Indian food is as diverse as India. Indian cuisines use numerous ingredients, deploy a wide range of food preparation styles, cooking techniques, and culinary presentations. From salads to sauces, from vegetarian to meat, from spices to sensuous, from bread to desserts, Indian cuisine is invariably complex. Harold McGee, a favourite of many Michelin-starred chefs, writes “for sheer inventiveness with the milk itself as the primary ingredient, no country on earth can match India.”
India is known for its love of food and spices. Indian cuisine varies from region to region, reflecting the local produce, cultural diversity, and varied demographics of the country. Generally, Indian cuisine can be split into five categories – northern, southern, eastern, western, and northeastern. The diversity of Indian cuisine is characterised by the differing use of many spices and herbs, a wide assortment of recipes and cooking techniques. Though a significant portion of Indian food is vegetarian, many Indian dishes also include meats like chicken, mutton, beef (both cow and buffalo), pork and fish, egg and other seafood. Fish-based cuisines are common in eastern states of India, particularly West Bengal and the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Despite this diversity, some unifying threads emerge. Varied uses of spices are an integral part of certain food preparations and are used to enhance the flavour of a dish and create unique flavours and aromas. Cuisine across India has also been influenced by various cultural groups that entered India throughout history, such as the Central Asians, Arabs, Mughals, and European colonists. Sweets are also very popular among Indians, particularly in Bengal where both Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims distribute sweets to mark joyous occasions.
Indian cuisine is one of the most popular cuisines across the globe. In most Indian restaurants outside India, the menu does not do justice to the enormous variety of Indian cuisine available – the most common cuisine served on the menu would be Punjabi cuisine (chicken tikka masala is a very popular dish in the United Kingdom). There do exist some restaurants serving cuisines from other regions of India, although these are few and far between. Historically, Indian spices and herbs were one of the most sought after trade commodities. The spice trade between India and Europe led to the rise and dominance of Arab traders to such an extent that European explorers, such as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, set out to find new trade routes with India leading to the Age of Discovery. The popularity of curry, which originated in India, across Asia has often led to the dish being labeled as the “pan-Asian” dish.
Regional Indian cuisine continues to evolve. A fusion of East Asian and Western cooking methods with traditional cuisines, along with regional adaptations of fast food are prominent in major Indian cities.
The cuisine of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana consists of the Telugu cuisine, of the Telugu people as well as Hyderabadi cuisine (also known as Nizami cuisine), of the Hyderabadi Muslim community. Hyderabadi food is based heavily on non-vegetarian ingredients while, Telugu food is a mix of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian ingredients. Telugu food is rich in spices and chillies are abundantly used. The food also generally tends to be more on the tangy side with tamarind and lime juice both used liberally as souring agents. Rice is the staple food of Telugu people. Starch is consumed with a variety of curries and lentil soups or broths. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods are both popular. Hyderabadi cuisine includes popular delicacies such as Biryani, Haleem, Baghara baingan and Kheema, while Hyderabadi day to day dishes see some commonalities with Telanganite Telugu food, with its use of tamarind, rice, and lentils, along with meat. Yogurt is a common addition to meals, as a way of tempering spiciness.