Once considered the shining jewel in the British Empire’s crown, India can today be easily titled as the huge, 60-carat diamond in the World’s favored cuisine ring. The large variety of dishes, appetizers, snacks, side dishes and desserts have found fans around the globe.
There are mainly four different regional styles: the North Indian cuisine (Benaras, Kashmir, Mughlai, Punjab and Rajasthan), the South Indian cuisine (Andhra, Kannada, Kerala and Tamil), East Indian cuisine (Assamese and Bengali) and Western Indian cuisine (Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra).
To understand the history behind some of our staple food items, let us take a closer look at a few dishes and the story behind their origins.
Kichdi: Considered in Ayurveda as a ‘perfect meal’ Kichdi, originating from the Sanskrit word krsara or medley, its original iteration was created by adding roasted and de-husked sesame seeds to a mix of butter and salt and then boiling it with rice.
It was also the strength food of the Rajputana armies that survived days of walk on ‘Sauitha’ which was khichdi made with bajra and taari, made with broken rice. The Awadh kings gave it a newer version by creating ‘shoal and kuch’, which is khichdi with meat.
Dum Biryani: According to many historical sources Biryani originated in the princely state of Hyderabad in the era of Nizams. Dum Biryani or Biryani of Awadh was said to have originated in Lucknow, when the Nawab of Awadh ordered a meal of rice and spice to be cooked in huge brass pots and served to the people during a period of food scarcity in the region. The huge amount of food was cooked with minimum resources in covered and sealed pots and the art of cooking in tightly sealed pots came to be known as ‘dum’.
Petha: Whoever has been to the city of the Taj Mahal will definitely say that Petha is the best item to eat in Agra. The invention of Agra ka Petha is linked to the construction of the colossal monument when around 21,000 workers were bored of the daily meal comprising only dal and roti. The then Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan shared his concern with master architect Ustad Isa Effendi, who requested PirNaqshbandi Sahib for a solution to the Emperor’s worries. It is believed that the Pir went into a trance during prayers one day and received the recipe of Petha from the Almighty.
Mysore Pak: Also known as the signature sweetmeat of South India, Mysore Pak’s history can be tracedback to the kitchens of Mysore Palace in the early 20th century when Nalawadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was the king in power. One day, Kakasura Madappa, the then royal cook, made a new sweet dish with the mix of chickpea flour, ghee and sugar. When the king tasted it, the dish melted at the tip of his tongue. On being asked the name of the dish, the cook invented the name ‘Mysore Paka’ in a split of second. ‘Paka’ in Kannada means, a sweet concoction.
Jalebi: One of the most popular Indian sweet dishes, Jalebi owes its origin to West Asia and came to India along with the Persian invaders. This sweetmeat was called ‘Kundalika’ and ‘Jalavallika’ during the 15th century.
Poori: Dating back to Vedic ages, poori was the perfect accompaniment to curries that involved spices. The rise of the poori as a popular dish came about because it could take flavors and fillings equally well. The fact that pooris formed a part of temple food across India,only helped to strengthen its role on the Indian plate.
Chai: Although the tea industry is thriving in India today, it was first introduced by the British. Chinese varieties of tea were first introduced in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea.Tea was originally only consumed by Anglicized Indians, and it was not until the 1920s that tea grew widely popular in India through a successful advertising campaign by the Tea Board.
The Indian cuisine is closely related to the Indian history, each historical region developing a unique set of dishes, using diverse ingredients. However, a constant remains for all regions: the affinity for sweet desserts and spicy snacks. Besides being closely related to history, Indian cuisine is also strongly influenced by the diverse religions, cultures and traditions of the country, with no other country having a wider selection of exotic dishes or offering such a large variety of stimuli to the taste buds.