Cuisine of India
The cuisine of India is characterised by its sophisticated and subtle use of many spices and vegetables grown across India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism across its society. Considered by some to be one of the world's most diverse cuisines, each family of this cuisine is characterised by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. As a consequence, Indian cuisine varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse Indian subcontinent.
India's religious beliefs and culture has played an influential role in the evolution of its cuisine. However, cuisine across India also evolved due to the subcontinent's large-scale cultural interactions with neighboring Persia, ancient Greece, Mongols and West Asia, making it a unique blend of various cuisines across Asia. The colonial period introduced European cooking styles to India adding to its flexibility and diversity. Indian cuisine has also influenced cuisines across the world, especially those from South East Asia.
History and influences
As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling through many millennia, India's cuisine has benefited from numerous food influences. The diverse climate in the region, ranging from deep tropical to alpine, has also helped considerably broaden the set of ingredients readily available to the many schools of cookery in India. In many cases, food has become a marker of religious and social identity, with varying taboos and preferences (for instance, a segment of the Jain population consume no roots or subterranean vegetable; see Jain vegetarianism) which has also driven these groups to innovate extensively with the food sources that are deemed acceptable.
One strong influence over Indian foods is the longstanding vegetarianism within sections of India's Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities. People who follow a strict vegetarian diet make up 20–42% of the population in India, while less than 30% are regular meat-eaters.
Masala dosa served in a restaurant in southern India. Indian cuisine is characterized by the widespread practice of vegetarianism across India's populace.
Around 7000 BC, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley. By 3000 BC, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in India. Many recipes first emerged during the initial Vedic period, when India was still heavily forested and agriculture was complemented with game hunting and forest produce. In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products and honey. Over time, some segments of the population embraced vegetarianism, due to ancient Hindu philosophy of ahimsa. This practice gained more popularity following the advent of Buddhism and a cooperative climate where variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains could easily be grown throughout the year. A food classification system that categorised any item as saatvic, raajsic or taamsic developed in Ayurveda. Each was deemed to have a powerful effect on the body and the mind
Later, invasions from Central Asia, Arabia, the Mughal empire, and Persia, and others had a deep and fundamental effect on Indian cooking. Influence from traders such as the Arab and Portuguese diversified subcontinental tastes and meals. As with other cuisines, Indian cuisine has absorbed the new-world vegetables such as tomato, chilli, and potato, as staples. These are actually relatively recent additions.
Islamic rule introduced rich gravies, pilafs and non-vegetarian fare such as kebabs, resulting in Mughlai cuisine (Mughal in origin), as well as such fruits as apricots, melons, peaches, and plums. The Mughals were great patrons of cooking. Lavish dishes were prepared during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The Nizams of Hyderabad state meanwhile developed and perfected their own style of cooking with the most notable dish being the Biryani, often considered by many connoisseurs to be the finest of the main dishes in India.
During this period the Portuguese and British introduced foods from the New World such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilies and cooking techniques like baking.
A typical assortment of spices and herbs used in Indian cuisineThe staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), chana (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Pulses may be used whole, dehusked, for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad, or split. Pulses are used extensively in the form of dal (split). Some of the pulses like chana and "Mung" are also processed into flour (besan).
Most Indian curries are fried in vegetable oil. In North and West India, groundnut oil has traditionally been most popular for frying, while in Eastern India, Mustard oil is more commonly used. In South India, coconut oil and Gingelly Oil is common. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity all over India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is also a popular cooking medium that replaces Desi ghee (clarified butter).
The most important/frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing, perungayam), ginger (adrak, inji), and garlic (lassan, poondu). Popular spice mixes are garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprised of cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Every region has its own blend of Garam Masala. Goda Masala is a popular spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves are commonly used like tejpat (cassia leaf), coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves is typical of all South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, and rose petal essence are used.
The term "curry" is usually understood to mean "gravy" in India, rather than "spices."
Popularity and influence outside India
Chicken tikka, a well-known dish across the globe, reflects the amalgamation of Indian cooking styles with those from Central AsiaIndian cuisine is one of the most popular cuisines across the globe. The cuisine is popular not only among the large Indian diaspora but also among the mainstream population of North America and Europe. In 2003, there were as many as 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine in the United States alone. A survey held in 2007 revealed that more than 1,200 Indian food products have been introduced in the United States since 2000. According to Britain's Food Standards Agency, Indian food industry in the United Kingdom is worth £3.2 billion, accounts for two-thirds of all eating out and serves about 2.5 million British customers every week. Chicken tikka masala is often hailed as "Britain's national dish" replacing the iconic status previously held by fish and chips. There are now 8,000 Indian restaurants in Britain, employing 70,000 workers.
Butter Chicken, also known as Murgh Makhani, is a popular dish in Western countries and Arab worldApart from Europe and North America, Indian cuisine is popular in South East Asia too because of its strong historical influence on the region's local cuisines. Indian cuisine has had considerable influence on Malaysian cooking styles and also enjoys strong popularity in Singapore. Indian influence on Malay cuisine dates back to 19-century. Other cuisines which borrow Indian cooking styles include Vietnamese cuisine, Indonesian cuisine and Thai cuisine. Spread of vegetarianism in other parts of Asia is often credited to ancient Indian Buddhist practices. Indian cuisine is also fairly popular in the Arab world because of its similarity and influence on Arab cuisine.
The popularity of curry, which originated in India, across Asia has often led to the dish being labeled as the "pan-Asian" dish. Curry's international appeal has also been compared to that of pizza. Though the tandoor did not originate in India, Indian tandoori dishes, such as chicken tikka made with Indian ingredients, enjoy widespread popularity. Historically, Indian spices and herbs were one of the most sought after trade commodities. The spice trade between India and Europe led to the rise and dominance of Arab traders to such an extent that European explorers, such as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, set out to find new trade routes with India leading to the Age of Discovery.