Indian food reflects the culinary heritage of India, a country with cooking traditions as vast and diverse as the cultures that prevail in the Indian subcontinent. The use of aromatic herbs, flavorful spices and a vast variety of vegetables, grains and lentils is evident in Indian food, be it a two-minute snack or an elaborate meal. Rice, wheat and pulses are considered staples in the Indian cuisine. The ingredients and cooking methods are different in each part of the country. Indian food is highly popular in most parts of the world. Indian cuisine is ranked amongst the top 10 cuisines of the world by most food critics owing to its impressive diversity and dishes with compelling tastes. Indian Biryani, Samosa, Raita (a class of accompaniment dishes made with vegetables, fruits or crunchy fried preparations in a curd base), Palak Paneer( Spinach and cottage cheese gravy), and Tandoori Roti ( Indian bread baked in an Indian-styled oven called the tandoor) are some of the Indian dishes that have gained worldwide popularity.
Classification of the Indian Cuisine
Indian food can be classified under various categories, which is mainly done on the basis of geographic location, as the cooking styles and food vary across different regions. Based on geographical classification into four parts, here is a brief summary of various types of Indian food.
North Indian Food
North Indian cuisine includes sub-cuisines such as Punjabi, Awadhi, Kashmiri and Rajasthani cuisines. Due to the influence of the Mughals, various types of kebabs and Mughlai Indian curries are also prepared in Northern India.
East Indian Food
Sweets and desserts are the most famous East Indian recipes. East Indian food comprises of dishes from the Bengali cuisine, along with the sub cuisines of Assam and Orissa. Poppy seeds are used extensively, with fish and rice being part of the staple diet.
Western Indian Food
The Western Indian cuisine refers to the food from states like Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat. This covers coastal areas as well as some hilly regions, due to which there is a wide variety of dishes prepared in this region. The Goanese Vindaloo, the Maharashtrian Bhel Puri, the bati choorma of Rajasthan, and dhokla of Gujrat are some of the most popular dishes of this region.
South Indian food
South Indian cuisine refers to the cuisine of Chennai, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Fresh coconut and coconut oil is widely used in preparing different types of dishes, ranging from snacks and breakfast items like dosa and idlis to main course preparations and desserts. Coconut chutney is also a popular South Indian food preparation which is served with most of the snacks as a side dish. Andhra cuisine also includes dishes like biryanis and kormas, which were introduced to them by the Muslims during their reign.
Historical and Cultural Influences on Indian Food
Indian food, although originally evolving from the Aryan and Dravidian cuisines, is hugely influenced by other cuisines such as the Moghul, European, Asian, Mongolian, Persian and Portuguese, who once had their colonies in different parts of India, or used to trade spices and ingredients with India. Hence there is a vast variety of ingredients and cooking techniques used in preparing Indian food.
Commonly Used Ingredients and Cooking Methods in Preparing Indian Food.
The main ingredients used for making Indian food are wheat flour and rice which are staples, along with herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, chili powder, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and mustard. North Indian food is characterized by the usage of rich ingredients such as ghee, cream and other dairy products, along with the usage of spices. Mustard seeds, poppy seeds and Panch Phoron spice mix are the essential components of the East Indian Food. Rice and fish form a part of staple diet in South and Western coastal regions such as Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra, whereas Jowar and Bajra are consumed in the hilly areas in the northwest. Gujarati cuisine mainly focuses on vegetarian dishes. Although the ingredients are pretty much similar, the method of preparation varies a lot between different states.
Globally Popular Indian Foods
Certain Indian Recipes have become famous throughout the world, and Indians have prepared and popularized these culinary preparations wherever they have gone. Some of these hugely popular Indian dishes include:
• Tandoori Chicken – Spiced chicken baked in Indian Tandoor.
• Dum Biryani – Traditional meat and rice preparation.
• Palak Paneer – Cottage cheese cooked in spinach gravy.
• Mutton Rogan Josh – Kashmiri gravy-based mutton dish.
• Chicken Tikka – Marinated chunks of boneless chicken cooked over burning coal.
• Dal Makhni – Black lentils cooked with cream and flavored with garlic and cashew paste.
• Chaat – Spicy, sweet and sour Indian street food.
• Samosa – Fried Indian snack made by filling potatoes inside rolled refined flour dough, which is deep fried.
• Naan – Indian flatbread made by baking in a Tandoor.
Traditional Indian Food
Traditional North Indian Food
• Indian Breads such as Roti, Paratha, Bhatura and Kulcha which are made using wheat flour or refined flour, and sometimes a mixture of both.
• Meat- Chicken and Mutton is mostly used to make dishes such as Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, Mutton Curry and chicken or mutton biryani.
• Snacks- Samosa, Pakoda, Bhujiya, Chaat and Kachori are various snacks consumed by North Indians. Most of these are shallow or deep-fried.
• Condiments- Achaar (Pickle), Chutney and Murabba are prepared and consumed across North India. The ingredients used are different types of fruits and vegetables.
• Beverages – Apart from tea, Sharbat, a drink in Juice or Cordial form, made using fruits or flowers is also served.
• Sweets( Mithai)- Laddu, halwa, Barfi, Gulab Jamun, Peda are sweets consumed as desserts in North India.
Traditional South Indian Food
• Rice is eaten as a staple food, along with Rasam and Sambar, made using lentils and vegetables, which are popular South Indian recipes
• Curries – Kozhumbu, Eggplant Podi Curry and Cochin Masala curry are consumed across Southern India.
• Breakfast – South Indian snacks include Vada, Puri bajji, Aloo Bonda, Idli, Upma, most of which are prepared using rice and wheat flour.
• Meals- Bisbela Bath, Pongal, Tomato Bath, Puliyogarai are popular meal items in the South Indian cuisine.
Traditional Western Indian Food
• Coastal areas include rice as a staple, with dishes like Khichdi and Masala bhat as the traditional main courses, whereas flatbreads such as Thepla and Bajre ki Roti are the tradition in the hilly and non-coastal regions.
• Puran Poli, Bhakri, Vada Pav, Pav Bhaji, Thepla, Dhokla, Ambotik, Balchao and Amti are some of the popular Western Indian recipes.
Traditional Eastern Indian Food
• Rice forms a part of the staple diet, and is eaten along with fish curry or lentils and various vegetable preparations such as Sukto, Dalma and Jhol.
• Snacks usually comprise of puffed or pressed rice preparations and bhajas.
• World famous Indian sweets that come from the Bengali cuisine include Mishti Doi, Rosogolla, Jalebi, Kheeri, Sandesh, Rajbhog, Rasabali and Cham Cham.
Special/ Festival Indian Food
• Aloo Kachori – Flour puffs stuffed with spicy potato mixture and then fried deeply.
• Besan Barfi – a sweet made with gram flour
• Imarti – also known as Emarti or Jaangiri, this is a visually appealing sweet made by making patterns of urad dal batter in oil, deep frying it and then soaking in sugar syrup.
• Handvo – A Gujrati savory dish resembling a cake made of a mixture of different varieties of gram and toovar dals.
• Aloo Posto – a traditional Bengali savory dish made of potato and poppy seed gravy served as an accompaniment to rice
• Khichodi – also known as khichri, it is a Bengali traditional main course dish made of rice and dal( often moong dal)
• Misti Doi – this dish consists of curd sweetened with jaggery or sugar and often savored as a dessert
• Luchi – a traditional Bengali flatbread made of wheat which assumes an inflated ball-like form on deep- frying in edible oil. It is served as a main course dish along with alu dum (spicy potato curry) or khajur chutney( a sweet sour chutney made of dates)
• Mochar Dalna – a Bengali traditional spicy stir-fried accompaniment dish made with banana flower
• Ada Pradhamam – a sweet dessert stew( locally called payasam) made of rice batter(ada) in a coconut milk base ( pradhamam). Cardamom enhances the flavor of this festive dish while raisins and cashews are tasty inclusions to the basic recipe.
• Keerai Kootu – a traditional dal made with spinach and Pigeon pea, served as an accompaniment dish from the Kerela cuisine
• Vazhakkai Pulikulambu – a traditional Chettinadu( one of the regions of Tamil Nadu) savory green banana stew served as an accompaniment dish to rice.
• Mango Pulisheri – a delicious dish made with ripe mango in yogurt base and tempered with seasonings usually served as an accompaniment to rice or roti
• Nippattu – a savory crispy crunchy fried snack food made of rice flour and gram dal from the Kannada cuisine.
Gourmet Indian Food
Indian Food comprises of a wide range of gourmet food from different regions of the country. Some of the popular ones are listed as below:
• Malai Kofta – essentially creamy vegetable balls in a spicy gravy served as an accompaniment to rice or roti
• Paneer paratha – Indian flatbread stuffed with a savory mixture of cottage cheese , spices and seasonings , served as a main course item for a meal with a curd-based accompaniment dish.
• Khajoor Biscuits – dessert biscuits made of dates
• Mutton Korma – a spicy and savory curry made of lamb meat served as an accompaniment to rice or roti.
• Kalakand – also known as Qalakand, is a dessert dish made of cottage cheese ( chenna) and milk.
Major Everyday Indian Recipes
Rotis and puris are the everyday main course Indian foods, Snacks such as Samosas, along with Tea are consumed in Northern India. Pav bhaji is an everyday dish of Western India. Fish curry with rice is a traditional Bengali staple. Rice with rasam or sambaar and curd are everyday meal dishes of Southern India.
Indo-Chinese cuisine is highly popular in India, especially as fast food. Dishes like Chowmein, Chilly chicken and Spring Rolls can be found in most restaurants, although they are spicier and more Indian that authentic Chinese ones.
Indian Food and Diet Routine
Indian food cannot be categorized under a single central cuisine of the country. The Indian cuisine is a conceptual amalgamation of different regional cuisines which have their own meal routines, each different from the other. There are stark differences in the items included in the menus of the individual sub-cuisines. Broadly, the Northern and Western Indians prefer to include Indian recipes made of wheat or cereals, like the various Indian breads as main course meals. These are accompanied with savory vegetable, cottage cheese, meat or dal (lentils dish) accompaniment dishes. The South and Eastern Indians, on the other hand tend to prefer rice or rice recipes to breads, though the latter foods are also commonly included in the meals. Fish, vegetable and meat dishes are served as accompaniments to the main course food. The South Indian foods are characterized by their unique combination of spicy and tangy flavors.
Snacks and appetizers include dishes like Samosa, Idly, Vada, Pani Puri and Kachori. In the main course, various types of vegetable and meat preparations such as Matter Paneer, Aloo Gobhi, Butter Chicken, Mutton Rogan Josh, Matter Paneer and Fish Curry are prepared, which are eaten with Roti, Naan, Puri, Paratha (Indian flatbreads) or boiled and steamed rice. Desserts range from Gulab Jamun and Jalebi to Rosgolla and Sandesh.
Indian Food Habits and Etiquette
Vegetarianism is followed in most parts of India. And the traditional way to eat food using the hands is popular. In South India, the meal is traditionally served on a banana leaf.
Places Famous for Indian Foods
Delhi is famous for its Mughlai cuisine, with Karim’s in Old Delhi being one of the best places to eat delectable Mughlai preparations. Hyderabad is also famous for its Biryani and Hyderabad House is one of the best places one can expect to get good Hyderabadi Biryani.
Popular Chefs of Indian Cuisine
Sanjeev Kapoor is one of India’s most famous chefs, who had revolutionized the concept of cooking in India by starting a television show. Other popular Indian culinary experts include Vikas Khanna, Madhur Jafferey and Tarla Dalal.
Health Benefits of Indian Foods
Indian food preparations are prepared using a variety of herbs and spices, most of which are known to have health benefits. Medicinal herbs are also used to prepare foods which can cure certain ailments.
Indian Food Restrictions
The usage of beef as an ingredient is prohibited in most parts of India, as the Hindus consider the cow to be a sacred animal. Muslims eat beef, but refrain from eating pork due to their religious beliefs.
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