Diverse among regions in the north, south, east, and west. Delicious, and not as complicated to cook as you might think, Indian food is among the leading cuisines of the world. With every state, city, and even every home having its own recipes for thousands of dishes, the variety is just absolutely mind-boggling.
There is probably no other cuisine in the world that includes as many healthy and diverse vegetables and spices. At the same time, Indian cuisine is not just for vegetarians. Indians also know a thing or two about pleasing the non-vegetarian palate, serving dishes with poultry, mutton, and a variety of fish too.
- The tandoor is a circular clay oven used to make dishes like the Tandoori Chicken.
- Cardamom, cloves, and cumin are the 3 most common ingredients in Indian food.
- Chai is the Indian name for tea.
- Indians generally don’t usually use cutlery for eating food
- When dining in India, always use your right hand.
Common ingredients of Indian Food
When you talk of Indian food, there are some flavors, some spices, and seasonings that belong to our plate, our culture, and our history. They are what define the identity of Indian food. Indian food is a delicious mix of tantalizing aromas, vibrant colors, and those spicy, sweet, tangy flavors.
Often powerfully flavored dishes, Indian food are incredibly healthy and pleasing to the taste buds. True Indian food uses a wide variety of ingredients; however, three are considered to be the most common. Cardamom is the first. This specific ingredient is incredibly aromatic, with complex flavors that are both sweet and spicy.
The second ingredient is cloves. Cloves are un-blossomed flower buds. They provide an outstandingly warm, woody, and natural scent. In meals, they add spice, much like pepper, while still hinting at being sweet. They are incredibly strong, so most meals only require one or two cloves.
Cumin is the third ingredient. Cumin is very warm and earthy, much like cloves. It often comes in powder form; however, in its natural state, they come in seeds. Because it blends well with other ingredients, cumin can be added to nearly any Indian food for an additional kick.
How Indian people cook
There are a handful of different methods that each type of cuisine adopts in order to produce the food they are famous for, and Indian cuisine is certainly no exception to this rule. Indian cooking methods incorporate the usual frying - deep and shallow, boiling, and baking, among other methods. It's just like any other cuisine in that respect.
Many Indian dishes are braised. First the meat or vegetables are seared and then cooked at high temperature in oil. Then they are cooked slowly in a variable amount of liquid in a covered pot. Dishes such as Korma, Rogan Josh, and Dopiaza involve using this type of cooking method.
Some dishes are simply fried quite quickly. This method is more common in the North where the food tends to be a little drier. The tandoor is also more commonly used in the North. This is a circular clay oven fired by wood or charcoal. It is used for cooking both meat and breads like Naan bread and Tikka dishes and kebab.
Some other cooking methods involve frying dishes like Jalfrezi, a curry dish made with meat, fish, paneer or vegetables, stir-fried and served in a thick spicy sauce that includes green chili peppers. Deep frying is also common for dishes like pakoras, pooris, and aloo chaat.
Indian regional food and popular dishes
Although it is common for Indian restaurants to present dishes as part of a uniform, nationalized cuisine, the food of India is actually as regionally specific and diverse as its population.
These cuisines are heavily influenced by the country’s history, conquerors, trade partners, and the religious and cultural practices of its inhabitants.
Northern Indian Cuisine
Possibly the most dominant culinary style found outside of India, Northern Indian cuisine reflects a strong Mughal influence. It is categorized by a high use of dairy such as milk, paneer which is an Indian mild cheese, ghee which is clarified butter, and yogurt. Complex spice mixes and tandoori-oven baked dishes are also hallmarks of Northern Indian cooking.
Because wheat is commonly grown in North India, Northern Indian restaurants typically offer an array of oven-baked breads, including naan, roti, and paratha. There is also a heavy Persian influence in Northern Indian cooking, and the spiciness of many dishes is tempered by a large use of butter, cream, and ghee.
Famous Northern Indian dishes
Samosas are a distinctive Northern snack. They contain a small amount of spicy potato or meat filling which are then wrapped in dough and deep fried until crispy and flaky. The heavy use of tandoor also presents the dish Tandoori Chicken, which is a chicken dish prepared by roasting chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices in a tandoor.
Dal and Paneer Makhani are popular vegetarian dishes, comprising of dal or paneer cooked in a creamy sauce of tomatoes, onions, mango powder, and garam masala. Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer are two similar dishes made with spinach, cream, and paneer, differing slightly in consistency and spices.
Another north Indian food to check out is chaat, a savory snack sold as street food. There are many different types of chaat, but perhaps the most popular is pani puri which can be called called gol gappa or fulki. Tiny, crispy fried puri breads are stuffed with potatoes, chickpeas or onion, along with flavored water.
Korma is another staple dish from Northern India. It is made with a creamy curry of coconut milk or yogurt, cumin, coriander, and small amounts of cashews or almonds. It can be served with different meats, usually chicken or lamb, but sometimes beef, as well as with paneer for a vegetarian dish.
Western Indian Cuisine
Western Indian cuisine is distinguished by the geographic and history of its three main regions which are Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Goa. While rice is the fundamental part of most West Indian cuisine, wheat and other grains also play a major role in the dining experience, as well as rotis and several other types of flat breads.
Seasonings aren't meant to overpower or mask foods but rather to enhance natural flavors and encourage the subtle blending of the flavors of combined vegetables without losing the unique flavor of each type. Cooking methods refrain from overcooking that can make individual components of a dish indistinguishable from each other.
Famous Western Indian dishes
The food of Maharashtra is perhaps one of the more varied cuisines in India, ranging from simple vegetarian preparations to complicated delicacies created from the abundance of seafood available in the region. Vada Pav is a popular dish from here, which are deep fried dumplings or flattened patties of potato.
Gujarati cuisine is mostly vegetarian and has an original sweetness to many of its dishes due to some Chinese influences. Since this region produces smaller vegetables, this region is well known for its chutneys, a popular Indian condiment that coats cooked, fresh, or pickled vegetables and fruits with sweet, sour, or spicy flavors.
Being a major trade port and colony for Portugal, Goa’s cuisine has a distinctive and unique blend of Indian and Portuguese culinary elements. Pork and beef are also more heavily used than other regional cuisines in India. Vindaloo is one of the traditional dishes, which is traditionally made with pork, marinated in wine vinegar and garlic.
Eastern Indian Cuisine
In the East, cuisine varies from meat eaters in the inland region, to fish and seafood in the coastal region, to Tibetan and Nepalese influences in the Himalayan mountain region. Most dishes in this area are flavored more subtly than other parts of India.
Mustard seeds, poppy seeds, and mustard oil are favored ingredients, as they give dishes a light pungency. Eastern Indian cuisine is primarily known for its desserts. These desserts are not only favored by other regions in India, but are frequently found at Indian restaurants, their light sweetness making an excellent ending to a meal.
Famous Eastern Indian dishes
Food in East India is largely lacking of oil and masalas. A lot of the dishes utilize a variety of local vegetables and fruit. Another popular ingredient used for East Indian dishes is Paanch Phoran which is a mix of five spices which are white cumin seeds, onion seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds.
Momos is a popular dish in the mountain regions in East India. They are basically steamed filled dumplings that may also be pan-fried or deep fried. Fillings may vary wildly based on local population, with ground meat like lamb or chicken being most popular or a variety of vegetables, tofu and paneer cheese.
Jhalmuri is a popular street snack originating from the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, made of puffed rice and an assortment of spices, vegetables, and chanachur or bhujia. It involves mixing puffed rice and chanachur in a bowl, along with mustard oil, onion, chili, lemon and frequently shaking the bowl.
Southern Indian Cuisine
Southern Indian dishes can be categorized according to the drier consistency, or those favoring a soupier or stew-like presentation. Rice is the staple dish here, partly because the climate is hot and humid year-round. While Southern Indian dishes are less likely to feature meat, they are more likely to feature seafood.
Dishes from this region use less butter or milk, and feature more on coconut. The most important spices produced in South India are cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and pepper. The region is famous for a wide range of spicy foods with each state differing others predominantly from the spiciness of food, its different varieties and method of cooking.
Famous Southern Indian dishes
Sambars and rasams are common stew-like dishes, each differ in their primary ingredients and degrees of liquidity. Sambars are essentially tamarind flavored pea and vegetable stews that are more watery than curries but are thicker than rasams. Rasams are composed primarily of tomato, tamarind, and numerous of spices.
Aside from curry-style dishes, Southern Indian cuisine is also known for its fried or griddle-cooked snacks. Dosas consist of a large crepe-like rice pancake that is usually filled with vegetables, chutneys, or masala curries. Utthapams are similar to dosas, but are thicker with the fillings sprinkled on top like a pizza.
Another food worth checking out are idlis - savory steamed rice and black gram cakes. These cakes are plain and taste like basic rice, but are often served with chutneys. You can also order sambar with it, a hot and sour lentil vegetable soup with tamarind that’s traditionally served with idlis as a breakfast or snack in South India.
Popular Indian Deserts and Drinks
When it comes to desserts, India boasts many varieties of sweets made from a whole lot of ingredients. Most of the desserts are prepared using milk or condensed milk, alongside cardamom, nuts, pistachio, cashew nut, walnut and many other additives for flavor.
Gulab Jamun is probably the most popular dessert in India. Milk solids are crushed into powder and then mixed with milk in order to knead into smooth dough. The dough is then rolled into small balls, deep fried, and then soaked into sugar syrup until the balls absorb the syrup and become soft and juicy.
Lassi is a sweet yogurt drink traditionally made by thinning out yogurt with milk or water and then sweetening it for more flavor. Cream is added to the drink too to make it richer. Lassi can be made into different flavors simply by adding various fruits or additional flavorings like mango or strawberry.
Chai is the Indian name for tea. To make chai, a certain ration of water to milk, and then add sugar as a sweetener and black tea together. Masala chai is a made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic spices and herbs. This drink has become a feature in many coffee and tea houses.
How Indian people eat
Many individuals find eating with hands unhygienic, primitive, and nauseating; however, eating food with hands is associated with not just the body but also the psyche and soul. There is rationality behind the Indian routine of eating with fingers.
Typically, both in urban and rural settings, south and east Indians wash their hands thoroughly prior to dining, and then eat with their fingers, without any cutlery. Using your right hand, scoop the food onto a flatbread with a twist of your wrist. Then, using your fingertips, bring the food closer to your mouth. Use your thumbs to push the food into your mouth.
It is also important to know to not bring your plate to your mouth. Instead, lower your head. Take small amounts of food each time, and make sure the food does not touch your palms Also, don’t put your fingers into your mouth.
Do not use your left hand to eat under any circumstances as it is considered very rude and unhygienic. This is because Indians consider the left hand to be 'unclean'. Another no-go is offering anybody food from your plate or helping yourself to some from theirs.
Etiquette for dining
When a meal is announced in an Indian household, you must wash and dry your hands. Washing your hands is the first step of dining as per Indian etiquette. In most Indian homes, the homemaker generally arranges food for the family on the table and keeps an eye on who needs what, offering and bringing more food.
Eating with the fingers is preferred and only the tips of the fingers are used. Indians do not encourage the use of a knife as cutlery because the food prepared here is generally bite-sized. Always use your right hand, even if you are left-handed, as Indians consider the use of the left hand to be unclean and offensive.
Indian culture highly encourages sharing food with others. But keep in mind to share only from the serving dish or bowl and not from your plate. Similarly, taking food from someone else’s plate is also considered rude. Also, do not dip your used spoon and fork into others’ food or the main serving dish.
You must not leave anything on your plate as leftovers. Leaving food on your plate is not appreciated in Indian culture. You must keep in mind to eat your food at a medium pace as it might seem rude if you eat your food too quickly or, it may imply that you don’t like the food if you eat too slowly.
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