Traditional Indian butter chicken curry with jeera (cumin)
rice and a salad.
Indian cuisine is known the world over for its complex mixture of flavours and spices as well as its novel use of vegetables. However, the variety of dishes is abundant, differing from one region to the next as well as amongst cultures and religions. Much of the community follows a vegetarian diet. In fact, less than a third of the population eat meat on a regular basis. The diet of a culture or community is believed to be an indication of their identity.
The cuisine of India has been influenced by various factors, not least of all the lucrative spice trade that occurred between India and Europe. It was during this time that colonialists brought with them foodstuffs, methods and preferences, which shaped and were shaped by traditional Indian cooking. In addition, Persia, Greece and West Asia influenced the subcontinent’s cuisine as their ties were close, as are their geographical positioning.
India boasts a varied climate, which implies a number of different conditions in which to grow an even greater number of crops. Approximately 9000 years ago, the Indus Valley is believed to have yielded eggplants or brinjals, sesame and humped cattle. Four thousand years later, the production of black pepper, mustard, cardamom and turmeric began, and the rice and a salad. flavours of food took on a new dimension with such spices. Fruit and vegetables were basic foodstuff, eaten by most of the Indian population along with meat, grain and dairy. As Hinduism spread through the area, more people began abandoning meat in their diets and eating only fruit, grains, pulses and vegetables. When this land was colonised by the Europeans, ingredients such as tomatoes, chillies and potatoes were introduced for the first time. The locals incorporated these into their traditional dishes, which then evolved further based on these new flavours. The Islamists brought gravies, kebabs and a range of new fruits (like melons and peaches) into the country.
Today, rice remains one of India’s staples, as well as lentils and a variety of peas. Peanut oil and mustard oil are commonly used in cooking, especially in the curries. The most popular spices occurring in Indian cuisine include cumin, turmeric, black mustard seed, chilli, fenugreek, ginger, coriander and garlic. Garam masala is a mixture of at least five dried spices and varies from region to region. Even some Indian desserts contain cardamom, saffron and nutmeg.
The different regions are characterised by different cuisine:
Northern India – this area uses a lot of dairy products and prefers the meat of sheep and goats. Popular dishes include deep-fried flat bread, samoosas, lentils, rotis (flat bread rolled with filling), pickles and kebabs.
East India – East India specialises in sweets and desserts. Its savoury dishes are not heavily spiced and commonly used ingredients include mustard, cumin and green chillies. Seafood is often included, as are fried or mashed vegetables.
Southern India – this area is more focused on its use of rice than most other regions and uses coconut extensively. Other popular flavourings include tamarind.
Western India – the areas around the coast are characterised by their use of coconut, rice and fish in their cuisine. The inland areas tend to make more use of groundnut, sorghum and millet.
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