Indian cuisine is distinguished by its sophisticated use of spices, herbs, and the influence of the longstanding and widespread practice of vegetarianism within sections of the Hindu community in Indian society.
Food is an integral part of India's culture, with cuisines differing according to community, region, and state. Indian cuisine is characterized by a great variety of foods, spices, and cooking techniques. Furthermore, each religion, region, and caste has left its own influence on Indian food. Many recipes first emerged when India was predominantly inhabited by Vedic Hindus. Later, Christians, British, Buddhists, Portuguese, Muslims from Turkey, Arabia, Mughal, and Persia, and others had their influence as well. Vegetarianism came to prominence during the rule of Ashoka, one of the greatest of Indian rulers who was a promoter of Buddhism. In India, food, culture, religion, and regional festivals are all closely related. Indian meat and fish cuisine is mostly influenced by the Muslim population.
Around 6000 BC, sesame, eggplant, humped cattle and chicken had been domesticated in the Indus Valley. By 3000 BC, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in India.
In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, grain, meat, fish, dairy products and honey. Over time, the priestly Brahmin caste embraced vegetarianism, which is facilitated by a cooperative climate where a variety of fruits and vegetables can easily be grown throughout the year.
Over the centuries Indian cuisine has been influenced by traders such as the Arabs and Chinese, and invaders such as the Persians, Mongols, Turks, British and Portuguese. The tomato, chilli, and potato, which are staple components of today's Indian cuisine, are relatively recent additions. They came to India from America through Europe.
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 introduced foods from the New World such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilies.
In the last century, the Indian slow food industry has seen rapid growth.
The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (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, and may be used 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, groundnut oil is traditionally been most popular for frying, while in Eastern India, Mustard 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.
The most important spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), 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 comprised of cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Some leaves are commonly used like bay leaf, coriander leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves is typical of South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, and rose petal essence are used.
North Indian cuisine is distinguished by the higher proportion-wise use of dairy products; milk, paneer (cottage cheese), ghee (clarified butter), and yoghurt are all common ingredients, compared to that of southern India, where milk products, though consumed in large quantities, are usually used unaltered. North Indian gravies are typically dairy-based and employ thickening agents such as cashew or poppy seed paste. Milk-based sweets are also very popular fare, being a particular specialty in Bengal and Orissa. Other common ingredients include chilies, saffron, and nuts.
North Indian cooking features the use of the "tawa" (griddle) for baking flat breads like roti and paratha, and "tandoor"(a large and cylindrical coal-fired oven) for baking breads such as naan, kulcha and khakhra; main courses like tandoori chicken also cook in the tandoor. Other breads like puri and , which are deep fried in oil, are also common. Most of North Indian food, like anywhere else in India, is vegetarian. However, fish and seafood are very popular in the coastal states of Orissa and West Bengal.
The samosa is a typical North Indian snack. These days it is common to get it in other parts of India as well. The most common (and authentic) samosa is filled with boiled, fried, and mashed potato, although it is possible to find other fillings.
The staple food of most of North India is a variety of lentils, vegetables, and roti. The varieties used and the method of preparation can vary from place to place. Some of the most popular Northern Indian dishes include: Buknu, , chaat, , jalebi, , several types of pickles (known as achar), , sharbat, , , and Poha.
Some common North Indian foods such as the samosa, the various kebabs, pulao, and most of the meat dishes arrived in India with the Muslim invaders. Much of North and South Indian nonvegetarian cuisine as well as Pakistani cuisine originates from Middle Eastern cuisine
The countries known as Pakistan and Bangladesh were a part of North and East India prior to the partition of India. As a result, the cuisines in these countries are very similar to northern and eastern Indian cuisine.
South Indian cuisine is distinguished by a greater emphasis on rice as the staple grain, the liberal use of coconut and curry leaves particularly coconut oil, and the ubiquity of sambar and rasam (also called saaru) at meals.
South Indian cooking is even more vegetarian-friendly than north Indian cooking. The practice of naivedya, or ritual offerings, to Krishna at the Krishna Mutt temple in Udipi, Karnataka, has led to the Udipi style of vegetarian cooking. The variety of dishes which must be offered to Krishna forced the cooks of the temple to innovate. Traditional cooking in Udupi Ashtamatha is characterized by the use of local seasonal ingredients. Garam masala is generally avoided in South Indian cuisine.
the south indian cuisine is not limited to the above snacks which are very popular. the andhra food, the chettinad food, the hyderabadi nawabi styles, the mangalorean style and the kerala foods add a totally new dimension to the cuisine. all of them having a distinct taste and methods of cooking.
Britain has a particularly strong tradition of Indian cuisine that originates from the British Raj. At this time there were a few Indian restaurants in the richer parts of London that catered to British officers returning from their duties in India.
In the 20th century there was a second phase in the development of Anglo-Indian cuisine, as families from countries such as Bangladesh migrated to London to look for work. Some of the earliest such restaurants were opened in Brick Lane in the East End of London, a place that is still famous for this type of cuisine.
In the 1960s, a number of inauthentic "Indian" foods were developed, including the widely popular "chicken tikka masala". This tendency has now been reversed, with subcontinental restaurants being more willing to serve authentic Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani food, and to show their regional variations. In the late twentieth century Birmingham was the centre of growth of Balti houses, serving a newly developed style of cooking in a large, wok-like, pan, with a name sometimes attributed to the territory of Baltistan, (however, the Hindi word for bucket is also Balti). Indian food is now integral to the British diet: indeed it has been argued that Indian food can be regarded as part of the core of the British cuisine.
After the Immigration Act of 1965, South Asian immigration to the United States increased, and with it the prevalence of Indian cuisine, especially in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, the New York City neighborhoods of Murray Hill, Jackson Heights and East 6th Street, and in Edison, NJ. All-you-can-eat buffets with several standard dishes are typical in some Indian restaurants in the United States.
Indian restaurants are common in the larger cities of Canada, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver where large numbers of Indian nationals have settled since 1970. A number of the more adventurous restaurants have transformed their offerings into so-called Indian "fusion" menus, combining fresh local ingredients with traditional Indian cooking techniques. Indian restaurants can also be found in many European and Australian cities, particularly Paris, London, and Istanbul.
Due to the large Indian community in South Africa, the cuisine of South Africa includes several Indian-origin dishes; some have evolved to become unique to South Africa, such as the bunny chow. Many others are modified with local spices.
Tea (Hindi: chai) is a staple beverage throughout India; the finest varieties are grown in Darjeeling and Assam. It is generally prepared as masala chai, tea with a mixture of spices boiled in milk. The less popular coffee is largely served in South India. One of the finest varieties of Coffea arabica is grown around Mysore, Karnataka, and is marketed under the trade name "Mysore Nuggets". Other beverages include nimbu pani (lemonade), lassi & Chaas( made from curd/yogurt ) , sharbat and coconut milk. India also has many indigenous alcoholic beverages, including palm wine, fenny, and Indian beer.
Several customs are associated with the manner of food consumption. Traditionally, meals are eaten while seated either on the floor or on very low stools or cushions. Food is most often eaten without cutlery, using instead the fingers of the right hand. The left hand is never used as this is considered to be dirty.