What is it that makes Indian food recognizably Indian, and how did it get that way?

There is a true patchwork of variety contained within India’s cookery heritage. Whether you want to sample something spicy, sour, creamy or zesty, Indian cuisine has something to offer…There's more to Indian food than the perennially popular Butter Chicken. Traditional Indian cuisine varies from region to region. With food ranging from mild and creamy, to packing a proper spice punch, one thing you can be guaranteed – it's never a dull eating experience! Cooking is cultivated as a skill learned by daughters at a young age in the family home. Families' favorites, best grandmas' recipes are opportunities to demonstrate skills to outsiders and remain a heirloom passed on between generations.

  • Influences India's history has detailed invasions from many outside nations. This has influenced the food in a myriad of ways. Mughal: Persian and Arab invaders of ancient times led to the Mughal style of cooking, including thick and rich gravies, almonds and dry fruits being used in dishes.

  • Aryan: This style of cooking focuses on the mind and body enhancing properties of food.

  • British: The British colonization put a European twist on some dishes and made the dishes slightly more mild and palatable to Western tastes at the time. Also, they introduced tea into India to compete with then biggest producer, China.

  • Portuguese: The colonization of areas in southern India by Portugal, led to an amazing fusion of flavors and the popular and notoriously hot Vindaloo.

  • Northern India: The hot summers and cold winters of the north, mean that there's plenty of seasonal vegetables and fruit to be found. This is where Kashmiri and Mughlai styles of curries are prevalent. This includes moderately spicy, gravy-based curries with dried fruit and nuts used during cooking. Also tandoori rotis cooked in a clay tandoori oven, are incredibly popular here.

  • Southern India: Southern Indian food is super-hot, just like the balmy climate. Areas like Kerala have Malabari cooking, succulent seafood dishes. Meals are centered on rice, rasam (a hot and sour lentil dish); dosas (lentil and rice pancakes); daals coconut chutneys, and poppadums (deep fried lentil pancakes).

  • Eastern India: Home to beaches, mountains and lots of rain fall, this area of India is where plentiful rice, green vegetables and fruit grows. Consequently, the cooking features an abundance of rice. Also, because of the border with China, there's a strong influence from Mongolian style cuisine. Simple is the way they cook here. They also produce a lot of great desserts here like Gulab Jamun.

  • Western India: The hot and dry region of Rajasthan, has a comparatively smaller selection of fresh vegetables. Therefore, this gave rise to the art of pickle and chutney making. The mostly Hindu population here is vegetarian. In the coastal region of Goa, there's an abundance of fresh seafood. Vindaloo and Xacuti are dishes from here, that were influenced by Portuguese colonizers.  

The cuisine of India is as ancient as it is varied, and in this attractive, oversized volume, food expert A.K. Achaya describes in Indian Food: A Historical Companion the full range and history of the Indian diet, from prehistoric times to the modern era. An informative volume that boasts over 150 black-and-white illustrations (including line drawings, photographs, and maps) and fifty-five color photographs on twenty plates, Indian Food draws on archaeology, anthropology, literature, philology, and botany to cook up a smorgasbord of fascinating facts about this exotic fare. Achaya begins with the earliest food preparations of Paleolithic and Neolithic times. He covers the diet of the Aryans; examines regional cuisines; describes the customs, rituals, and beliefs observed by different communities and religious groups; and traces the gradual shift towards vegetarianism with the advent of Buddhism and Jainism. In thirty-three boxed sections, he takes the reader on various sidetrips, from the Indian use of Bhang (cannabis) and opium, to the history of ice cream, ranging from Marco Polo to Dolly Madison. With illustrations ranging from Neolithic cave paintings from Madhya Pradesh, to full color photographs of modern Indian foods, Indian Food offers a rich cornucopia of information on this flavorful and popular cuisine.

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Photo: dushi82

Himachali woman cooking food on wood fire stove(chulha) in her kitchen, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India.

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Photo: sudiptabhowmick

A traditional Bamboo Chicken Biryani From Tribal village of India. Rice and chicken mixed in spices stuffed into a piece of raw bamboo log that goes on natural fire till outer later becomes charcoal

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