Typical Food of India(Photo: )
If there’s one catch-all characteristic of Indian cuisfood in india ine, it’s complexity. There’s astounding complexity in the flavor profiles of Indian dishes, from the simplest snacks to the most elaborate of special-occasion feasts, and in the diversity of countless regional and local versions of the national cuisine.
Westerners are increasingly familiar with, and very much appreciative of, Indian cuisine. Yet most people are also aware that most of the dishes associated with India – and those most likely to be served at your local Indian restaurant – are akin to a “greatest hits” version of Southeast Asian cuisine. Even the most authentic offerings are accompanied by many dishes substantially altered to suit the Western palate. Consider such meals, delicious as they might be, just an introduction to the much, much wider world of Indian cuisine.
Food in India showcases ingredients and preparation techniques perfected over centuries and honed according to various religious beliefs, ancient traditions and centuries of global influences, as well as the dynamics of contemporary trends. Most famous of all is India’s unmatched mastery of spices. Delving into the culinary complexities of India might mean researching recipes to prepare at home, or it could mean planning a trip to India in search of the real thing. A Typical Indian Meal
The traditional meal of India, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, has, at its core, roti (whole-wheat flatbread) or rice, and dal, a lentil-based stew. To make a full meal, these basic elements are usually accompanied by any combination of vegetable dishes, sometimes a meat, chicken, fish or seafood-based dish; and an array of condiments and garnishes, typically chutneys, relishes and pickles.
The flavors of a traditional Indian meal cover a full spectrum, with spicy, sour, sweet and sometimes bitter notes balanced with nuance. Spices are used liberally but expertly, in carefully balanced proportions and blends. Very hot, strongly flavored foods are eaten across India, but most meals include milder and cooling components too.
Indian people usually drink plain water with meals, although occasionally they might opt for lassi, a drink of thinned yogurt that might be salty or sweet. Chai is a popular hot drink in the north, while those in the south of India more often enjoy coffee with condensed milk. Indian desserts tend to be very sweet, with various versions of fudge, rice pudding with spices and raisins, and doughnut-like balls soaked in syrup among the more popular treats. Popular Indian Dishes: Curry and Dal
Curry is the food most often associated with Indian cuisine, but rather than a single dish, it’s whole, wide category of food. Curries are essentially any dishes with a sauce, which might be based around tomatoes, coconut milk, browned onions or yogurt, always with various spices and seasonings.
There are also “dry” curries with a thick seasoning rather than what we think of as a sauce or a sauce reduced enough to only coat the other ingredients. Indians tend to refer to these dishes by their individual names, rather than calling them “curry.” Some familiar, authentically Indian curries include rogan josh, korma, vindaloo, dopiaza and dhansak.
Dal refers to any number of lentil or dried pea-based stews, which range from thick to soupy. The simplest version comprises split lentils simmered with turmeric until soft, then topped with a “tarka” of spices quickly fried in hot ghee. Indian Staples: Bread and Rice
Roti is the simplest of many kinds of flatbread eaten as a staple food in India. It’s made using fine whole-wheat flour and water and cooked on a griddle. Indian people tear off pieces of roti and use them to scoop up mouthfuls of other foods. Many other flatbreads are eaten across India, including leavened breads like naan and breads enriched with ghee such as paratha. Breads are often stuffed as well.
Biryani is a northern Indian rice dish influenced by Persian cuisine. Rice is seasoned with saffron, turmeric, nuts and whole spices, and it’s sometimes layered with marinated meat or hard-boiled eggs. The whole dish is often sealed under a pastry crust before baking. Popular Condiments and Snacks
Chutneys, relishes and pickles are part of any traditional meal of India, and they come in countless varieties. Some are yogurt-based; others are sweet preserve-like, and some are akin to simple salads or slaw. Condiments also might be simple blends of fresh herbs with nuts.
Bhajis are a popular street-food snack similar to fritters. They are made by deep-frying vegetables, commonly, onion, potato or eggplant, in a spiced batter, and they usually come with a dip or sauce. Spices, Herbs and Other Seasonings
There are few foods in India that aren’t enhanced by at least one or two spices, herbs and other seasonings. Dozens upon dozens of spices are used across Indian cuisine, and cooks in India often consider the health food in india benefits of individual spices as well as their flavors. The order in which spices are added to a dish is also important.
Spices are used whole and ground, fresh and dried. The most common are turmeric, coriander, cumin, chili, ginger, garlic and black pepper, and many recipes use mustard seeds, fenugreek, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, tamarind or saffron. Some spices used in India, such as asafoetida powder, amchoor (dried green mango powder) and screw pine, are difficult to find in the West. Indian cooks might prepare their own spice blends, such as garam masala, or purchase them pre-made. Grains, Legumes and Nuts
Rice and wheat are the most commonly eaten grains in India, with rice more popular in the south and wheat in the north, where it grows. Millet is also used in Indian cuisine. Rice is usually steamed or used in a pilaf, and it might be long-, medium- or short-grain. Wheat is most often eaten in the form of bread. However, authentic Indian cuisine does feature noodles made from wheat, rice flour or chickpea flour.
Legumes are used with great frequency in Indian cuisine. The most common are lentils, whether red, green, yellow or black, along with split peas, pigeon peas, mung beans and chickpeas. As well as using them to make dal or as an addition to curries, legumes are ground into flours used to prepare fritters and pancakes.
Pistachio nuts, almonds and cashews feature in northern Indian cuisine, particularly in Moghlai cuisine, which is influenced by Arabia and Persia. In the south, coconut in used frequently, both in freshly grated form and as coconut milk. Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetables dominate Indian cuisine, and they are the basis of Indian dishes far more often than meat, especially in the south. Indians cook fresh, seasonal and local vegetables, most common among them potatoes, eggplant, green peas, cauliflower and onions. Tomatoes, carrots, squashes, mushrooms and okra are also used often, as are leafy greens like spinach and the tops of radishes, beets and fenugreek. Vegetables are cooked in curries, roasted, steamed or fried, and occasionally stuffed.
Indians eat fresh fruit as snacks as well as use them, both ripe and unripe, in sweet and savory dishes. Tropical fruits like mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, melon, jackfruit and pomegranate feature in Indian cuisine. Unripe fruits are sometimes used like a vegetable or as a souring agent. Meat, Poultry, Fish and Seafood
Unlike Western cuisines, meat is not usually the foundation of a meal in India, but it is eaten in smaller portions with some meals. Goat, lamb and mutton are the most commonly eaten meats in India. Muslims and Christians might eat beef as well. Meats, whether on the bone or diced, are often braised in a sauce or seasoned broth, roasted, or turned into meatballs and kebabs. A marinade of yogurt and spices is often used to tenderize and flavor meats as well as poultry. Chicken, and, less often, duck, are eaten across India.
The coastal regions of India embrace a huge variety of fish and seafood, including shrimp, crabs, squid, clams and mussels. Fish is often rubbed with salt and turmeric a few hours before cooking, which might be by poaching, roasting, braising in a sauce or baking in banana leaves.
Alternatives: Hard-boiled eggs and a fresh cheese called “paneer” are often used in place of meat and poultry. Regional Cuisines of India: North and South
Dividing India into north, south, east and west is very much a simplification when it comes to regional cuisines, but there are some useful generalizations to observe.