There is an unfortunate belief that all Indian food contains curry. While it is a major part of any East Indian dish, the food of India is varied and wonderful. Indian food, by definition, is the cuisine of India, with the range of diversity being immense from the soil type and climate, to the spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits that are used.
Unlike many other foods, Indian food is heavily influenced by the religious and cultural choices and traditions of the Indian people. The development of Indian cuisine comes from the Dharmic beliefs, and as a result vegetarianism plays a large part in Indian cuisine.
Even today though, Indian food is constantly evolving thanks to the interaction of India’s people with other cultures around the world. Indian food has always evolved to meet the changing times. For example, the potato is a staple of the Indian diet, but this doesn’t come along until the Portuguese brought it, while also introducing breadfruit and chillies to the Indian people.
Possibly more than any other, Indian food has also shaped the history of the world. It was the spice trade between India and Europe that led to Columbus looking for a shorter journey by going across the Atlantic Ocean. This in turn resulted in him hitting North America, sparking the Age of Discovery.
It would be impossible to go into detail about every type of regional cuisine, so we will delve into the broad strokes of Indian cuisine.
The staple foods of the Indian cuisine include ingredients such as wheat, rice, pearl millet, lentils, pigeon peas, mung bean and more. Kidney beans, chickpeas and more are also quite common.
Also found in Indian dishes is the process of cooking in vegetable oil, coconut oil or mustard oil. Sesame seed oil is often used in southern regions. In order to flavor Indian cuisine, the most common spices are chilli pepper, black mustard seed, cardamom, cumin, ginger, garlic and curry.
Sweet dishes are often seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg and rose petal essences.
You can’t talk about Indian cuisine without talking about the beverages that go along with it. Tea is a staple beverage of India, and India is one of the largest producers of tea in the entire world. Coffee is also very popular, especially in southern India.
Coffee is also cultivated in many parts of the country. Lassi, a traditional yogurt-based drink is extremely popular, consisting of yogurt with water or milk and spices, blended together. Sharbat is a sweet cold beverage prepared with fruit and flower petals.
The beer industry in India has seen steady growth, growing by 10 to 17 per cent annually over the past 10 years.
Eating habits of Indian People
For East Indians, there are several eating habits that are observed. First of all, Indians consider a healthy breakfast to be extremely important and they prefer to drink tea or coffee with breakfast. Lunch is considered to be a main dish of rice in the south and east, or whole wheat rolls in the north and west, along with three different kinds of vegetables. Betel leaves are often eaten after lunch, as they help with digestion. Indian families also have evening breakfast, which is a time of tea to talk and eat snacks. Dinner is considered to be the primary meal of the day.
Beef is not widely eaten in India as it is considered taboo by Hindus since the cow is a religious animal.
Hindu scriptures condemn cow slaughter and beef consumption is banned in many parts of India.
When eating in India, it is traditionally common to sit on the floor, or on cushions. Food is often eaten with the right hand rather than cutlery and the left hand is used to serve oneself. That being said, the Anglo-Indian middle class, a growing segment, uses spoons and forks, as is traditional in western culture.
In South India, cleaned banana leaves are used to serve food and when hot food is served on them, it produces a unique aroma and taste for the food.
Indian Food outside India
Indian food is gaining in popularity throughout the world. In Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, it is becoming widely available. In Canada, it is found in several major cities where South Asian immigrants live.
In the United Kingdom, there were 10,000 Indian restaurants by 2003, with the industry generating 3.2 billion Pounds. In the United Kingdom, two-thirds of take-out comes from Indian restaurants, serving 2.5 million people each week.
In the United States, 1,200 Indian food products have been produced in the country since 2000.
In China, it is gaining in popularity, with Hong Kong having 50 Indian restaurants alone.