of India. Hindu culture has a distinct style of cooking and eating.

The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (a special type of whole wheat flour), and at least five dozen varieties of pulses, the most important of which are chana, toor, urad, and mung.  Chana is used in different forms, may be whole or processed in a mill that removes the skin. Most Indian curries are fried in vegetable oil, however many substitutes can be used such as coconut oil or even mustard seed oil.

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The most important spices in Indian cuisine are the chili pepper, black mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, coriander and hing.  Another very important spice is garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more spices comprising of cardamom, cinnamon and clove.  Some leaves that are widely used is the bay leaf, coriander leaf, and mint leaf.  Typically in south Indian cuisine, curry leaves are used commonly.  In sweet dishes, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron and essence of rose petal are used.

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Indian Chinese cuisine originated in the 19th century among the Chinese community of Calcutta, during the immigration of Hakka Chinese from Canton (present-day Guangzhou) seeking to escape the Opium Wars and political instability in the region. Exposure to local Indian cuisine, they incorporated many spices and cooking techniques into their own cuisine, thus creating a unique fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisine.

After 1947, many Cantonese immigrants fleeing political repression under Mao Zedong, opened their own restaurants in Calcutta, whose dishes combined aspects of Indian cuisine with Cantonese cuisine. Indian Chinese cuisine is heavily derived from traditional Chinese cuisine, it bears little resemblance to its Chinese counterpart. The dishes tend to be flavored with cumin, coriander seeds, and turmeric, which with a few regional exceptions, are not traditionally associated with Chinese cuisine. Chili, ginger, garlic and yogurt are also frequently used in dishes.

 

Popular dishes include Chicken Manchurian, Chicken lollipop, Chili chicken, Hakka noodles, Hunan chicken, and Szechwan fried rice. Soups such as man chow soup and sweet corn soup are very popular, whereas famous desserts include ice cream on honey-fried noodles and date pancakes. Indians consider a healthy breakfast (known in North India as nashta) important. They generally prefer to drink tea or coffee with breakfast, though food preferences vary regionally. North Indian people prefer roti, parathas, and a vegetable dish, accompanied by achar (pickles) and some curd. People of western India prefer dhokla and milk and South Indians prefer idlis and dosas, generally accompanied by various chutneys.

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Lunch in India usually consists of a main dish of rice in the south and east, or whole wheat rotis in the north and west. It typically includes two or three kinds of vegetables, and sometimes items such as kulcha, naan, or parathas. Along with dessert, paan (betel leaves), which aid digestion, are often eaten after lunch in parts of India. Indian families often gather for “evening breakfast,” similar to tea time to talk, drink tea and eat snacks. Dinner is considered as the main meal of the day.

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There are many dietary restrictions that people follow based on the religion or faith they profess. Muslims in India do not eat pork and many Hindu communities consider beef taboo. Since it is believed that Hindu scriptures condemn cow slaughter, beef consumption has been banned in many states in India. Followers of the Swaminarayan sect do not eat garlic and onions because they are advised against it in the Vachanamrut. Jains follow a strict form of vegetarianism, known as Jain vegetarianism, which in addition to being completely vegetarian, also excludes potatoes and other root vegetables because when the root is pulled up, organisms that live around the root also die.

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Traditionally, meals in India were eaten while seated either on the floor or on very low stools or cushions. Food is most often eaten with the right hand rather than cutlery. Often roti is used to scoop curry without allowing it to touch the hands. In the wheat-producing north, a piece of roti is gripped with the thumb and middle finger and ripped off while holding the roti down with the index finger. Traditional serving styles vary regionally throughout India. Contact with other cultures has affected Indian dining etiquette. For example, the Anglo-Indian middle class commonly uses spoons and forks, as is traditional in Western culture.

In South India, cleaned banana leaves, which can be disposed of after meals, are used for serving food. When hot food is served on banana leaves, the leaves add distinctive aromas and taste to the food. Leaf plates are less common today, except on special occasions.


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