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 it is popular among the large Indian diaspora but also among the mainstream population of North America and Europe. Indian cuisine is characterized by the use of various spices, herbs and other vegetables, and sometimes fruits grown in India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism in Indian society.
Most Indian curries are fried in vegetable oil. In North and West India, groundnut oil has traditionally been most popular for frying, while in Eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. In South India, coconut oil are common.
The most important and most frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed,cumin,turmeric, ginger and garlic. Popular spice mixes are garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprised of cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Every region has its own blend of Garam Masala. Goda Masala is a popular spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves like tejpat (cassia leaf), coriander leaves, fenugreek leaves and mint leaves are commonly used. The use of curry leaves is typical of all South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, and rose petal essence are used.
Indian cuisine is known for its large assortment of dishes. The cooking style varies from region to region.The staple food in India includes wheat, rice and pulses with chana (Bengal Gram) being the most important one.
North Indian cuisine is distinguished by a proportionally high use of dairy products. The tawa, or griddle, is used extensively for baking flat breads like roti and paratha. A tandoor oven is also frequently used to cook main courses like chicken. Goat and lamb are favored ingredients of many northern Indian recipes. The samosa, a common appetizer on all Indian restaurant menus, has its roots in northern India. The staple food of most of north Indians are a variety of lentils, vegetables, and roti. Common north Indian foods such as kebabs and meat dishes originated with the Muslim incursions into the country. The influence of Europeans is also apparent with the creation of new dishes like chicken tikka masala which is actually a British invention during colonial times. Popular snacks, side-dishes and drinks include mirchi bada, bhujiya, chaat, kachori, several types of pickles (known as achar), murabba, sharbat and aam panna . Popular sweets are known as mithai (meetha means sweet in Hindi), such as gulab jamun, jalebi, peda, petha, rewdi, kulfi, khaja, ras malai, gulkand, and several varieties of laddu, barfi and halwa.
In the eastern part of India there is a large Oriental influence resulting from an influx of movement from Tibet and Nepal. All of these influences helped form the dietary customs in eastern India. Popular food is this region is a unique blend of vegetarian meals prepared in the traditional Chinese cooking style. Rice and fish are the staple foods because most of the towns and fishing villages are located on the coast.
Traditional Bengali cuisine is not too spicy.General ingredients used in Bengali curries are mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black cumin, green chillies and cumin paste. Mustard paste, curd, nuts, poppy seed paste and cashew paste are preferably cooked in mustard oil.
A regular meal consists of many side dishes made of vegetables. The popular vegetable dishes of Orissa are Dalma and Santula. The most popular vegetable dish of Bengal is Sukto. Deep-fried, shallow-fried and mashed vegetables are also very popular. Fish is frequently featured in a regular meal. East Indian cuisine is famous for its desserts, especially sweets such as rasagolla, chumchum, sandesh, rasabali, chhena poda, chhena gaja, and kheeri.
The food of the North East is very different from that of other parts of India. North Eastern cuisine is strongly influenced by neighboring Burma and the People’s Republic of China, and makes less use of well-known Indian spices. Yak is a popular meat in this region of India.
South Indian cuisine is distinguished by a greater emphasis on rice as the staple grain, the ubiquity of sambar (also called saaru, a vegetable stew based on a broth made with tamarind and toovar dal) and rasam (also called rasa, a soup prepared with tamarind juice or tomato, pepper and other spices), a variety of pickles, and the liberal use of coconut and particularly coconut oil and curry leaves. The dosa, poori, idli, vada, bonda and bajji are typical South Indian favorites and are generally consumed as breakfast. Hyderabadi biryani, a popular type of biryani, reflects the diversity of south Indian cuisine.
Western India has three major food groups: Gujarati, Maharashtrian and Goan. There are two main types of Maharashtrian cuisine, defined by geographical circumstances. The coastal regions, geographically similar to Goa, consume more rice, coconut, and fish. In the hilly regions of the Western Ghats and Deccan plateau, groundnut is used in place of coconut and the staples are jowar (sorghum) and bajra (millet) as staples. Saraswat cuisine forms an important part of coastal Konkani Indian cuisine.
Gujarati cuisine is predominantly vegetarian. Many Gujarati dishes have a hint of sweetness due to use of sugar or brown sugar. The typical Gujarati meal consists of Rotli (a flat bread made from wheat flour), daal or kadhi, rice, and sabzi/shaak (a dish made up of different combinations of vegetables and spices.
The staple food of Goans is rice and fish and the cuisine is mostly seafood-based. Kingfish (Vison or Visvan) is the most common delicacy; others include pomfret, shark, tuna and mackerel. Popular shellfish include crabs, prawns, tiger prawns, lobster, squid and mussels. Goan Hindu cuisine is less spicy, uses little or no onion or garlic, and incorporates a variety of vegetables, lentils, pumpkins, gourds, bamboo shoots, and roots. Goan Christian cuisine includes beef dishes and the well-known Vindaloo, first introduced by the Portuguese.