In this blog, we will take a closer look at the history of Indian food, regional variations, and the spices and herbs that make it so unique.
When it comes to Indian Cuisine, one of the first things that come to mind is the rich and creamy curry. However, Indian food is much more than just curry.
A. History of Indian Food
The history of Indian food is a long and complex one, with influences from various cultures and civilizations. From the ancient Indus Valley civilization to the Mughal Empire and the British Raj, Indian cuisine has evolved and adapted to incorporate a wide variety of ingredients and cooking techniques.
The origins of Indian cuisine can be traced back to ancient Vedic times, where the concept of three Guṇas, Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, was believed to manifest in the form of vegetarian, spicy, and carnivorous food respectively.
A. Indus Valley civilization (3300 BCE – 1900 BCE) agriculture and farming played a significant role in the development of the country’s cuisine. The use of spices and herbs for flavour and medicinal purposes was also prevalent. Food preservation techniques, such as pickling and drying, were used to extend the shelf life of perishable foods.
B. Vedic period (1500 BCE – 500 BCE), the caste system and dietary restrictions for certain groups were introduced. This period also saw the emergence of Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine that emphasized the importance of diet and lifestyle. Regional cuisines developed based on the geography and climate of different parts of the country.
The origins of Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India, can be traced back to the “Atharva Veda” where numerous diseases and their treatments were discussed.
In the Vedic period, the Indian diet included both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food items, with pulses like masura, arahar, grams, peas, and kulattha, along with rice, wheat, and barley being major components.
Milk was a significant ingredient, primarily obtained from cows and buffalo, and was consumed boiled, mixed with soma juice, or used to prepare dishes like barley meals. Fresh milk, boiled milk, cream, and goat milk were also common.
Barley, especially fried barley, is mentioned several times in the Rig Veda, and sweet cakes were made from it, which were eaten with ghee or Somarasa made from curd and butter. Vedic food included pulses, dairy products, meat, salt, spices, sweets, and various drinks that reflected the culture of the period.
C. The Mughal Empire (1526 CE – 1857 CE) had a significant impact on Indian cuisine. Persian cuisine, with its use of ingredients such as saffron and almonds, influenced the development of Mughlai cuisine, which is characterized by rich and aromatic dishes.
The tandoor oven was introduced during this period and is still commonly used to cook bread and meats.
D. During the British Raj (1858 CE – 1947 CE), Indian cuisine was exposed to new ingredients and cooking techniques, such as baking and roasting. Anglo-Indian cuisine, a fusion of Indian and British flavours, emerged during this period. European-style cafes and restaurants also became popular in urban areas.
This period saw the emergence of Anglo-Indian cuisine, a fusion of Indian and British flavours. Some popular dishes that originated during this time include:
- Mulligatawny soup: A soup made with lentils, chicken or lamb, and a blend of Indian spices.
- Kedgeree: A dish made with cooked rice, flaked fish, and boiled eggs, seasoned with Indian spices.
- Chicken Tikka Masala: A dish made with marinated and grilled chicken pieces cooked in a spiced tomato and cream-based sauce.
- Fish and chips: A popular British dish that was also popular in India during the British Raj.
- Tea: Tea, a popular beverage in Britain, became a staple in India during the British Raj and is now an integral part of Indian culture.
The British also introduced the concept of cafes and restaurants to India, which became popular in urban areas. These establishments served a mix of Indian and European-style dishes.
While Indian cuisine was influenced by British food during the British Raj, it also retained its own unique flavours and cooking techniques. The use of aromatic spices, such as turmeric, cumin, and coriander, remained a hallmark of Indian cuisine.
E. During The Portuguese (16th and 19th centuries): The Portuguese had a significant impact on Indian cuisine during their colonization of the country in the 16th and 19th centuries. Portuguese traders introduced new ingredients, such as chilli peppers and potatoes, to India, which have now become integral to Indian cooking.
The Portuguese also introduced the use of vinegar, which is now commonly used in Indian pickles and chutney.
Some popular Indian dishes that were influenced by Portuguese cuisine include:
- Vindaloo: A spicy and tangy pork dish that originated in Goa, a state in India that was colonized by the Portuguese.
- Chicken Cafreal: A spicy marinated chicken dish that originated in Goa and is flavoured with cilantro and green chilli peppers.
- Croquettes: Fried balls of mashed potatoes and minced meat that were introduced to India by the Portuguese and are now popular in Goa and other parts of the country.
- Bebinca: A layered dessert made with coconut milk, flour, and eggs that originated in Goa and is popular during the Christmas season.
In addition to introducing new ingredients and cooking techniques, the Portuguese also introduced the concept of wine-making to India. The production of wine, particularly in the region of Goa, has a long history dating back to the Portuguese colonization of the region.
While Indian cuisine was influenced by Portuguese food during the period of colonization, it also retained its own unique flavours and cooking techniques. The use of aromatic spices, such as turmeric, cumin, and coriander, remains a hallmark of Indian cuisine.
F. Since independence in 1947, there has been a revival of traditional and regional cuisines in India. Fusion and contemporary Indian cuisine have also emerged. The food and beverage industry has grown, leading to the rise of fast food culture.
B. Regional Diversity in Indian Food
India has 29 States and 7 Union territories. But Indian food is majorly categorised as the 3 most popular types of cuisine.
1. North Indian Cuisine
North Indian cuisine is characterized by the use of dairy products such as paneer and ghee, as well as an abundance of spices. Popular dishes include butter chicken, tandoori chicken, biryani, and naan bread.
North Indian cuisine is a style of cooking that is Mostly popular in the northern region of India. The following are some states –
- Punjab: Punjabi foods are popular for their use of a wide variety of rich gravies, and tandoori (clay oven) dishes.
- Haryana: Haryanvi Cuisine is Known as the land of Roti. It is also popular for its use of dairy products, particularly yoghurt and paneer.
- Uttar Pradesh: Awadi Cuisine is famous for its use of a wide variety of kebab and Biryani dishes.
- Rajasthan: Rajasthani cuisine has a wide variety of vegetarian dishes.
- Himachal Pradesh: State is Known for its use of a wide variety of dishes, particularly those made with lentils and rice-based dishes.
- Delhi: Delhi is Known for Rice and chole, Rice and Rajma. In Delhi, you will find a wide variety of street foods, such as Chaap chaat and Gol Gappa, as well as its rich Mughlai cuisine.
- Gujarat: Gujarati cuisine is popular for its snacks and Namkeen.
- West Bengal: Bengali cuisine is known for its fish-based dishes. In Indian sweet dishes, Bengali rasgulla is quite famous.
2. South Indian Cuisine
South Indian cuisine is known for its use of rice, lentils, and coconut. The food is generally lighter and less spicy than North Indian cuisine. Popular dishes include dosa, idli, sambar, and rasam.
South Indian cuisine belongs to the southern region of India. These are the states that are known for their South Indian cuisine:
- Tamil Nadu: Tamil food is known for its use of a wide variety of rice-based dishes, such as idli, dosa, and Pongal. These foods are popular breakfasts in India. Tamil cuisine has a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries.
- Andhra Pradesh: Andhra food is known for its spicy and tangy flavours and its use of a wide variety of lentils, vegetables, and meat dishes.
- Karnataka: Karnataka Cuisine Includes many Regional Cuisines also like Udipi and Manglorean cuisine etc. it has a Wide variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Seafood dishes are also popular in this cuisine. you can various types of curries and biryani here.
- Kerala: State is Known for its use of a wide variety of seafood, and beef. Kerala is also famous for vegetarian dishes that use coconut and spices.
- Goa: Similar to Kerala Goa is also known for its coconut & spices. Goa cuisine is also famous for its Indo- Portuguese dishes like vindaloo, etc.
- Telangana: Known for its use of a wide variety of meat, and chicken dishes and its traditional spiciness. Hyderabadi Biryani is popular all over the country.
3. North-East cuisine
North East cuisine is known for its simplicity and use of indigenous ingredients such as bamboo shoots, fish, and herbs. Each state has its own distinct cuisine, influenced by its geography, history, and cultural practices.
There are also many regional cuisines within India that are influenced by the local culture, geography, and climate.
Each state in India has their own unique dishes, ingredients and cooking styles.
C. Some Popular dishes from Indian Cuisine are-
- Butter Chicken: A creamy and tangy tomato-based chicken dish
- Biryani: A mixed rice dish with spices, vegetables, and/or meat
- Tandoori Chicken: Marinated chicken cooked in a clay oven
- Chole Bhature: A spicy chickpea curry served with fried bread
- Masala Dosa: A South Indian crepe-like dish made with rice and lentils, filled with spiced potato and onion
- Palak Paneer: Spinach and cheese curry
- Samosas: Triangular fried or baked pastries filled with spiced potatoes, peas, and/or meat
- Naan: A leavened flatbread made in a tandoor oven
- Aloo Gobi: A vegetarian dish made with potatoes, cauliflower, and spices
- Rogan Josh: A spicy lamb curry from the Kashmir region.
Read More about Indian dishes –State wise famous food of India
D. Some popular spices used in Indian cuisine are
- Black pepper
- Mustard seeds
- Fennel seeds
Read More about Indian dishes – List of Indian spices
In the past few decades, globalization and increased immigration have led to the popularization of Indian food in the global market. Indian-inspired fusion cuisines have also emerged. Indian Chicken dishes are very popular worldwide. Globally, Indian food is mostly known as curry dishes. The United States of America have Many Indian Restaurants. the United Kingdome national food is inspired by Indian Cuisine,