Since thousands of years, food has carried a meaning beyond mere consumption for over hundred million people residing in India. It is an integral part of their lives in which they desire perfection and into which they are deeply involved. A major portion of the day revolves around food preparation, be it for the breakfast, lunch, the afternoon snack or dinner. Walk through a residential area and you may smell aroma of a spicy, sumptuous meal being prepared tirelessly by housewives. After an exhausting day, fresh and delicious homemade food is the only option for recreation within reach of a common Indian. Indian people passionately prepare, serve and eat food. They are shrewd food lovers and like to pamper themselves with assorted dishes.
Food in India has been largely contoured by its geographical make up. The north boasts of huge wheat cultivation and milk production. Milk products, wheat preparations, poultry and lambs dominate the diet of the North. South zone is immensely fertile land and yields almost three seasons of rice; coconut and sea food being the other food items found in abundance. Food in South is rice centered and has a strong coconut base to its main dishes. There is a decent coastline towards the East which makes it rich in seafood coupled with rice. West and Central India see a hot and spicy attribute due to the appalling production of chilly.
The trend of fast-food is popular in India also, mostly originating from some of the South Indian states. South Indian dishes like Idli Sambar and Dosa are not only tasty but also nutritious and are quickly served everywhere in India, without a big variation in taste. Not to forget, the roadside chaat and wada pav which are largely consumed by a huge Indian population almost every day just for the sake of a quick eat or to satisfy the taste buds.
Famous for the food stuffed with spices, India has a relatively old record of them being used to add flavor to the raw meat. Spices have been cultivated here from the times of Harappa Civilization, which blossomed nearly 5000 years ago. The people of those times used spices to enhance or vary the tastes of their foods. They also disguised the real flavor of tasteless nutritious food, which when not spiced had to be thrown away. Clove, mustard and ground mustard were used to preserve food without refrigeration. People went hungry without spices because they could not preserve food for a longer time.
Today when spices cost so little, it feels strange to know that long before the Christian era, when the Greek merchants came to India, spices were exchanged for gold, silver, antimony and wine. They cost a fortune to the then countries and were the soul of international trade. Vicious battles were fought by Western European countries like Rome, Portugal, Greece, Spain, France and Great Britain over ruling the spice producing colonies. Such was their importance in the days of the past.
It is believed that Arabs brought with them coriander and cumin when they invaded the Indus valley. Pepper, coriander and turmeric today form the base of most of the South Asian dishes. The history of Indian spices is thus a fascinating account of fierce naval rivalry, conquest, adventure and exploration.
A plate full of Indian food is like a palette full of colors. Anything and everything in the plate can be eaten either with rice or chapatti – a flat and circular, bread-like preparation made mostly out of wheat flour. Generally, housewives buy fresh vegetables, wash them clean and cut and cook them into pure groundnut or soybean oil. The vegetables are spiced up with strong flavors of ginger, pepper, turmeric and asafetida. They are then garnished with coriander leaves or finely grated, wet coconut and served hot.
Fruits are also an inseparable part of the Indian diet. Apple, grapes, bananas and papaya are the most notable fruits found in this fruit basket of the world. Mango is the national fruit of India and has hundreds of varieties. It is exported to European countries following its taste and rich quality. Hindus consume only fruits during their fasts and fruits have a great importance in festivals like Ganesh Puja celebrated all over the country.
As you move from food to the beverages, sipping tea is the favorite pastime of Indians. They drink at least two cups of tea a day and love coupling their afternoon tea with snacks. Indians love their tea with high proportions of milk and sugar. The northeastern part of India is a perfect region for tea plantations due to widespread hilly areas and favorable climatic condition. This ideal but rare combination makes India one of the largest exporters of premium quality tea, Darjeeling being the most notable tea producing region.
Every state in India has its own peculiar culinary style. Though every kind of dish is available everywhere in India, its best taste is generally limited to the state or region of its origin. Thus, it is advisable to eat a regional specialty in that specific region to relish its finest taste. It is recommended that you discuss a region’s special dish with the local people rather than ordering any random item from the menu. In the beginning, the spicy, Indian food might challenge your digestive abilities, but as you slowly increase its consumption you get used to it.
Indian cuisine completes the package of a memorable tour. Back in your hometown when you shall ruffle through your photographs of India, you might not be surprised if your stomach lurches in hunger for Indian food and you start missing its aroma.