What’s the world’s favorite ethnic cuisine? Chinese? Japanese? Italian? In the UK, Indian food holds pride of place among non-native cuisines, and as more Americans are initiated, the subcontinent’s flavors continue to rise in popularity on this side of the pond. So, what’s the scoop with Indian food?
Diversity and Diet
India’s wide-ranging geography and manifold ethnic and religious groups greatly affects its foodways. The North Indian plain produces abundant wheat for the many varieties of Indian breads, while rice, coconut and tropical fruits are prominent in South Indian cuisine. Lentils, used in different soups collectively called dal, are a staple across the subcontinent.
Diet in India is largely prescribed by religion. For instance, the Hindu faith forbids eating beef, while Muslims must abstain from pork. Meanwhile, some Hindus, Buddhists and other religious sects are strictly vegetarian. For most dishes in a typical Indian food restaurant White Plains NY, the main ingredient is interchangeable between chicken, lamb, fish, or vegetables.
Indian food has also been influenced by the subcontinent’s historical foreign contacts. Centuries of Muslim conquest have left a legacy of kebabs and other Middle Eastern foods now firmly in the mainstream, while mulligatawny soup is a fusion of native South Indian and British traditions.
The Land of Spices
For centuries, India was the center of the international spice trade. Being a hot country, Indians made use of powerful spices to preserve food. Indian cooking today is known for its bold flavors.
Curries are perhaps the most well-known kind of Indian dish, and can refer to the dish itself or the gravy in which it’s prepared. The curry base is a thick sauce liberally seasoned with turmeric, cumin, coriander, chiles, ginger, garlic, mustard and other spices. Various meats and vegetables are cooked in this sauce, and the mixture is poured over rice, often of the long-grain basmati variety.
Like its broader culture, the cookery of the Indian subcontinent is rich, varied and complex. An exploratory trip to an authentic Indian restaurant is an unforgettable experience.