Food & Culinary Tradition in India

Broadly, food in India can be divided into five regions: North, Central, South, East, and West. Though India is the home of numerous religions, the two major religions, Hinduism and Islam, contributed to the current food tradition in India.

The settlers and invaders who came to India brought their own culinary culture to India and the locals combined it with their own cooking, creating a perfect blend of unique food culture that cannot be seen in any other part of the world. For example, Parsis, who came from Persia, settled in Maharashtra and Gujarat and introduced Parsi food to local people. The British, with their rule, introduced tea (popularity known as chai), biscuits, sandwiches, and white loaf bread to the Indian people.

The Hindu religion popularized vegetarian cooking, which dates back to several thousand years during the Vedic period, when most of the food items were made with pulses and lentils (popularly called dals), grain, dairy items, vegetables, and fruits. The majority of  modern-day Hindus eat meat and sea foods, but some still practice a strict vegetarian diet.

The Mughals who invaded India in the 16th century introduced food cooked with spices, dried fruits, nuts, butter-based curries, and flavored sauces prepared with milk and cream. Though this type of cooking originated in North India, now it is cooked in all parts of India with local variations.

A typical Indian meal consists of sweet, salty, and spicy flavored food. A basic menu consists of rice, chapatis (flatbread), veg or non-veg curries, chutney,  and for dessert there might be an Indian sweet. At the end of the meal, there will be a freshener of betel leaves, cardamoms, cloves and betel nuts.

In India most people eat food with their right hand; just like how you need to practice to use chopsticks to eat Chinese food, you need to practice eating with your hand. Nowadays with the influence Western culture has on India, in cities people are eating with spoons, forks, and other utensils. Most of the homes in India prepare their food in the kitchen and eat in the kitchen, with all the family members sitting around on the floor. The main course of the food is served in a big plate with smaller plates or bowls for the side dishes. In the South,  food is also served on a banana leaf; it is a art to eat food from a banana leaf. There is no religious reason for serving food on a banana leaf, it is merely a part of South Indian tradition.

As you may very well know, there is no Indian cooking without spices and herbs. These spices and spice powder mixtures can be purchased directly from the market. Another option is to buy raw spices and grind it at home to get fresh spice mixes. Like any good cooking, Indian cooking takes time and patience. Some of Indian cooking takes hours of preparation and cooking, but if you take the time and effort to cook, you can prepare delicious Indian food.

India’s food traditions have been influenced by various settlers, invaders, and traders those who came to India for various reasons giving a culinary tradition that are benefited from centuries of cross-pollination. The majority of Indians’ mantra is “You are what you eat!”. With their religious beliefs, they modified the food tradition and cooking to satisfy their mind and body. For the majority of Indians rice, chapati, vegetables, meat, and seafood are the main food items, though throughout India these items are cooked and eaten differently based on their religious beliefs, cultural background, and the close proximity of their homes to either mountains, deserts, seas, or rivers. This gives a unique food and culinary experience in India that cannot be seen or experienced in any other country.

Author: Mani

I am interested in writing about India


  1. Nice info and photos about Indian food, during my visit to Thailand, I did see the market similiar to the Indian food markt. One of these days I will visit India, I am sure I’ll visit one of these fod markets. I love busy markets where you can buy food by talking witht the vendors directly.

  2. When I was in Chennai, I enjoyed eating varitie of South Indian food. like Idly and Dosa. One thing I can tell, the food that is prepared in US restaurents is completely differnt from the food that is available in India. Not sure why it is like that?

  3. Subbu Narayanan says:

    A nice one!

    In regards to your view on the broad food classification due to the major religions- Islam and Hinduism, I would like to mention that there have been a few other major influences too. For example, in Kerala, Syrian Christians have had a big say on the variety food. Their cuisine is is also referred to as Malabar cuisine. It is so popular even among non-christians of Kerala such that every Kerala restaurant in the country that isnt Vegetarian, will serve you Syrian Beef fry and Malabar Biryani.

    Similarly the Portugese brought us the immensely popular Vindaloo dishes, which you get in Goa and Mumbai.

  4. I didn’t know about the Syrian Christians living in Kerala until I visited Dakshinachitra in Chennai, couple of months back. There I saw model houses that are modeled after the houses of Syrian Christians in Kerala.

    I did know about the Vindaloo through another blog

    Thanks for the comments.

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