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Indian Cuisine

The cuisine of any place depends upon culture, religion, climate, geographical conditions and the people’s eating habits. India being a vast country having a number of geographical variations in terms of soil, rainfall, vegetation and a dense population of birds and animals. The geography of the region provides a fertile ground for crops, fruits and vegetables. Secondly, India is a melting pot of different cultures. Since time immemorial, people from different cultures have been coming to India. Along with them, they brought different food habits and cuisines to India. All these factors have resulted in a wide and rich variety of cuisines in India.

The religion plays an important role in the development of eating habits and food styles of the people. The Hindus are predominantly vegetarian and depend more on the milk and milk products. Jains and Buddhists also have similar preferences in the food. Historically, after the advent of Arab Muslim in India after 8th century A.D. and later the Mughals, the cuisine of India changed a lot. A variety of food preparations based on meat and flesh entered into the Indian kitchen. This holds true with coming of European settler in later centuries. Each settler either introduced new menus in the platter or came up with new preparations from the earlier products used in India. As a whole, Indian cuisine got enriched every time with new people and new culture settling on the Indian land

A number of causes were responsible for the people of far places coming to India. The causes varied from earlier foreign incursions as looters and plunderers to the later trading interests in Indian cotton, indigo and spices to simply forcing India to become a colony for serving the foreign interests. Indian spices were traded since time immemorial. The traders used to purchase spices from India and visit different places across Asia and Europe to sell Indian spices. In course of time these places were benefited a lot by Indian ways of preparations food using spices and aroma. On the other hand, the traders coming to India introduced altogether new food products. For example, when Portuguese came to India they introduced potato, which today has become so popular and staple food all over India. The Portuguese also introduced chillies and breadfruit to the Indian kitchen.

History

Present day Indian cuisine has evolved over a period of five millennia. The evolution took off from dairy and milk products to vegetarian food to non-vegetarian food. Today, the continental, Thai, Chinese and other cuisines have mixed with the Indian style and have given altogether a new form of food tastes having blend of original recipe with Indian touch. A number of fruits, vegetables, sweets, desserts, drinks and beverages have been added to India due to close connection with the world.

Antiquity

Predominantly vegetarian food like grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products combined with eggs and meat sometimes used to be the staple food for Indians since ancient times. During 6th and 5th century B.C. non-vegetarianism became the order of the day. A reform in religion swept away the Indian society to stop the animal slaughtering and so Buddhism and Jainism became popular because it imbibed element of non-violence in the religion. As a result a majority of population turned vegetarian. It is said that the great emperor King Ashoka banned animal and bird slaughter and allowed very limited non-vegetarian food even in his royal kitchen. Ancient school of medicine like Ayurveda even believed that – “so you become so you eat”. In other words, the food habits were classified into three categories viz. saatvic (boiled vegetarian food), raajsic (royal food having a mix of cuisines) and taamsic (strictly non-vegetarian food which makes a person violent also). During the same period consumption of cow-meat was strictly considered to be anti-religious and this belief is somewhat prevalent in present times also. Beef is a strict taboo in Indian Hindus belonging to upper caste. However, in some states like Kerela such taboo does not exist.

Middle Ages

India saw a golden age of its history during 5th and 6th century A.D. This was the time when India under the sway of Gupta dynasty saw great progresses in the field of art and architecture, science, mathematics and astronomy, language and literature. During the period, many international travelers came to India to study the Indian people here. These travelers came along with new culinary skills and techniques which stayed in India even after their departure. Tea and several spices were introduced in India during this period. Few centuries later tribes from Central Asia and Arabs invaded India. India saw the rise of Sultanate and Mughals. The invaders settled in India in course of time and gave rise to new culture along with cooking methods, cuisines and dishes. It was this time when Saffron came to be used for seasoning desserts and sweets.

Ingredients

India is rich in vegetation crops. A number of food grains, pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables are grown on Indian soil which is truly reflected in Indian cuisine. Staple food for Indians is invariably rice, wheat, pulses and edible oils. Eastern and Southern parts of India consume rice as their main food because rice is grown on a larger area and the climatic condition is congenial for the production of rice. On the other hand, Northern and Western parts of India like to consume wheat-flour as their basic food item. A variety of pulses and lentils are grown and consumed and are cheap source for protein. Some of the pulses grown in India are masoor (most often red lentils), toor (pigeon pea), urad (black gram), and moong (moong bean). These lentils are consumed whole or in split form. Some pulses, such as channa (chickpea), Rajma ( kidney beans), lobiya are widely consumed in the northern part of the country. A number of other products are made from processing these lentils like sattu ( Chickpea flour) and besan (mung –flour).

Regional variation could also be found in the medium in which the food items are cooked. The North and Eastern states of India prefer mustard oil as their main cooking oil while coconut oil is used extensively in the southern parts of the country. Groundnut oil is other popular cooking oil used in northern and western India. In recent times, sesame oil, sunflower seeds oil and soyabean oil have also become popular especially due to their healthy low cholesterol contents. Vanaspati ghee (hydrogenated vegetable oil) is used at some places but refined oil is substituting it slowly. Shudh desi ghee or pure butter-based ghee, traditionally used is still the most popular medium for preparing sweets in India.

Indian food could not be imagined without spices. The taste and aroma of the several spices make it different from the cuisines of other country. The inseparable spices in the Indian kitchen are red chilli, either whole or in powder form, black-pepper ( kaali mirch), turmeric (haldi), coriander (dhania), black mustard seed (sarso), cardamom (elaichi), cumin (jeera), asafoetida (hing), ginger (adrakh), and garlic (lehsun). In addition to it mix of spices or garam masala is also widely used in cooking vegetables and non-vegetarian food. Garam masala is prepared by mixing and grinding spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. Regional variation is found in preparation of even garam masala and each region change the proportion of spices according to their tastes. For seasoning and topping the food items, leaves of plants are used in dried form. The most popular ones are bay (tejpatta), coriander, fenugreek, and mint leaves. In Gujarati and South Indian dishes, the use of curry leaves is very common. Saffron and rose petals are specially used for topping sweet dishes in India.

Regional Cuisines

India is a big country in terms of geographical stretch and is called “nation of many nations”. There are various cultures, religion, tradition, food habits which co-exist side by side. As such the food crops also vary from one region to other depending upon the soil, climatic condition, water availability and taste developed in the people. Also, fruits and vegetables are seasonal and so the cuisines also reflect seasonal variation. Different cooking styles and recipes of different regions bring out a real variable taste of the same food items. For instance, curry of north India is different from the curry prepared in south India because of different use of spices, ingredients and proportion.

Beverages


Non Alcoholic Beverages

Among non-alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee, hot milk, cold lassi, sharbat and other variation of lime and soda are consumed. Tea is a common household drink and is consumed irrespective of the region and class differences across India. Some of the best quality tea is produced on the slopes of Assam and Darjeeling. The preparation of tea may vary from one place to other. Traditionally, tea is prepared by mixing milk, water, sugar and tea is boiled before serving. However, at some places spices like ginger, cardamom and cloves are also mixed to give an aroma and different taste to tea. Few tea-crazy people like to drink only liquor for their specific taste. They seldom mix milk or other spices. On the other hand, Coffee is grown mostly in the Western Ghats region of South India and so is more popular drink in that region. Slowly and gradually, it is becoming a popular beverage in North India too, especially in the metro cities and offices.

Lassi is Indian energy and health drink. This is very popular in India specially during summer season as it is served cool. While the base ingredient is curd or yogurt, a healthy food for stomach, addition of milk, sugar, salt and seasoned with dry fruits make it completely an energy drink. In remote areas of Punjab and villages of Gujarat, salty lassi is preferred.

Sharbat is another popular beverage served cool and is prepared from fruit extracts. Sometimes flower petals are also crushed in the preparation of sharbat. Sharbat when served concentrated, it gives a jelly like look and is eaten with spoon. It could also be diluted by adding water and sugar and could be drunk in this diluted form. Sharbats are prepared from a variety of fruits and flowers such as fruits like orange, bel , watermelon and orange or flower plants like rose, gurhal (hibiscus) and lemon. Indian tradition of medicine like Ayurveda also recommends sharbats to be good for health as they carry medicinal properties.

Other beverages, mostly derived from natural sources include chananch (salted and diluted yoghurt) hot milk seasoned with cuttings of dry fruits, coconut water and nimbu (lemon) pani (lemonade). "Panner Soda" or "Gholi Soda" are more popular in southern part of India and is a kind of cold drinks prepared from mixing carbonated water, rosewater, rose milk and sugar.

Alcoholic Beverages


Beer

Indian beers are mostly either lager having 4.8 % v/v alcohol content or strong lager with 7.8 % v/v alcohol content. Over the years, the demand for beers is increasing chiefly because of two reasons. First, population of youth is increasing and beer is very popular among them. Secondly, the financial position of the populace has increased due to which expenses on party and entertainment has gone up in the recent years. This is the reason why Indian beer industry has shown a robust growth compounding every year.

Others

Fenny, is a Goan alcoholic drink prepared from coconut juice or cashew apple juice. The recipe being unique to the state of Goa, it has applied under the category of geographical indicators to give its distilleries exclusive rights to produce liquor under the trade name "Fenny."

In some of tribal areas of Jharkhand, beer is prepared from rice. This is called “Hadia” in local language. It is made by adding some herbs with boiled starchy rice. The mixture is left for few weeks in pitcher so that fermentation takes place. The fermented liquid is then filtered and served cool. A similar preparation of alcoholic beverage, in the state of Tripura, is known by the name “Chuak”. “Neera” or wine made from sap extracted from flowers of various toddy palms, “Chhaang” in the regions of Sikkim and the hills of Darjeeling of West Bengal are other alcoholic drinks popular at the regional level. Chhaang is very near to traditional beer and brewed from barley, millet, or rice.

Eating Habits

Indians’ eating habits are little heavier as compared to the western societies. They like to eat healthy as well as stomach-stuffing diet. That is why their breakfast, lunch and dinner are rich in content as well as variety. The morning starts with a cup of tea or coffee. Breakfast is very important for the Indians. They take rotis, parathas, with fried or cooked vegetable along with curd or lassi (sweet yoghurt). Tea, coffee or a glass of milk generally accompanies the breakfast. However, there is considerable regional variation in the food items. Natives of western states of India viz. Gujarat and Maharashtra like to eat dhokla and milk while people from South India prefer idlis, vadas and dosas in their morning breakfast.

Lunch is generally heavy with addition of rice and few more vegetables specially in eastern and southern states. Wheat bread or rotis are preferred to rice in western and northern Indian states. In regions of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, even kulcha and naan replace traditional rotis and parathas. In eastern states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa, paan (betel leaves) are chewed after fulfilling lunch which helps in digestion process.

Dinner time is a very special time for Indians not only from the diet point of view but because that is the occasion when the whole family sit together, share their day experiences and relish food. ss 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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