For the cuisine of indigenous people of the Americas, see Native American cuisine.
Indian cuisine consists of a wide variety of regional and traditional cuisines native to the Indian subcontinent. Given the range of diversity in soil type, climate, culture, ethnic groups, and occupations, these cuisines vary substantially from each other and use locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Indian food is also heavily influenced by religion, in particular Hindu, and cultural choices and traditions. Also, Middle Eastern and Central Asian influences have occurred on North Indian cuisine from the years of Mughal rule. Indian cuisine is still evolving, as a result of the nation's cultural interactions with other societies.
Historical incidents such as foreign invasions, trade relations, and colonialism have played a role in introducing certain foods to the country. For instance, potato, a staple of the diet in some regions of India, was brought to India by the Portuguese, who also introduced chillies and breadfruit. Indian cuisine has shaped the history of international relations; the spice trade between India and Europe was the primary catalyst for Europe's Age of Discovery. Spices were bought from India and traded around Europe and Asia. Indian cuisine has influenced other cuisines across the world, especially those from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the British Isles, Fiji, and the Caribbean.
Main article: History of South Asian cuisine
Indian cuisine reflects an 8,000-year history of various groups and cultures interacting with the subcontinent, leading to diversity of flavours and regional cuisines found in modern-day India. Later, trade with British and Portuguese influence added to the already diverse Indian cuisine.
Early diet in India mainly consisted of legumes, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy products, and honey. Staple foods eaten today include a variety of lentils (dal), whole-wheat flour (aṭṭa), rice, and pearl millet (bājra), which has been cultivated in the Indian subcontinent since 6200 BCE. Over time, segments of the population embraced vegetarianism during Śramaṇa movement while an equitable climate permitted a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains to be grown throughout the year. A food classification system that categorised any item as saatvic, raajsic, or taamsic developed in Yoga tradition. The Bhagavad Gita proscribes certain dietary practices (chapter 17, verses 8–10). Consumption of beef is taboo, due to cows being considered sacred in Hinduism. Beef is generally not eaten by Hindus in India except for Kerala and the north east.
Middle Ages to the 16th centuries
During the Middle Ages, several Indian dynasties were predominant, including the Gupta dynasty. Travelling to India during this time introduced new cooking methods and products to the region, including tea. India was later invaded by tribes from Central Asian cultures, which led to the emergence of Mughlai cuisine, a mix of Indian and Central Asian cuisine. Hallmarks include seasonings such as saffron.
Staple foods of Indian cuisine include pearl millet (bājra), rice, whole-wheat flour (aṭṭa), and a variety of lentils, such as masoor (most often red lentils), toor (pigeon peas), urad (black gram), and moong (mung beans). Lentils may be used whole, dehusked—for example, dhuli moong or dhuli urad—or split. Split lentils, or dal, are used extensively. Some pulses, such as channa or cholae (chickpeas), rajma (kidney beans), and lobiya (black-eyed peas) are very common, especially in the northern regions. Channa and moong are also processed into flour (besan).
Many Indian dishes are cooked in vegetable oil, but peanut oil is popular in northern and western India, mustard oil in eastern India, and coconut oil along the western coast, especially in Kerala.Gingelly (sesame) oil is common in the south since it imparts a fragrant, nutty aroma. In recent decades, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and soybean oils have become popular across India.Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is another popular cooking medium. Butter-based ghee, or deshi ghee, is used frequently, though less than in the past. Many types of meat are used for Indian cooking, but chicken and mutton tend to be the most commonly consumed meats. Fish and beef consumption are prevalent in some parts of India, but they are not widely consumed except for coastal areas, as well as the north east.
The most important and frequently used spices and flavourings in Indian cuisine are whole or powdered chilli pepper (mirch, introduced by the Portuguese from Mexico in the 16th century), black mustard seed (sarso), cardamom (elaichi), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi), asafoetida (hing), ginger (adrak), coriander (dhania), and garlic (lasoon). One popular spice mix is garam masala, a powder that typically includes five or more dried spices, especially cardamom, cinnamon (dalchini), and clove (laung). Each culinary region has a distinctive garam masala blend—individual chefs may also have their own. Goda masala is a comparable, though sweet, spice mix popular in Maharashtra. Some leaves commonly used for flavouring include bay leaves (tejpat), coriander leaves, fenugreek leaves, and mint leaves. The use of curry leaves and roots for flavouring is typical of Gujarati and South Indian cuisine. Sweet dishes are often seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose petal essences.
See also: List of Indian dishes
Cuisine differs across India's diverse regions as a result of variation in local culture, geographical location (proximity to sea, desert, or mountains), and economics. It also varies seasonally, depending on which fruits and vegetables are ripe.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Seafood plays a major role in the cuisine of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Staples of the diet of the Indigenous Andamanese traditionally included roots, honey, fruits, meat, and fish, which were obtained by hunting and gathering. Some insects were also eaten as delicacies. Immigration from mainland of India, however, has resulted in variations in the cuisine.
Main article: Telugu cuisine
The cuisine of Andhra Pradesh belongs to the two Telugu-speaking regions of Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra and is part of Telugu cuisine. The food of Andhra Pradesh is known for its heavy use of spices, and similar to South Indian cuisine, the use of tamarind. Seafood is common in the coastal region of the state. Rice is the staple food (as is with all South Indian states) eaten with lentil preparations such as pappu (lentils) and pulusu (stew) and spicy vegetables or curries. In Andhra, leafy greens or vegetables such as bottle-gourd and eggplant are usually added to dal. Pickles are an essential part of the local cuisine; popular among those are mango-based pickles such as avakaya and maagaya, gongura (a pickle made from Kenaf leaves),usirikaya (gooseberry or amla), nimmakaya (lime), and tomato pickle. Yogurt is a common addition to meals, as a way of tempering spiciness. Breakfast items include dosa, pesarattu (mung bean dosa), vada, and idli.
Main article: Cuisine of Arunachal Pradesh
The staple food of Arunachal Pradesh is rice, along with fish, meat, and leaf vegetables. Many varieties of rice are used. Lettuce is the most common vegetable, usually prepared by boiling with ginger, coriander, and green chillies. Boiled rice cakes wrapped in leaves are a popular snack. Thukpa is a kind of noodle soup common among the Monpa tribe of the region. Native tribes of Arunachal are meat eaters and use fish, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, and mutton to make their dishes. Apong or rice beer made from fermented rice or millet is a popular beverage in Arunachal Pradesh and is consumed as a refreshing drink.
Main article: Assamese cuisine
Assamese cuisine is a mixture of different indigenous styles, with considerable regional variation and some external influences. Although it is known for its limited use of spices, Assamese cuisine has strong flavours from its use of endemic herbs, fruits, and vegetables served fresh, dried, or fermented. Rice is the staple food item and a huge variety of endemic rice varieties, including several varieties of sticky rice are a part of the cuisine in Assam. Fish, generally freshwater varieties, are widely eaten. Other nonvegetarian items include chicken, duck, squab, snails, silkworms, insects, goat, pork, venison, turtle, monitor lizard, etc. The region's cuisine involves simple cooking processes, mostly barbecuing, steaming, or boiling. Bhuna, the gentle frying of spices before the addition of the main ingredients, generally common in Indian cooking, is absent in the cuisine of Assam. A traditional meal in Assam begins with a khar, a class of dishes named after the main ingredient and ends with a tenga, a sour dish. Homebrewed rice beer or rice wine is served before a meal. The food is usually served in bell metal utensils.Paan, the practice of chewing betel nut, generally concludes a meal.
Main article: Bihari cuisine
See also: Bhojpuri cuisine and Mithila (India)
Bihari cuisine is wholesome and simple. Litti chokha, a baked salted wheat-flour cake filled with sattu (baked chickpea flour) and some special spices, is well known among the middle-class families served with baigan bharta, made of roasted eggplant (brinjal) and tomatoes. Among meat dishes, meat saalan is a popular dish made of mutton or goat curry with cubed potatoes in garam masala. Dalpuri is another popular dish in Bihar. It is salted wheat-flour bread, filled with boiled, crushed, and fried gram pulses. Malpua is a popular sweet dish of Bihar, prepared by a mixture of maida, milk, bananas, cashew nuts, peanuts, raisins, sugar, water, and green cardamom. Another notable sweet dish of Bihar is balushahi, which is prepared by a specially treated combination of maida and sugar along with ghee, and the other worldwide famous sweet, khaja, also very popular, is made from flour, vegetable fat, and sugar, which is mainly used in weddings and other occasions. Silav near Nalanda is famous for its production. During the festival of Chhath, thekua, a sweet dish made of ghee, jaggery, and whole-meal flour, flavoured with aniseed, is made.
Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and Haryana is a city of 20th century origin with a cosmopolitan food culture mainly involving North Indian cuisine.
People enjoy home-made recipes such as parantha, especially at breakfast, and other Punjabi foods like roti which is made from wheat, corn, or other glutenousflour with cooked vegetables or beans. Sarson da saag and dal makhani are well-known dishes among others. Popular snacks include gol gappa (known as panipuri in other places). It consists of a round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavoured water, boiled and cubed potatoes, bengal gram beans, etc.
Chhattisgarh cuisine is unique in nature and not found in the rest of India, although the staple food is rice, like in much of the country. Many Chhattisgarhi people drink liquor brewed from the mahuwa flower palm wine (tadi in rural areas). The tribal people of the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh eat ancestral dishes such as mushrooms, bamboo pickle, bamboo vegetables, etc.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli
The local cuisine resembles the cuisine of Gujarat. Ubadiyu is a local delicacy made of vegetables and beans with herbs. The common foods include rice, roti, vegetables, river fish, and crab. People also enjoy buttermilk and chutney made of different fruits and herbs.
Daman and Diu
Daman and Diu is a union territory of India which, like Goa, was a former colonial possession of Portugal. Consequently, both native Gujarati food and traditional Portuguese food are common. Being a coastal region, the communities are mainly dependent on seafood. Normally, rotli and tea are taken for breakfast, rotla and saak for lunch, and chokha along with saak and curry are taken for dinner. Some of the dishes prepared on festive occasions include puri, lapsee, potaya, dudh-plag, and dhakanu. While alcohol is prohibited in the neighbouring state of Gujarat, drinking is common in Daman and Diu. Better known as the “pub” of Gujarat. All popular brands of alcohol are readily available.
Delhi was once the capital of the Mughal empire, and it became the birthplace of Mughlai cuisine. Delhi is noted for its street food. The Paranthewali Gali in Chandani Chowk is just one of the culinary landmarks for stuffed flatbread (paranthas). Delhi has people from different parts of India, thus the city has different types of food traditions; its cuisine is influenced by the various cultures. Punjabi cuisine is common, due to the dominance of Punjabi communities. Delhi cuisine is actually an amalgam of different Indian cuisines modified in unique ways. This is apparent in the different types of street food available. Kababs, kachauri, chaat, Indian sweets, Indian ice cream (commonly called kulfi), and even western food items like sandwiches and patties, are prepared in a style unique to Delhi and are quite popular.
Main articles: Goan cuisine and Goan Catholic cuisine
See also: Saraswat cuisine and Malvani cuisine
The area has a tropical climate, which means the spices and flavours are intense. Use of kokum is a distinct feature of the region's cuisine. Goan cuisine is mostly seafood and meat-based; the staple foods are rice and fish. Kingfish (vison or visvan) is the most common delicacy, and others include pomfret, shark, tuna, and mackerel; these are often served with coconut milk.Shellfish, including crabs, prawns, tiger prawns, lobster, squid, and mussels, are commonly eaten. The cuisine of Goa is influenced by its Hindu origins, 400 years of Portuguese colonialism, and modern techniques.Bread, introduced by the Portuguese, is very popular, and is an important part of goan breakfast. Frequent tourism in the area gives Goan food an international aspect. Vegetarianism is equally popular.
Main article: Gujarati cuisine
Gujarati cuisine is primarily vegetarian. The typical Gujarati thali consists of roti (rotlii in Gujarati), daal or kadhi, rice, sabzi/shaak, papad and chaas (buttermilk). The sabzi is a dish of different combinations of vegetables and spices which may be stir fried, spicy or sweet. Gujarati cuisine can vary widely in flavour and heat based on personal and regional tastes. North Gujarat, Kathiawad, Kachchh, and South Gujarat are the four major regions of Gujarati cuisine. Many Gujarati dishes are simultaneously sweet, salty (like vegetable Handvo), and spicy. In mango season, keri no ras (fresh mango pulp) is often an integral part of the meal. Spices also vary seasonally.For example, garam masala is used very less in summer.Few of Gujarati Snacks like Sev Khamani, Khakhra, Dal Vada, Methi na Bhajiya, Khaman, Bhakharwadi etc. Regular fasting, with diets limited to milk, dried fruit, and nuts, is a common practice.
Cattle being common in Haryana, dairy products are a common component of its cuisine. Specific dishes include kadhi, pakora, besanmasala roti, bajra aloo roti, churma, kheer, bathua raita, methi gajar, singri ki sabzi, and tamatar chutney.
Lassi, sharbat, and nimbu pani are three popular nonalcoholic beverages in Haryana. Liquor stores are common there, which cater to a large number of truck drivers.
Main article: Culture of Himachal Pradesh § Cuisine
The daily diet of Himachal people is similar to that of the rest of North India, including lentils, broth, rice, vegetables, and bread, although nonvegetarian cuisine is preferred. Some of the specialities of Himachal include sidu, patande, chukh, rajmah, and til chutney.
Jammu and Kashmir
Main article: Cuisine of Kashmir
The cuisine of Jammu and Kashmir is from three regions of the state: Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. Kashmiri cuisine has evolved over hundreds of years. Its first major influence was the food of the Kashmiri Hindus and Buddhists. The cuisine was later influenced by the cultures which arrived with the invasion of Kashmir by Timur from the area of modern Uzbekistan. Subsequent influences have included the cuisines of Central Asia and the North Indian plains. The most notable ingredient in Kashmiri cuisine is mutton, of which over 30 varieties are known.Wazwan is a multicourse meal in the Kashmiri tradition, the preparation of which is considered an art.
Kashmiri Pandit food is elaborate, and an important part of the Pandits' ethnic identity. Kashmiri Pandit cuisine usually uses yogurt, oil, and spices such as turmeric, red chilli, cumin, ginger, and fennel, though they do not use onion and garlic. Also, birayanis are quite popular here. They are the speciality of Kashmir.
Main article: Traditional cuisine of Jharkhand
Traditional Jharkhand dishes are not available at restaurants, as they have not been commercialised. Prepared exclusively in tribal regions, this cuisine uses oil and spices infrequently, except for pickle production and special occasions. Baiganee chop, a snack made of brinjal slices or eggplant, is popular in Jharkhand. Thekua is a sweet dish made of sugar, wheat, flour, and chopped coconuts. Hadia, which is made of paddy rice, is a refreshing drink. A wide variety of recipes is prepared with different types of rice in Jharkhand, including dhuska, pittha, and different kinds of rotis prepared with rice.
Main article: Cuisine of Karnataka
See also: Mangalorean cuisine and Udupi cuisine
A number of dishes, such as idly, rava idly, Mysore masala dosa, etc. were invented here and have become popular beyond the state of Karnataka. Equally, varieties in the cuisine of Karnataka have similarities with its three neighbouring South Indian states, as well as the states of Maharashtra and Goa to its north. It is very common for the food to be served on a banana leaf, especially during festivals and functions.
Karnataka cuisine can be very broadly divided into: 1) Mysore/Bangalore cuisine, 2) North Karnataka cuisine, 3) Udupi cuisine, 4) Kodagu/Coorg cuisine, and 5) Karavali/coastal cuisine. The cuisine covers a wide spectrum of food from pure vegetarian and vegan to meats like pork, and from savouries to sweets. Typical dishes include bisi bele bath, jolada rotti, badanekai yennegai, Holige, Kadubu, chapati, idli vada, ragi rotti, akki rotti, saaru, huli, kootu, vangibath, khara bath, kesari bhath, sajjige, neer dosa, mysoore pak, haal bai, chiroti, benne dose, ragi mudde, and uppittu.
The Kodagu district is known for spicy pork curries, while coastal Karnataka specialises in seafood. Although the ingredients differ regionally, a typical Kannadiga oota (Kannadiga meal) is served on a banana leaf. The coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi have slightly varying cuisines, which make extensive use of coconut in curries and frequently include seafood.
Main article: Cuisine of Kerala
Traditional food of Kerala Hindus is vegetarian, with regional exceptions such as the food of the Malabar area. It includes Kerala sadhya, which is an elaborate vegetarian banquet prepared for festivals and ceremonies. Contemporary Kerala food also includes nonvegetarian dishes. A full-course sadya, which consists of rice with about 20 different accompaniments and desserts is the ceremonial meal, eaten usually on celebrations such as marriages, Onam, Vishu, etc. and is served on a plantain leaf.
Fish and seafood play a major role in Kerala cuisine, as Kerala is a coastal state. An everyday Kerala meal in most households consists of rice with fish curry made of sardines, mackerel, seer fish, king fish, pomfret, prawns, shrimp, sole, anchovy, parrotfish, etc. (mussels, oysters, crabs, squid, scallops etc. are not rare), vegetable curry and stir-fried vegetables with or without coconut traditionally known as thoran or mizhukkupiratti. As Kerala has large inland water bodies, freshwater fish are abundant, and constitute regular meals.
It is common in Kerala to have a breakfast with nonvegetarian dishes in restaurants, in contrast to other states in India. Chicken/mutton stews, lamb/chicken/beef/pork/egg curry, fish curry with tapioca for breakfast are common. A wide range of breakfast with non-vegetarian is common in Malabar and in Central Kerala.
Kerala cuisine reflects its rich trading heritage. Over time, various cuisines have blended with indigenous dishes, while foreign ones have been adapted to local tastes. Significant Arab, Syrian, Portuguese, Dutch, Jewish, and Middle Eastern influences exist in this region's cuisine, through ancient trade routes via the Arabian Sea and through Arab traders who settled here, contributed to the evolution of kozhikodan halwa along with other dishes like Thalassery biryani.
Coconuts grow in abundance in Kerala, so grated coconut and coconut milk are commonly used for thickening and flavouring. Kerala's long coastline and numerous rivers have led to a strong fishing industry in the region, making seafood a common part of the meal. Rice is grown in abundance, along with tapioca. It is the main starch ingredient used in Kerala's food.
Having been a major production area of spices for thousands of years, the region makes frequent use of black pepper, cardamom, clove, ginger, and cinnamon. Most of Kerala's Hindus, except its Brahmin community, eat fish, chicken, beef, pork, eggs, and mutton. The Brahmin is famed for its vegan cuisine, especially varieties of sambar and rasam. A thick vegetable stew popular in South and Central India called avial is believed to have originated in southern Kerala. Avial is a widely eaten vegetarian dish in the state and plays a major role in sadya.
In most Kerala households, a typical meal consists of rice,and vegetables. Kerala also has a variety of breakfast dishes like idli, dosa, appam, idiyappam, puttu, and pathiri. The Muslim community of Kerala blend Arabian, North Indian, and indigenous Malabari cuisines, using chicken, eggs, beef, and mutton.Thalassery biryani is the only biryani variant, which is of Kerala origin having originated in Talassery, in Malabar region. The dish is significantly different from other biryani variants.
The Pathanamthitta region is known for raalan and fish curries. Appam along with wine and curries of cured beef and pork are popular among Syrian Christians in Central Kerala.
Popular desserts are payasam and halwa. The Hindu community's payasams, especially those made at temples, like the Ambalappuzha temple, are famous for their rich taste. Halva is one of the most commonly found or easily recognised sweets in bakeries throughout Kerala, and Kozhikode is famous for its unique and exotic haluva, which is popularly known as Kozhikodan haluva
With all its exotic ingredients, unfamiliar dishes, and tongue-tingling flavors, Indian cuisine can be both exciting and intimidating. “It’s such a complete world of taste. You combine all the techniques from other cuisines and add magical spices to get a titillating food experience,” says Madhur Jaffrey, an actress and the author of At Home With Madhur Jaffrey ($35, amazon.com) and many other cookbooks.
“Indian cuisine uses the whole palette of flavors—spicy, sour, sweet, and hot all at the same time—making it something that wants to jump off the plate,” says Floyd Cardoz, the executive chef and a partner of North End Grill in New York City and the author of One Spice, Two Spice ($36, amazon.com).
Don’t be afraid to start playing around with cooking Indian food at home. First, it’s important to understand the various dishes and flavors that make up Indian cuisine. “There’s as much varied cuisine in India as you would find in Europe. It’s all totally different, and the only thing that connects it is a judicious knowledge of the use of spices,” says Jaffrey.
There are a basic 20 to 30 spices that are used in many dishes—cumin, coriander, turmeric, and ginger, to name a few—and there are an infinite number of ways of using them. “Every spice has a reason for being there. They have health benefits, and they make the food more exciting and flavorful,” says Cardoz.
Contrary to common belief, not all Indian dishes are curries. However, “curry” has become a catch-all name for any spice-based meat or vegetable dish with a sauce. Curries can be watery, dry, red, green, hot, or really, really hot—it’s completely up to the chef in charge. In fact, a basic chicken curry is one of the simplest things to start with when first experimenting with Indian cooking. Serve it with a side of dal (a stew made of lentils, peas, or beans) and some roti (a tortilla-like wheat flat bread, available for mail order at ishopindian.com) and you’ll feel as if you’re halfway around the world.
Indian cuisine has an added bonus for vegetarians: For them, it’s one of the friendliest cuisines around. Judicious use of spices and sauces breathes new life into the likes of potatoes, cauliflower, peas, and eggplant. And a meal of hearty-but-healthy palak paneer (a spinach-and-cheese dish) with a side of naan (a pita-type leavened flat bread) will convert even the biggest meat lovers.
There are easy ways to start bringing the tastes of India into your kitchen. “Try to incorporate Indian flavors into dishes you already do, for example, roasted fish, chicken or steamed vegetables. Pick something with two or three spices and start with that. Add a little cumin, ginger, and chili pepper to the vegetable you like,” says Cardoz. “Remember that your food can only be as good as the ingredients you start with, but you don’t need the most expensive ingredients. You can make chicken thighs, and they’re simple and flavorful. Embrace the cuisine, and don’t be afraid of it.”
The bottom line: Keep it simple when you’re starting out at home. Look for basic potato, okra, and meat dishes to help build your Indian-cuisine repertoire. “Don’t overwhelm yourself by buying 30 spices,” says Jaffrey. “Start with the ones for a specific dish.”
Preparing the dishes is only part of crafting the perfect Indian culinary experience. It’s up to each diner to make every bite count. “When you make your mouthfuls, you can vary the taste by putting pickles or chutney on each different bite,” says Jaffrey.
With its array of spices and condiments and experimental attitude, Indian cuisine allows home cooks to get creative and adventurous. Play around with basic dishes and flavors and you’ll find it’s an easy way to shake up your usual dinner repertoire.