The Indian sub-continent is massive. From tip to toe and side to side it covers an area of 3287263 square km, or 1269219 sq miles. A land of great diversity, it is only natural that the eating habits of Indians would be governed, to a great extent, by a variety of factors, such as religion, caste, geography, weather, and historical influences. Indian cuisine cannot be narrowed down simply to tandoori chicken, naan, and dal; it is too broad in its scope to be limited to such a narrow definition.
Take for instance the case of Brahmins living in India. Considered to be the highest cast in the country, Brahmins of North India are strictly vegetarians in their diet. And yet, those living in the coastal region of Kerala and West Bengal are known to eat a lot of fish. On another note, while meat-eating Hindus up in the North consider it a sin to eat beef, down South and in the East, there is no such limitation and people from these regions can be seen tucking into beef with great relish.
Let’s look at how weather can affect the diet of a particular region. North sees a lot of extreme weather which alternates between scorching heat and nail-biting cold, with a short spate of showers between both. For this reason, the food in this region tends to be rich in nature and heavy on your stomach. In Rajasthan, where the weather is dry and arid, the food comprises of dal and a variety of preserves; the latter attempting to make up for the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in this desert region. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, where there is a high level of humidity and plenty of rainfall, the food is spicy and hot, since people believe that it helps to keep viral flu at bay.
Punjabi food is designed for the hale and hearty folks that reside in this region. Primarily a farming community, Punjabis are known for their voracious appetites and fondness for tandoori chicken. Wheat is the staple here and much of Punjabi diet revolves around greens, corn bread, and milk products. An especially famous drink that is attributed to Punjab is “lassi” which is made from yoghurt, and can either be sweet or salty. Punjab is also famous for its wide variety of “paranthas” stuffed with mashed potatoes, “paneer” (cottage cheese), “mooli” (giant radish), “methi” (fenugreek leaves) and sometimes even a spicy chicken filling.
In Kashmir, the staple is rice. Since a lot of vegetables commonly available in the plains don’t grow in the mountainous region, the natives of Kashmir have adapted their cuisine to include whatever they can find. Therefore, they use “hak”, a green leafy vegetable, to make “saag” while lotus root and morel mushrooms are also extensively used in their cooking. For meat, they consume poultry and lamb which is cooked in the Mughlai style and they also include fresh water fish in their diet, too. While North India has its thali, Kashmir has a 36-course meal called “Waazwaan”. Their tea is also different from the one drunk in the plains, since Kashmiri’s are in the habit of drinking a spice-scented green tea known as “Qahwa”.
As you can see for yourself, it’s really difficult to classify Indian food into any one category – it’s not all spicy and not everybody is a vegetarian. Among the meat eaters, too, there are various segregations. The food can be rich and thick as well as light and refreshing. The more you know about Indian food, the more you wonder about and learn to be wowed by it. It’s a never-ending journey of explorations – one that is bound to titillate your taste buds and leave you asking hungrily for more!