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What is so special about Indian cooking?
Food is my first love and cooking is like a therapy. I think many of you can relate. Since growing up in India where food is the soul of its culture, I was always fascinated by the enormous sizzling varieties in Indian cooking. Living abroad and having cooked for many, my friends often ask me about how they can learn to cook Indian food.
I believe Indian cooking is not terribly difficult, but it does help to have a little background knowledge and a pinch of love for the cooking. For me, cooking is not just a passion, it’s a way of reliving my childhood. The ritual of following the recipes that my mother prepared for me still evoke strong memories full of aroma, history and comfort.
Like many Indians, care and culture goes into every dish I prepare. We learn about the history of where our food comes from and what distinctive qualities give ingredients such flavour. The flavour of Indian cookery is rich. I hope my article inspires people worldwide to consider Indian cuisine for their next dinner party or family dinner.
Join me on a culinary journey through time and place.
What’s Inside the article for readers?
History of Indian Cooking and Culture
In ancient India food reflected cultural evolution, one largely agro based. Wheat, rice, milk and milk products made up the base of our meals, but what made our dishes stand out the most was our mixture of herbs and spices. Collectively this contributes to the flavor of India.
Generation after generation, to this day people in India still prefer their traditional ways of cooking instead of buying outside packaged foods. Although our current day practices are now a bit more modernized, we still stay connected to our roots in our Indian cooking techniques and liberal use of potent ingredients. This is probably why when food bloggers write about Indian food they often talk about how there is so much history in every bite, that it is like stepping back in time. Nothing makes us prouder.
In the distant past, Indians used to eat what was available in their vicinity. Agriculture and farming took a major turn after the early cultivation of plants. People started farming huge varieties of crops of seasonal varieties. Food crops used to be cultivated in fertile river valleys. Rice and chapati (flat breads made out of wheat) was the staple food which was eaten with vegetables, lentils and meat.
Vegetarian meals make up much of our diet. For some of us, especially those belonging to the Hindu faith, we are devoted vegetarians. Hinduism is the most practiced religion of India and is centered on form of 3 guna (tendencies, qualities): sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattvic diet is a vegetarian diet and is considered to help bring one’s body and mind into balance. Sattvic diet which includes food and eating habits that contain guna (quality) sattva which means “pure, essential, natural, energy-containing, clean, honest, true, conscious”. Vegetarian diets tend to have greater health benefits.
Some might make the choice to be vegetarian for environmental reasons. Climate Change is a reality and our meat consumption is contributing substantially to this, so among the many Indians that eat meat they are starting to reconsider how their food choices have long term impacts on our environment. Since India is an agricultural society, precautionary measures need to be taken to preserve our fertile soil for the longevity of our society. Whereas others may choose a vegetarian lifestyle since they find all animal lifeforms worth cherishing.
If you are a vegetarian or consume very little meat, you would love visiting India. Since most of the Indian dishes are vegetarian you’ll get a great deal of exposure to new foods and learn fun ways on how to cook Indian vegetarian food. If you aren’t vegetarian, no problem. In India, you will find many delicious food dishes for non vegetarians too from chicken curries to amazing seafood platters. More than 70% of Indians have adapted to non- vegetarianism. Collectively our delicious plates offer so much variety that you won’t be disappointed on your culinary journey.
So, what are these dishes I rave about?
What is the regional flavour of India?
Considering the vastness of India and its overall diversity, there is not just a single but instead many flavours of India. Each state has its own culinary culture.
Join me on a regional venture!
Rich Indian culinary culture
India has 28 states, each representing a very unique culture. Due to the varied temperature and climate conditions across different regions, a huge number of varieties of crops, which are specific to particular regions, exist in India.
The northern region of India is popular for maize, potatoes, rice, buck wheat, small millets, among other foods due to the favourable weather and soil conditions there. Plantation farming is cultivation of single cash crops for large scale plantations. An example of this are coffee plantations in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal and rubber plantations in Maharashtra and Kerala. Below are some of the states and their famous cultural background.
Kerala, a beautiful southern state of India, is often called “God’s own country” because it is so wealthy in natural beauty such as lush greenery, serene backwaters, stunning hill towns with large scale plantations of spices, herbs and coffee. Kerala is known for its rich use of coconut in its traditional recipes. And you guessed right. Yes, people are crazy for its cuisine. One of the favourites is idli with sambar (commonly known as lentil soup) and coconut chutney.
Maharashtra is in the western peninsular region of India and food there is an integral part of local heritage. The highlight of this cuisine is the use of coconut and peanut, found in most recipes. Since this state is close to the sea, prawns and fish curries make up some of the popular coastal delicacies. For vegetarians, try a dish called Vada-Pav. This is served with bread and a potato patty, along with some spicy chutney (sauce). One more very famous mouth watering dish is Pav-Bhaji. Bhaji is mashed mixed vegetables cooked with spices eaten with butter bread. What makes this dish so special is the use of freshly grounded masalas made from spices and lentils.
Gujarat resides on the western coast of India. Gujarati food is primarily vegetarian and it's sweet, salty and spicy all at the same time. Most famous Gujarati dishes include, thepla, dhokla, kadhi, dal (lentils), baati (dough balls) and a cold drink called buttermilk (blending yogurt with black salt and cumin powder). Buttermilk is a very healthy and tasty drink as it helps in digesting food, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels and also nourishes the skin since it has cleansing enzymes. It provides many other benefits as well.
Rajasthan, a state in northern India, meaning the “Land of Kings”. It is the largest state by area in India. It encompases most of the Thar Desert (Great Indian Desert). It's also famous for traditional art, colorful block prints, dye prints, Zari embroidery, Gota patti work. Shopping markets reflect a colorful culture with handicraft items like wooden carved furnitures or showpieces, carpets and pottery.
A region often plagued by warfare coupled with the availability of ingredients impacted Rajasthani cooking a great deal. Because of this, typically food that could be served without heating and that could last for several days was preferred. Since it's a desert area, factors like scarcity of water and green vegetables were always considered for cooking. Surprisingly this didn’t impact the regional cuisine negatively. In fact, it has a rich flavour. Across India people turn to Rajasthan recipes for dishes like dal (lentils), baati (dough balls), choorma (sweet flavoured). Other famous dishes are bajre ki roti (millet bread) with aloo sabzi (potato curry) and spicy garlic chutney (sauce), pyaaz kachori, mawa kachori, ghevar, among so many others.
Punjab is a state in northern India. It contributes to two-thirds of India’s wheat production and one-third of our milk production. Punjab culture includes a very popular folk music and dance form called Bhangra. It is also home to various crafts made up of brass and copper and also known as steel town. The largest number of steel plants in India are in Punjab. Some of the region's most famous dishes include: sarson ka saag, makki di roti, tandoori chicken, rajma chawal (kidney beans with rice), butter paneer masala. The very famous and delicious sweet drink is cold lassi (sweet yogurt), regularly served with all meals.
Top 10 most popular Indian dishes
If you recall, I promised to list India’s most popular dishes.
Choosing the best tasting or most popular is challenging. But I think that this list well represents some of the best and favourite dishes by Indians and hope it will be useful. See if the next time you go to an Indian restaurant if you can find any of these foods.
Here are the top 10 most popular Indian dishes:
Don’t forget that these are just a few that reflect India’s diversity. India has a huge variety of cuisines and if you ask any of your Indian friends what the top 10 should be then you are bound to get some different dishes. But some of these are simply too popular to ignore.
Benefits of learning to cook Indian food with high nutritional value
With Indian food you not only enjoy the flavors but you also consume a lot of nutritional benefits. For instance, dal (lentils) is a common dish and is a rich source of protein. Even most of the famous dishes like butter paneer (cottage cheese), chana masala (chickpea), mango lassi (yogurt) are a great source of protein with some micronutrients too. Most people still make their fresh bread (chapati) daily at home only, which is also a very healthy choice as you are not consuming any processed bread. All vegetables and dishes are freshly prepared without the use of any chemicals. This is one of the reasons Indian food is beneficial to one's diet. Even the spices are freshly prepared and then used in various dishes such as curries. These spices are really great for improving immunity and fighting with various health problems such as blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, among other health benefits.
Ready to try some Indian cooking?
If not, I failed miserably. But if so, I would encourage you to not just run to your local Indian restaurant but try cooking some of these dishes yourself. To get you started, I am providing you with my secret (not so secret anymore) and quick recipe for chana masala.
One of my favourite Indian dishes is chana masala, originated from the northern region of India, which I usually enjoy with both Indian breads and rice. I love this dish because it is a very delicious quick Indian cooking recipe with tremendous nutritional value. It requires less chopping and requires little time. Chana which is known as chickpeas are a great source of protein and iron. Only having a few calories makes this a smart choice for many. Whenever I want to switch my diet to low calorie and high protein foods, chana masala is on the top of my list.
Enjoy your yummylicious and ever so healthy meal!
Wondering how you can learn to cook Indian food?
How can Tutor Around help you with Indian cookery classes?
At Tutor Around we provide an easy way to identify teachers of all types on our tutor finder app. Choose your prefered location by selecting home, online or onsite learning. Find a cook that offers what you are looking for and message them to schedule a meeting. For those of you wanting to take your cooking adventure to an entirely different level, consider taking a culinary trip to India and fully immersing yourself among people in their native land with fresh ingredients. Going to India would be the ideal place to learn to cook authentic Indian food.
Also, on our app you can find tour guides that can provide you with valuable advice to help you plan your trip. Find those offering walking tours, or whatever you want to enrich your educational experience. So if you want to learn to cook Indian food, you can find the best cooking tutors on our app.
How can you become a cooking teacher with Tutor Around?
If you are a freelance tutor, we provide the platform for you to post your tutoring advertisement. You also search the job board. Support students of all ages and backgrounds in their desire to learn Indian cooking.
What are we looking for among our cooking teachers:
If you think you have all the skills and knowledge required to become a cooking tutor, then please consider creating a profile with Tutor Around. At Tutor Around, we value knowledge and quality teaching. Our top professional tutors are called “Ambassador Tutors”. They are vetted and meet the highest expectations and provide professional services. We invite both potential Ambassador tutors and those without years of experience, but have a knack for teaching and Indian cookery.
Namaste! I am Garima Sarin. I’m from India, but I currently live in Hong Kong. I work as a digital marketing specialist. When I am not working I love exploring new places, cultures and seeking out adventures and hobbies. Whenever I feel stressed I love to cook. It's really a magical experience. I hope you agree.