Imagine the cuisine of a massive country with over a billion people, a heterogeneous cultural tradition, the influence of two major religions, and countless regional dialects and traditions. Think India. With a long, long history and incredible range, the food of India is among the best on the planet.
The cuisine of India is reflective of the intricacy of the civilization that gave birth to it. Cuisine in India is indeed an art form that runs like a thread through the generations. The regional diversity of Indian cuisine is far too considerable to digest as a whole here. Suffice to say that from one state to another, the appearance, aroma, color, and flavor of a dish can vary.
For Indians food is a gift of gods and is treated with respect. Based on agnatic medical precepts evolved over centuries of experimentation and observation, Indian food is aimed at nourishing the body and is pleasing to the mind and eyes. Ingredients of each meal are based on six rasas or flavors - sweet, salty, bitter, astringent, sour and pungent- each ingredient believed to have particular physical benefit on application of the right proportionate use.
Indian Cuisine is considered to be one of the three great distinctive Cuisines of the world, the other two being the Chinese and the French.
Indian cuisine aims to satisfy needs of the tongue and body, from sweet to sour, bitter or hot, from heating to cooling foods, from food for body to food for the brain. Within these parameters, each region has nurtured its own culinary tastes using different combination of spices. No country in the world has developed such elaborate and tasty range of vegetarian cuisine as India.
Indian cuisine is a blend of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian elements. Fruit, vegetables, grain, meat (excluding beef), fish, dairy products, and honey constituted a normal diet in Vedic
times. The end of Vedic period saw a the advent of Buddhism and later Jainism, and Indian cuisine was influenced by the principle of ahimsa or non-violence. Indian cuisine turned predominantly vegetarian and was embraced particularly by the priestly-class as they deemed a vegetarian diet to be superior. This was possible partly due to a very co-operative climate where a variety of fruits and vegetables can be easily grown throughout the year.
Over the centuries Indian cuisine has been influenced by the Arab and Chinese traders and conquerors such as the Persians, Mongolians, Turks, the British and the Portuguese.
By 3000 B.C. turmeric, cardamom, pepper and mustard were harvested in India. Rice was domesticated in the Ganges delta around the same period. According to the Ayurveda, food is either satvic, rajasic or tamasic according to its character and effect upon the body and the mind.
Islamic rule resulted in a blending of the non-vegetarian fare of the Middle East and the rich gravies that were indigenous to India, creating what is known as Mughlai cuisine. India was also introduced to kebabs and pilafs (or pulaos). The Mughals were great patrons of cooking. Lavish dishes were prepared during the reigns of Jahangir (1605-27) and Shah Jahan (1627-58). It was in this period that the Portuguese introduced vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes in India.
In the modern times, the Indian cuisine has evolved further both due to European influences, and indigenous innovations. Rasgulla was invented in 1868 in Kolkata. In the last century, the Indian fast food industry has seen rapid growth.
Staple ingredients and
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 (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or red gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Chana is used in different forms, may be whole or processed in a mill that removes the skin, eg dhuli moong or dhuli urad, and is sometimes mixed with rice and khichri (a food that is excellent for digestion and similar to the chick pea, but smaller and more flavorful). Pulses are used almost exclusively in the form of dal, except chana, which is often cooked whole for breakfast and is processed into flour (besan). Most Indian curries are fried in vegetable oil. In North India, mustard oil is traditionally been most popular for frying, while in Western India, groundnut oil is more commonly used. In South India, coconut 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.
Characteristic of all Indian cooking is the inspired use of spices. Immense care is taken to ensure that spices enhance rather than dominate the basic flavor and they do not diminish nutritive value.
The most important spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed
(rai), cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, coriander and asafoetida (hing). Another very important spice is garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprising cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Some leaves are commonly used like 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 rose petal essence are used.
While mutton, chicken and fish are common meats throughout the country, the order with which they make their appearances differs. In Kashmir, mutton is the chief attraction in the 24-course banquet, WAZWAN, each dish being cooked in a different way, separates one from the other. Of all coastal States in the country Goa, Kerala and Bengal Have culinary traditions with a preponderance of fish with Goa and Kerala making profuse use of coconuts. Goan seafood delights include Crab, lobsters, tiger prawns and shellfish, all accompanied by rice and Washed down with excellent wine and wermouth of local manufacture. Southern states are noted for its variety of crisp pancakes called ‘dosa’ and steamed rice cakes called ‘idli’ from pounded rice.
DAHI (CURD) is part of almost every Indian menu. Served to mitigate the chilly "hotness" of some dishes, it is often mixed with vegetable or fruit and is lightly spiced to create the 'RAITAS' of the north and the 'PACHADIS' of the south.
In many parts of the country, THALI meals are the norm. These largest platters contain up to a dozen dishes in individual servings consisting of meat chicken, vegetables - with gravy or dry, pulses accompaniments and widely served.
Some of India's best, evened culinary traditions are the TANDOORI cooking best known and loved. TANDOOR is the Indian oven, a homely clay lined cylinder filled with sizzling coals. Restaurants that serve Tandoori food often have a section where cooking is done by the simple expedient of wielding a metal stick. As the heat of the oven reaches 600 c. cooking time is counted in minutes and seconds. Tandoori meats use no oil and are normally accompanied by yogurt dips.
Some of India's best loved dishes are favorite of every family as for SARSON KA SAAG, prepared from green mustered leaves simmered all night long on a coal fire. It is available only in the winter. There are also the interesting dishes of the Parsis. 'DHANSAK' meat cooked with five different dais and an unusual blend of spices and 'PATRANI MACHT lightly spiced fish steamed in banana leaves, are just two examples.
Chutneys and pickles - sweet, sour or hot, or all three, whip the appetite and add relish to a meal. Every conceivable ingredient can be used: mint, coriander, mango, ginger and lime.
'PAPADS', roasted or fried savory crisps, are also popular meat adjuncts. Made of previously rolled and dried lentil or rice dough they provide the crunchiness considered essential to repast.
PAU BHAJI is a passion in Mumbai where roadside stalls have a cauldron of simmering vegetables, which are served with a bun.
BHELPURI in Mumbai and CHAAT in Delhi are roadside snaks of crunchy morsels tempered with piquant seasonings.
To describe INDIAN SWEET'S as merely being made of milk, reduced milk or cottage cheese and sugar syrup is an oversimplification of a highly specialized branch of cooking. Sweet traditions in Bengal, Bikaner and Delhi are famed throughout the country. Finally, there is the satisfying ritual of the after-meal PAN (BETEL), a must for any true connoisseur of Indian food. Lauded for its digestive and medicinal properties, it is a fragrant combination of Betal leaf, aerca nut, catechu, cardamom, clove and a choice of a whole host of other exotic ingredients of varying flavors, effects and strengths.
Non-alcoholic beverages include the countrywide favourite in NAMBU PAN a squeeze lime over sugar or salt served in water or soda. Yogurt and water are vigorously churned to make BUTTER MILK, a delicious accompaniment to Indian meals. Bottled fizzy drinks include various brands of indigenous lime, orange and cola.
Other FRUIT-BASED DRINKS-apple, guava, mango, tomato-are available in tetrapack and tins.
SODA and MINERAL WATER are also widely available. India's alcoholic beverages include gin and rum which are comparable to the finest internationally as well as whisky. India's dozens of brands of BEER encompass very good pilsners and largers available in bottles. Liquor is available at most restaurants especially those in hotels. It is either imported or made in India.
In addition there are local variations like ASHA and KASTOORI, the saffron liquor of Rajasthan and FENI, the strong brew of Goa usuallyavailable in the concerned States.
Although the local food of the region is available at many restaurants, the cuisine of Punjab has become standard Indian fare in most of the middle and high priced restaurants throughout the country. Similarly Udipi restaurants serve vegetarian South Indian cuisine all over India at low prices.
Every major hotel offers, a choice between INDIAN, CONTINENTAL, CHIENESE, ITALAIN and FRENCH delights in the speciality restaurants.
Western style confectionery-chocolates, cakes, cookies and "iarzipan are available in the pastry shop confectioneries in all metro cities,
TEA: The cup that cheers is a must for millions all over the world every rooming and Assam is a leader in production of tea.
Indian Tea Flavor of Darjeeling and Assam tea has reached across and in all continentals. Tea is an ideal beverage that files into the healthy way of life, tempers the Sprits, calms the mind, prevents drowsing, enlightens and refreshes the body and clears perceptive faculties. Tea is taken in various forms as a health giving drink with and without milk and sugar.
Easily available everywhere in India-on footpaths, from small restaurants to restaurants in five star hotels, bus depots, at taxi stands, railway stations, airports and at any place you name it.