The population of India is not only the second largest among all nations in the world, it is also ethnically one the most diverse. This can be seen by India declaring 14 official languages. Not surprisingly, this cultural diversity reveals itself plainly in Indian cuisine. The many textures, tastes and smells of Indian foods are now well accepted and liked in many nations around the world. It is also true that India has influenced southeast Asian cuisines.
The large assortment of Indian food styles, cooking techniques and eating practices can be identified by their geographical origin, mainly reflecting many factors including local climate, available ingredients and the ethnicity of inhabitants. The major varieties are western, eastern southern, northern and north eastern.
As an example, distinctive northern cuisine is known for its use of dairy products and unique cooking techniques involving the tawa (griddle) and tandoori oven (a cylindrical coal or wood fired structure). Milk, ghee, paneer and yogurt are widely used and many sauces are dairy-based. Flat breads like roti are cooked using the tawa while naans are cooked using the tandoori. Other breads like puri and bhatoora, are deep fried in oil and also common. Popular ingredients also include lamb, goat, chilies, saffron, lentils and nuts.
The sixteenth century brought many new food items to India. Tomatoes and chili as well as squash and the potato were introduced by traders from Portugal, Arabia and Persia. Cooking styles from Europe were also learned during English colonial rule. Immigration, religion, climate and culture all play a role in shaping the kaleidoscope of cuisine diversity.
Vegetarianism has been practiced for many centuries in India. It is by not means just a modern phenomenon. Studies indicate as many as 40 percent of Indians follow a vegetarian diet. Consistently, only 30 percent eat meat regularly. Vegetarianism is particularly common practice for Buddhists as well as Hindu and Jain peoples.
Some Jain people do not eat any root vegetables. These severe limitations have tended to stimulate certain populations to be especially innovative with their restricted range of foods.
Some writers have observed that the manner in which many Indian people eat, using only one hand, also has a certain influence. Eating by hand affects how some foods taste and how people connect to it. The practice adds sensuality to the enjoyment of food because dining is that much more direct. From a social point of view, there is also a heightened sense of shared sensibility to Indian cuisine.
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