Indian food is as vibrant and diverse as the region itself. Throughout its 5,000 years of history, India was welcomed a wide range of settlers with a variety of belief systems helping to create and shape the cuisines that we know today. While many classify a wide range of dishes under the umbrella of “Indian Food,” understanding the cuisine is a little more complicated than that.
Different areas within India have their own unique cooking methods, spices, and local ingredients. With a population over one billion, the food is just as diverse as the people that consume it. As settlers continued to migrate to the region over the years, new culinary methods were introduced to the regions they eventually settled.
To begin to understand the food within India, you need to understand the religions that dominate the region. Muslim and Hindu are the two dominant religions that have each had a great deal of influence on Indian cooking, ingredients, and habits.
Within the Muslim culture, the cuisine is heavily centered around its cooking of meats. There is an endless list of great dishes, including rogan josh, kabas, nargisi kaftas, the biryani, and rich Kormas. On the other hand, the Hindu tradition incorporates the use of more vegetarian choices. Some of the favorite dishes among Hindu vegetarian dieters are Dosa, Idli, and fermented rice.
But the influence on Indian cuisine goes past just religion, as the geographic areas of India each have their own unique style and flavor as well. The northern and southern regions have a more uniform cuisine throughout the states while eastern and western states have more diverse plates.
Southern Indian cuisine is known largely for rice based meals as well the popular thin soup, Rasam. You will also find the high use of coconut within all South Indian cuisine.
Northern India is heavily influenced by the Moghuls dynasty, which had ruled India for the 16th century to 18th century, before British rule took over the region. Rich gravies made of pureed nuts and cream as well as Saffron can both be traced back to the Moghuls. Furthermore, Naan bread, which many people mistakenly believe to the bread of Indians, is actually the everyday bread of the Afghani people.
The Eastern states, including Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. Orissa is most known for their squash blossoms and seafood while Bihar and Jharkhand enjoy meals based on vegetables and beans. Bengali is where you will find a diet centered around fish and rice, mixed vegetables, and of course the rich milk-based desserts.
Lastly, the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra are unique in their own right. Gujarat is home to Muslim, Parsis, Hindu, and Jains people who all enjoy their own style. Parsis enjoys a diet of chicken and seafood, while Jains are strictly vegetarian. In Maharashtra you will find the fame capital Mumbai with restaurants that incorporate many seafood favorites with red chilies and coconut.
Indian cuisine truly is an amazing taste regardless of the region the dish is based. Traveling throughout India provides an amazing opportunity to taste the dishes unique to its people and see first hand how the culture has influenced the cuisine.