By Harleena Singh
There is a saying that you experience a drastic change, every hundred miles you travel in India. This not only includes the diversity in cultures, traditions, rituals, dresses, languages, dialects, but also the food that people eat. The country that is huge in size, with a rich cultural heritage that is thousands of years old, and having assimilated the extracts of various other civilizations in it, is the home of a variety of delicious culinary delicacies.
No matter what part of the country, Indian food is predominantly spices-based. Even though the food ingredients vary depending upon the physical and environmental factors of a place, the Indian cuisines carry the essence of a complete and balanced nutritional diet. While north India adopts a staple diet of whole-wheat flour based cakes like roti or chapattis, the southern part of India relishes mainly the rice preparations in its daily food routine, and the coastal areas celebrate with fish dishes.
Indian food is mostly served in a thali, which is either a metal plate, a plate made by joining small leaves, or a big banana leaf. Small bowls
are used that contain the dal or pulses, and sabzi or vegetable preparations. In north India, the food course ends with a sweet or salted lassi, which is a buttermilk drink made by churning the curd. Other regional food courses also culminate with a sweet course, and famous among them are the jalebis and kheer of the north, payasam of the south, milk sweets of the east, and the evergreen paan made of the Betel leaf, which is famous all over.
At the regional level, almost every state has its own cuisine existing of a variety of dishes. Kashmir exhibits a central Asian and Persian influence blended into the food styles of Kashmiri Hindus and Buddhists. Its green leafy vegetable preparations called saag supplements the main course of rice, along with lotus root and mushroom preparations. Rogan josh is a popular Kashmiri dish, which along with many varieties of mutton cuisines are the typical Mughlai style of non-vegetarian cooking inherited from the Muslims. The Northern cuisines start with Punjab and its stuffed wheat cakes called paranthas, tandoori rotis and naan. Also famous are its pulses preparation dal makhani, vegetable dish sarson ka saag with makkai ki roti or flattened breads made of corn flour, and paneer or Indian cottage cheese dishes.
The western desert and arid areas of Rajasthan compensate for the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables with grain-based cuisines like daal- bati, makki dhoklas, and rotis made from jowar (sorgham), bajra (millet), and makkai (corn) flours. The Gujarati cuisines are known to have the
sweet ingredients in their dishes, while the Andhra Pradesh food is all chili-hot, well known for its biryani and kababs, and the spicy Indian curry is a south Indian specialty that is known world over. The coastal states of Kerala and West Bengal boast of numerous fish preparations, while Uttar Pradesh and surrounding areas exhibit the Awadhi, Garhwali and Kumaoni cuisines, and is the origin of the popular Indian snacks like kachori, samosa, and pakora.
The northeastern Assamese cuisine differs by its minimal use of spices, and the traditional meal mostly consists of khar and tenga dishes. The cuisine of Orissa uses a mixture of local ingredients including cumin and mustard called panch phutana, while Goa flaunts its Portuguese influence with dishes like vindaloo, duck baffed, and sorpotel. The famous masala dosa originates from the Udupi cuisine of Karnataka, and so do the palatable sweets like Mysore pak. Kerala’s rice with tapioca, Tamil Nadu’s Idili and Sambhar with a tinge of tamarind for sourness, Maharashtra’s puran poli , and Mizoram’s Bai, add to the diversity of Indian vegetarian cuisines, whereas Meghalaya’s Jadoh, and north India’s Mughlai and tandoori dishes scintillate the non-vegetarian food of India.
Indian food is also characterized by a range of varied taste-inducing preparations eaten along with the main course, such as achars or pickles, and sauces known as chutneys. Among drinks, tea or chai is the favorite in north India, whereas in the south people prefer filtered coffee. Summarizing, we can say that India’s basic vegetarian cuisine consists of dal (lentils), roti (bread), sabzi (vegetables), and chawal (rice).