Very fine meals that suit the various
taste buds of people all over the world are prepared in India. Strict vegetarianism
is mostly confined to the South. Beef, from the holy cow is strictly taboo for
the Hindus and Pork is equally taboo for the Muslims.
In the north,
much meat is eaten and cooking is often of the "Mughal style" which bears relation
to that of the Middle East and central Asia. The emphasis is more on spices
and less on curry heat. In the north more grains and breads are eaten and less
rice. In the South, more rice is eaten and the curries tend to be hotter. Another
peculiarity of Southern vegetarian food is that it has to be eaten by hand and
not by fork and spoons!
There is no such
thing as "curry" in India. It is an all-purpose term devised by the English
to cover the whole range of Indian food spicing. Indian cooks have about 25
spices on their regular list and it is from these that they produce curry flavor.
Normally the spices are freshly ground in a mortar and pestle called SIL_VATTA.
Spices are usually blended in certain combinations to produce meals. Garam Masala,
for example is a red-hot combination of cloves and cinnamon with peppercorns.
include saffron, an expensive flavoring produced from flowers. This is used
to give biryani, that yellow color and delicate fragrance. Turmeric also has
a coloring property and acts as a preservative. Chillies are ground, dried or
added whole to give that hot taste to curries. They come in red and green varieties
but the green ones are the hottest. Ginger is supposed to be good for digestion.
Coriander is added to many masalas so as to cool the body. Cardamom is used
in many sweet dishes and in meat preparations. Other popular spices are nutmeg,
cinnamon, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek, mace, garlic and
Rice is the staple
food of the Indians but it is given much importance only in the South. The best
Indian rice is the famous Indian Basmati whose patenting has raised a lot of
dust and is still under controversy. It is predominantly grown in the Dehra
Dun Valley. It has long grains, is yellowish in color and has a slight sweetish
or "bas" smell, which gives it its name.
In the north a
range of breads called ROTIS or PHULKA in Punjab supplements this rice. Indian
breads are varied but they are always delicious. Simplest form is the Chapatti,
just Wheat flour and water fried up like a thin pancake. It is supposed to be
a British invention. Rotis are flour and water cooked on a hot tawa. Direct
heat blows them up, but how well depends on the glutin content of the wheat.
Baste your roti in butter or ghee and it becomes a paratha. If deep-fried it
is called poori in the north and loochi in the east, made of rice and black
gram flour it is called dosa in the South. Dosas are found all over India and
when wrapped around curried vegetables it becomes masala dosa, a nice snack.
Another type of deep-fried bread with a stuffing is the Kachori. Bake the bread
in an oven and it becomes Naan. An Idli is a kind of rice dumpling, often served
with dal curry called sambar, a south Indian favorite and green chilly chutney.
Tomato or Onion chutneys also go with it. Papadams are crispy deep-fried wafer
often served with Thalis or other meals.
Curries can be
made of vegetables, fish, meat, chicken, lamb, and pork. Mostly vegetable oils
are used for this purpose. These curries are accompanied by rice in the South
and Rotis in the north. Probably the most basic of Indian dishes is Dhal. Dhal
is almost there everywhere whether as an accompaniment to a curry or with rice
and chapattis. The favorite dhal of Bengal and Gujarat is yellow arhar; in Bengal
channa is also yellow; mung is green, rajma is Heinz. Altogether there are 57
varieties of dhal available in India.
Tandoori food is northern specialty
and refers to the clay oven in which the food is cooked after first being marinated
in a mixture of yogurts and spices. Tandoori chicken is a special favorite in
This food is not very hot and usually
tastes terrific. Biryani is a Mughal dish. Chicken Biryani is mostly the best
favored. Here the meat is mixed with deliciously flavored, orange colored rice,
which is spiced with nuts and dry-fruits. A Pulao is a simpler version of the
biryani. These biryanis are not too hot like most of the curries
is a curried lamb popular in Kashmir where it originated and also in most parts
of northern India. Guntaba, pounded and spiced meat balls cooked in a
yogurt sauce is also a Kashmiri specialty. Still in the north, Chicken Mahanwala
is a rich dish cooked in a butter sauce. Many coastal areas have excellent seafood,
including Bombay, where the Pomfret, a flounder-like fish, is popular. Bombay
Duck, another fish dish is also famous in Bombay. Dhansak is a Parsi
specialty found in Bombay, lamb or chicken cooked with curried lentils and steamed
rice. Goa has excellent fish and prawns. Further South in Kerala, all varieties
of prawns and crabs and a lot of fish are available.
Indian dish is the Kababs. These are found all over north India with a lot of
variations. The two main forms are Sikka (skewered) or Shami (wrapped). In Calcutta
Kati kababs are a local favorite. Further south in Hyderabad, Hallen, pounded
wheat with lightly spiced mutton gravy is available. The Andhras are noted for
their heavily chillied food. In Tamilnadu Pongal made of cooking rice with jaggery
is a specialty. Equally notable is the "vada", made of Black gram dhal flour
or Bengal gram dhal mixed with chillies and lots of onions. These two always
find their place in the menu of any Tamil family.
Indian food has a number of side
dishes to go with the main meal. Probably, the most popular is the Dahi- or
curd or yogurt. It has the ability to cool the stomach after a very hot meal.
Curd is also used in making Desserts and in the popular drink Lassi. Raitha
is another popular side dish where with curd a lot of vegetables in raw form
or curried vegetables are mixed. Particularly tomato and cucumber is used. Sabzi
are curried vegetables, bhartha is pureed or minced vegetables, and bhujjas
are fresh vegetables. India is also famous for a variety of pickles. They come
in all flavors, lime, mango, ginger, onion, mixed vegetables, chili, alloo,
etc., and in a number of combinations of the above mentioned.
A thali is the all-purpose Indian
vegetarian dish. Although it basically belongs to south India, it is found in
the north too. There are regional variations also. The name comes from the "thali"
dish in which it is served. The Thali consists of a metal plate with a number
of small metal bowls known as Katoris on it. Sometimes the small bowls are replaced
by small indentations on the plate itself. Mostly the plate is a big Banana
A thali consists
of a variety of vegetable curry dishes, relishes, a couple of papadams, puris
or chapattis and a whole lot of rice. A deluxe variety would include a Pata,
a rolled betel leaf stuffed with fruit and nuts. It may also include curd and
one or two Desserts. The main plus points of thalis are they are cheap and 100%
filling. Moreover the rice is unlimited for the Gourmet.
Samosa, tasty little curried vegetable
snacks fried up in a pastry triangle, are found all over India. Bhelpuri is
a popular snack in most of the cities, one, which is sold in peddled, carts
in the nights. Chana, spiced chick peas served with puris is also a roadside
favorite. Chat, a general term for snacks and nibbles is now found in good packs
to suit all tongues and pockets.
The western foods available for breakfast
include Bread Toast and Jam, Bread with butter or Cheese, all types of egg like
omelette, fried eggs, bulls-eye and a lot more, the types that can be prepared
with little effort. One western food that the Indians have come to terms 100%
is the French Fries, which we Indians call, the chips. Calcutta and Bombay have
a small Chinese population so Chinese foods can be had in the major cities with
a little search. In the north where the Tibetans have settled in many places
Tibetan restaurants are present as in places like Dharamsala, Manali and Srinagar.
Indians are said
to have a sweet tooth and an amazing collection of sweets are available to satisfy
them. Kulfi is a widely acceptable dessert, a sort of Indian representation
of ice cream. Of course, good quality ice creams are also available from a number
of leading brands all over the country. Rasgullas are another popular type of
Dessert, sweet little balls of rose-flavored cream cheese.
Desserts are mainly rice or milk
puddings in sweet syrup or sweet pastries. Gulab Jamuns are small round balls
made of flour, yogurt and ground almonds. Jalebi are pancakes in syrup. Milk
dishes are usually boiled until the liquid has been removed and then the various
ingredients are added to desserts like barfi, which has coconut with almond
or pistachio flavoring. Sandesh is a variety of milk dish popular in Calcutta.
Payasam as it is called in the south is made from milk simmered with crushed
cashews, cereals and sugar, topped with raisins. Firnee is a rice pudding dessert
with almonds, raisins and pistachios.
Many of the Indian sweets come with
a coating of silver paper, which is edible. Halwa, a translucent, vividly colored
sweet belongs to Tamilnadu, particularly the Tirunelveli District. Grinding
wheat for a long time and then boiling the ground paste with sugar and seasoned
with a lot of nuts makes it.
India boasts of a wide variety of
fruits, fresh from the gardens. The collection varies all the way from tropical
delights in the south to apples, apricots and other temperate region fruits
in the north. Cherries and strawberries are available aplenty in Kashmir, and
apricots in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. Apples are found all over the northwestern
part but particularly in the Kulu Valley of Himachal.
Melons are widespread
in India, particularly watermelons that are fine thirst quenchers. Mangoes and
bananas are found in many parts of India; Pineapples in Assam, Oranges in Kerala,
tangerines are widespread in Central India, particularly the hot season.
An Indian meal
finishes with Paan- the name given to the collection of spices and condiments
chewed with betel leaves. Found throughout eastern Asia, Betel is mildly intoxicating
and addictive. But after a meal it is taken as a mild digestive in small amounts.
Paan sellers have a number of little trays and containers in which they mix
either sadha or Mitha (sweet) paans. The ingredient may include apart from the
betel nut itself, lime paste, various spices and even a dash of opium for a
better price. The whole concoction is folded up cleverly and chewed.
Drinks Non - Alcoholic
Tea is the most
popular drink in the north, while in the south, coffee is the number one drink.
"Tray Tea", which gives you the tea, milk and sugar separately is the most
commonly available form of tea in most of the sophisticated hotels in India.
Nimbu Paani, which is nothing but lemon squash is commonly available in all
the towns, particularly in the summer. A number of branded soft drinks like
Pepsi, Coca-cola, sprite, seven-up, etc have cropped up in recent times, and
they seem to quench ones thirst though they are said to have only artificial
contents with high sugar content. Apple juice drinks are widely available in
Himachal Pradesh. Coconut milk, straight from the young coconut, is a popular
street-side drink. Another escape from soft drinks is the plain soda, which
is widely available. Finally there is the Lassi, that cool, refreshing and delicious
iced curd drink.
Alcohol seems to
be little expensive in India. In some states like Goa, it is very cheap, whereas
in some states like Tamilnadu, it is very expensive. Indian Beers to mention
are Golden Eagle, Rosy Pelican, Cannon Extra Strong, Kingfisher, etc., Beer
and other interpretations of western alcoholic drinks are known as Indian Made
Foreign Liquor (IMFL). Local drinks are called country Liquor and include Toddy,
a mildly alcoholic extract from coconut palm flower, and Feni, a distilled liquor
produced from Fermented cashew nuts or from coconuts. The two varieties taste