Journey of Indian Food – Through the Ages

The richness of Indian culture and tradition goes back to an era when some of the most powerful civilizations were still struggling to establish its stability. India excelled in every direction and, in the sphere of culinary this region has been successful to establish a separate identity. Being a country comprising of a number of states with various traditions, India is a pool for a wide variety of delectable cuisines. However, globalisation has made it a necessity to bring variations in the typical Indian preparations. Many ingredients are now added to change the typical taste bud and introduce something new to the Indian cooking vocabulary.

The evolution of Indian cooking is the result of the intrusion of travellers, conquerors and rulers from various corners of the world. They brought with them the secrets of their cuisines which got clubbed with local style and received an identity of its own. So, let’s go back to 2000 BC and before, and venture the Mohenjedaro and Harrapan Civilization. They followed the tradition of Ayurvedic cooking. Wheat, rice, lentil, meat, chicken were part of their regular diet and whatever spices were added, it created sweet, sour, salty or bitter tastes. Ultimately the cuisine was balanced properly to affect body and mind in a healthy manner.

However, to think that Indian cuisine is all about vegetarian dishes would be a wrong idea. Indus Valley Civilizations already proved meat to be an integral part of the diet but there are instances which showed that even from 1000 BC to 400 BC, a considerable portion of Indian subcontinent were still vegetarian. Since it has been an era of religious upheavals, caste system, Vedic norms, many rules and regulations were imposed on cooking. For instance, the intake of garlic and onion was forbidden or slaughter of animals was considered as curse.

But that had never stopped Indians to break the stringent norms, which was clear in the Mauryan Era, when cross pollination of food and natural liquors were consumed for recreation. It was the result of the coming of Alexander the Great in 326 BC. This was the beginning to the period, when foreign influences began to enter the kitchen and the impact was more with the inceptions of Muslim rulers in India. On the other hand, the cuisines of Goa have been influenced by the Portuguese essence and in Northern India an interesting travelogue speaks about a meal made of ghee, yogurt and pickles along with several courses including a milk-based dessert.

Coming to the Mughal period in 13th century, a number of seasoning ingredients like saffron, addition of nuts and many new cooking techniques impressed the Indian mass. Along with that, the famous Islamic meat preparations like Biriyani, Kebab, Halim, Tandoor etc were introduced. In Southern India, European impression in cooking continued its hold, like the impact of Syrian Christian cuisine in Kerela. Next, with the colonial penetration, Indian food habits faced another impact. There was a gradual demand of tea and Anglo-Indian cuisines emerged along with various eating etiquettes. However, even though there were influences, India maintained her superiority in the usage of spices for creating curry and preparing dishes with delicious aroma.

Now with globalisation, process of cooking has been through major changes. For instance, the concept of cheese in India was restricted to ‘paneer’ and ‘chhena’. But it is no longer a foreign element because cheese is now used for making or garnishing dishes. Moreover, the use of olive oil was not very common among Indians. Mustard, coconut, vegetable oil and ‘ghee’ used to be the usual cooking oils; today, a number of Indians are found using olive oil for cooking, which is more of a western impact.

Indian food has its own uniqueness and a preparatory style which is natural and healthy. Every spices and ingredients used plays an important role in building a strong body. The country has been known for creating amazing vegetarian dishes using vegetables and adding elements, which is bound to be a treat for all the foodies. This has been the major reason for Indian food to cross the boundaries of the native land and enter UK and other foreign countries. People around the world never miss the opportunity to take a plunge into this gastronomical journey to satisfy their cravings.