The Food Of India

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Indian food is so incredibly varied and is well known for producing unbelievable flavour combinations. Some being tangy, spicy, creamy, rich, subtle, pungent, mild or hot and more! Some of us might associate Indian food as "curry", but the fact is it incorporates a range of dishes made up of different combinations of spices and herbs. It encompasses a broad category that contains a lot of different cultural and historical points. So, let's clarify what's going on with this whole myth of curry!

"Curry" is not a word in India. No Indian would ever really refer to an Indian dish with gravy or sauce as a "curry," because the word isn’t even in the language. Curry to most people is a rich, flavourful gravy which has vegetables or meat. British culture generically labelled the term used to describe any dish in Indian cuisine. Curry powder, which doesn’t exist in Indian cooking, is equally a part of that narrative.

There are a few specific dishes in India whose names sound like "curry." One is "Kadhi," and another is "Kari." Both of them are sauce like dish with a gravy. Allegedly the British did not grasp these were names for those specific dishes, assuming all dishes containing gravy were referred to as "curries." This created an entire new category of Indian cuisine. As a result, Westerners were introduced to the idea that all dishes with a sauce from India were referred to that way.

Indian cuisine reflects an 8,000-year history of various groups and cultures interacting with the subcontinent, leading to diversity of flavours and regional cuisines. Foreign invasions, trade relations and colonialism have played a role in introducing certain foods to the country. For instance, potatoes and cauliflower were brought to India by the British. The Portuguese introduced chillies and breadfruit. Indian cuisine has shaped the history of international relations; the spice trade between India and the rest of the world was paramount in shaping what we now eat today.

The Food Of India

Eating

In India, meals are traditionally brought to the table on a large serving platter called a thali. Thali is a Hindi word meaning "a large plate." However, in recent years the meaning of the term has expanded. Now, it’s a commonly used expression for a style of eating. Thali the meal refers to many different dishes served in small bowls (called katori), arranged on a platter. Platters can also have small, divided sections built into the stainless-steel serving ware. Dhal, vegetables, flatbreads, rice, pickle, salad, and dessert are often included. Thali at restaurants, festivals and weddings are generally a set meal with an "all you can eat" philosophy. Waiters will continuously serve you until you are full!

Customarily, meals in India were either eaten seated on the floor, or on very low stools or cushions. Food is most often eaten with the right hand rather than using cutlery. Some Indians today adopt a spoon and fork, but when it comes to flatbreads- naan, chapati, paratha or roti is used to scoop up a meal.

In South India, cleaned banana leaves are used as a plate, which can be disposed of or fed to cattle after the meal. When hot food is served on banana leaves, they add distinctive aroma and taste to the food. Leaf plates are especially common at celebratory occasions.

Drinks

Drinks are particularly important in India, where temperatures regularly top 40 degrees Celsius in the spring and summer months. Many Indians start their day with a cup of chai, a tea flavoured milk with spices and sugar. Cooler drinks include fresh lemonades, coconut water and lassi, a yogurt (and sometimes fruit) based beverage blended with spices. India’s own selection of alcoholic drinks include palm wine, whiskey and beer, the most iconic brand being Kingfisher.

Cooking Equipment

  • Gas or electric stoves

  • Spice grinder or mortar and pestle

  • Heavy frying pan

  • Saucepan

  • Pressure cooker

  • Tandoor oven  

  • Karahi/Kadai

Ingredients

Staple foods of Indian cuisine include rice, wholemeal flour, lentils, peas and mung beans. Lentils may be consumed whole, husked or even split and are used daily in a variety of ways. Some pulses such as chickpeas, kidney beans and black-eyed peas are very common in the north. Besan, a type of flour made from chickpeas is widely used throughout India.

Many Indian dishes are cooked in vegetable oil, but ghee (clarified butter) is popular in northern India, mustard oil in the east, and coconut oil along the south west coast, especially in Kerala. Many types of meat are used for Indian cooking, but chicken, goat and lamb tend to be the most common. Fish and seafood consumption is prevalent in some parts of India, but aren’t widely consumed except for coastal areas.

The most important and frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli, black mustard seed, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, asafoetida, ginger, coriander, and garlic. Some leaves commonly used for flavouring include bay, coriander, fenugreek, and mint. The use of curry leaves for flavouring is typical of Gujarati and South Indian cuisine. The sweet dishes are often seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose water.

Indian meals also feature a range of accompaniments to add textures such as nuts or dry fish. Chutney, fruits and pickles enhance flavour with tang and salt. Raitas and yoghurt (fresh curd) have a cooling effect on spicy dishes.

Regional Food

In a country with 28 states and hundreds of languages, cuisine differs across India's diverse regions. Variations in local culture, geographic location and economics all have an impact. Food also changes seasonally, depending on which fruits or vegetables are ripe and what proteins and herbs are available. The main features and differences between North and South Indian Cuisine are:

North 

  • Rich meat dishes accompanied by breads such as naan, roti, chapati, parathas
  • Fried street foods like samosas, pakoras or kebabs
  • Spices including garam masala and amchur (dried mango powder)
  • Use of yoghurt and other dairy products
  • Fenugreek, bay and coriander leaves
  • The use of a tandoor oven
  • Middle eastern influences

South

  • Rice, lentils and stews
  • Rice or lentil-based breads/pancakes such as dosa, idlis and vada
  • Tamarind and sambar powder
  • Fresh or dried curry leaves
  • Seafood and fish
  • Coconut and coconut milk
  • Sometimes the use of beef or pork in Christian communities
  • Whole mustard seeds are common

Religious Diets

In India people often follow dietary restrictions based on their religion or faith. Here are a few examples.

  • Beef is taboo in Hindu communities. Cows are believed to be ‘holy’, providing various items including dairy (milk, yoghurt, butter, ghee, cream and cheese), transport/labour and dung for fuelling fires, fertiliser and building materials.
  • Islam faith does not allow the consumption of pork or alcohol. Halal products must be derived from animals and/or poultry that have been prepared according to Islamic law.
  • Buddhist’s aim to avoid harming any living thing, which leads to a mostly vegetarian diet.
  • Sikhs will exclude from their diet: eggs, fish and any ingredients with animal derivatives or cooked in animal fat. Dairy produce is acceptable providing it is free from animal fat.
  • Some temple diets are free from garlic, onion or any other stimulants like caffeine in attempt to calm the body, encouraging a meditative state.

Food Outside Of India

Indian migration has spread culinary traditions of the subcontinent throughout the world. Indian cuisine has been adapted to local tastes, sometimes sparking creations of entirely new dishes. Chicken tikka masala, kedgeree and butter chicken from Australia or the UK are great examples.

The Food Of India

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