Your Guide to the Regional Cuisines of IndiaBack to feed
Historians believe that people arrived in India over 55,000 years ago, making India one of the oldest human civilizations in the world. This long history, combined with the fact that India currently has a population of over 1.2 billion, means that India is home to a huge diversity of language, food, and culture! The various cuisines of India can be largely separated into four areas: North, South, East, and West. Keep reading to learn about the unique (and delicious!) foods from each of these regions!
West India is home to three varied and distinct cuisines: Gujarati, Maharashtrian, and Goan. Each of these is influenced by the regional climate, locally grown spices, and cultural beliefs.
Gujarati cuisines are mostly vegetarian and usually do not contain onion or garlic. This is because according to Ayurveda, a book of medicine from the ancient Vedic civilization, these ingredients can promote the “rajas” or passions, which is not beneficial to the spiritual well-being of a person. Although many devout Hindus and Jains across the country follow this dietary restriction, the practice of omitting onion and garlic is most popular in the West Indian Gujarati cuisine. Chickpeas are also very popular in Gujarati foods.
Maharashtrian cuisine ranges from bland, mildly spiced food to hot, fiery dishes. This area of West India has a very social culture and this, along with the bustling lifestyle of big cities like Bombay, has given birth to an ever-evolving and diverse street food culture. Many popular snacks like Vada Pav, Poha, and Chivda originated here.
Goan cuisine is unique in its use of “Kookum Phool,” a souring spice that grows in the region. Goan cuisines often use coconut milk and fish, as Goa is a coastal region with easy access to the ocean.
In East India, you’ll find two major cuisines: Bengali and Odiya.
Bengali food includes a wide range of multi-course meals that were popularized by the Mughal emperors (who ruled India from the 1500s to the 1700s), the British Raj, and Chinese settlers. Their love for confectionaries and desserts gave birth to many popular Indian sweets that are now enjoyed worldwide, like Sandesh, Rasgulla, Rasmalai, Laddu, Pantua, Chum Chum, and many more! During the festival of Durga Puja, which occurs during the last five days of the Navaratri Festival, it is customary for folks in this region to feast on a variety of delicacies. This is different from celebrants in other areas, who actually fast during the celebration! This custom, of eating during Durga Puja, is jokingly referred to as “pet pujo” which means “the worship of the stomach” and is so much fun!
Odiya cuisine is based on their staple ingredients, rice and seafood, which are typically seasoned with spices and mustard oil. Plantain, jackfruit, and papaya are also very popular and are served in curries as part of the main course at meals. Often, Odiya dishes use fermented, leftover rice to make a porridge, which is a favorite of locals. The largest kitchen in the world is actually located at the Jagannath Temple in Odisha, where 1,000 cooks work around 752 clay hearths to feed over 10,000 people each day!
As a whole, North Indian foods represent many local flavors that are highly distinct in their uses of spices, cooking styles, and textures. However, the one thing that is ubiquitous throughout the North Indian region is roti, or flatbread, which is a popular staple throughout the area. The famous tandoori oven is widely used in Northern India to bake roti and a variety of other breads.
North Indian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Turko-Persian foods of Central Asia and Iran, which is where the Mughals were originally from. This cuisine is unique in its use of whole spices, which are used in many popular dishes like biriyani and pilaf, and slow-cooked dishes like nihari, a meat stew that is cooked overnight using a wood-burning clay hearth. This Mughali style of cooking is very popular now, but it didn’t actually become common until the 1850s, which is when the Mughals fell out of power. The royal cooks, needing work, began cooking for the public and the foods became much more accessible and popular!
South India is home to five major cuisines: Tamilian, Telugu-Telangana, Kerala, and Karnataka. Each of these styles has heavily influenced each other over time, so they do have some things in common. For one, all of these foods are often served on freshly cut banana leaves, dried and stitched fig leaves, lotus leaves, or plates or bowls made of pressed areca nut. They also all tend to have a very balanced flavor, as each meal consists of six dishes that each highlight a specific flavor: sweet, spicy, sour, salty, bitter, or astringent. South Indian foods are also very time consuming to make, especially if the dish includes fermented rice or yogurt, which are popular South Indian ingredients.
Interesting fact: Unlike the rest of the country, South India prefers savory foods over sweeter treats, so festival season kicks off with the making of hundreds of varieties of savory snacks!
This month, discover all that India has to offer with Discover at the Jungle: Deepavali! Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights, is a five-day celebration that is celebrated yearly in India and several other Southeast Asian countries, including Nepal! All month, we’re celebrating the holiday with specially selected foods, recipes, and more! Join us in-store or online at Junglejims.com/Discoveries to learn more!
By Salaphaty Rao Marrao, Jungle Jim’s International Department