Think of India and one of the first things that come to mind is its diversity. A large populous country divided into many states; each with its own unique traditions and gastronomic fare. Indian cooking is one of the most popular cuisines across the globe. Not only is it popular among the large Indian diaspora but also among the mainstream population of North America and Europe. For the uninitiated, Indian food may seem foreign, scary, spicy and not for the faint of heart. This paper aims to explore many of the facets that make up Indian cuisine and hopefully allay any misconceptions or fears that may exist. The chapters are categorized under the following sections: 1. The Evolution of Indian Cooking
2. Geographical Variation
3. Dietary Customs in India
4. The Story of Spices
5. Curry: What is it?
6. Indian Dining Etiquette
The Evolution Of Indian Cooking
Indian cuisine derives from a 4000 year timeline. It has significantly evolved as a result of the various influences introduced into the country by many travelers and rulers. Despite this evolution, it has not lost its original identity, but rather became richer with the assimilation of theses varied influences. The following historical timeline (Bhattacharya, n.d.) of how Indian gastronomy evolved will help shape our understanding and appreciation of this cooking style.
2000 BC and earlier.
Most people believe that the origins of Indian history, and therefore the cuisine, dates back to Mohenjedaro and Harrapan civilizations. It is understood that the Ayurvedic tradition of cooking, which is a complete holistic approach to cooking, evolved at this point in time. In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products and honey. Over time, some segments of the population embraced vegetarianism due to the ancient Hindu philosophy of ahimsa.
At this point we see the first influx of outsiders into the country. The Mohenjodaro people are believed to have been pushed to southern India and the cuisine there is still largely vegetarian. The roots of Hinduism are shaped at this point along with the Vedas and the Mahabharata. The caste system is developed dividing eating habits broadly by caste. For example; the Brahmins were mostly vegetarians while the Kshatriyas were meat eaters.
This period saw the development of Buddhism outside India which resulted in the migration of people as well as their food and dietary requirements.
This period saw several north Indian dynasties rule and became known as the Golden Age of Indian Art. There were several travelers who visited India and were responsible for the introduction of tea. However, from a culinary perspective there are still no significant external influences brought into the country.
During the reign of the Moghuls we see the emergence of Moglai cuisine. It’s this type of cooking that people now associate with India. The cooking style is characterized by the addition of several seasonings like saffron and nuts. The influx of European influences into parts of southern India, such as Kerala, resulted in the beginning of the Syrian Christian cuisine.
1800 – 1947 AD:
The age of British colonial rule saw the start of the English love affair with Indian food. It was hardly a glorified period in Indian history, but the British loved the elaborate way of eating and adapted several of the food choices to their taste. They developed the curry as a simple spice to help them cook Indian meals. Geographical Variation
The cuisines of India are as richly diverse and varied as its culture, ethnic makeup and geography. According to Sarakar (n.d.), the common characteristic of all Indian cooking is the tremendous use and blending of a variety of wonderfully exotic spices. As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling over the centuries, India's cuisine has benefited from...