Traditional Indian Food
The world of traditional Indian food has always intrigued the curiosity of keen foodies all over. Is it healthy? Is it always vegetarian? Does it use a lot of chilli? Is it easy to make authentic Indian food at home? Do we need a lot of spices and complicated ingredients to prepare indian food?
Ahh the list of questions can seem long and daunting.
But fret not, because I have brought you a lowdown on all the essential aspects of traditional Indian food, and broken down this utterly delicious cuisine into this simple, easy to understand post. And even though this thousands of years old cuisine cannot merely be explained in a few words, I promise that you will go back at the end of this, knowing and understanding this mysterious cuisine a lot better.
So lets start at the very basic,
What is traditional Indian food?
Traditionally India has been a country of many regional cultures, cuisines, languages and lifestyles that vary from one village to another. The fertile soil of the Indian subcontinent has always been the breeding ground of various unusual and delicious spices, herbs and vegetables that have now travelled all over the world. Black peppercorn, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander or right from the very humble onion to the very exotic lady finger - these are all some examples of the Indian crops that form the basis of traditional Indian food.
Quintessentially Indian food comprises of three elements, all locally produced - grain (wheat, rice, barley, millet, gram flour), lentil/pulse (yellow split pea, moong, gram, chickpea, kidney bean) and vegetables(onions, aubergine, lady fingers, potatoes). Combining the above basic ingredients with an array of spices and herbs is the pillar of every traditional Indian meal. This meal is then complimented with Indian condiments like chutneys and pickles to add additional nutrients through seeds, nuts and more herbs.
Check out our post about the history of Indian chutneys and how the British brought chatni (translating as 'to lick') to England.
And while you may be familiar with the likes of Mango Pickle, chilli pickle or lime pickles, you can also read about the top 5 unusual Indian pickles in my post here. Trust me it will surprise you different these pickles are to the ones available in UK.
Do note that the curry that you eat in an Indian restaurant is actually NOT traditional Indian food. Sorry to bust that myth. Currys are a more recent, 'eat-out' dish popularised during the post colonial times when the British wanted to bring a piece of Indian cuisine with them back to England.
Traditional Indian food on the other hand comprises of a simple daal preparation which is simply lentils that are soaked and cooked with salt, turmeric and a delicious ginger and garlic tempering at the end. Check out our easy recipe for daal tadka.
The vegetables are prepared in a dry preparation, which simply involves a few basic spices like cumin seeds, turmeric, coriander powder and chilli powder to flavour vegetables like okra, cauliflower, aubergine, peas or cabbage without much use of oil or gravy. Check out our simple aloo gobhi vegan recipe.
The carbohydrate element of authentic Indian food is usually a flatbread like roti or chapatti prepared with wholemeal wheat flour. Sorry to say but once again garlic naan is not a traditional Indian bread. Watch this simple and easy chapati recipe by Chetna Makan here.
Traditional Indian food is often arranged in a round metal plate or thali and then served with other accompaniments like pickles, chutneys, rice, yoghurt and some simple salad.
And if you were keen on achieving full Indian food nirvana, follow my blog about 5 Indian cooking tips here
Is traditional Indian Food Vegetarian?
This is a myth that I am sorry to bust! While most Indian families largely follow a vegetarian diet, the ancient religious texts and scriptures of India make a mention of meat eating. Both Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are the most revered Hindu epics, refer to meat-eating by kshatriyas or the warrior clans of India.
Having said that, you will find the largest number of vegetarian families in India than anywhere else in the world. Vegetarianism was a concept that was popularised across India after the birth of Buddhism in the country and it's strong emphasis on the values of ahimsa or non violence. This cultural and religious change across the country and an easy access to a wide variety of delicious fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs meant that a healthy vegetarian diet became the norm for the majority of Indians.
Is traditional Indian food healthy?
Without a doubt, the answer to this question is YES!
Indian food is one of the most balanced diets that you can eat. With a combination of proteins (through plant based lentils and pulses), carbohydrates (through chapatti and rice), an array of locally grown vegetables cooked in local fat sources like mustard oil or groundnut oil, Indian food provides a complete amino acid and fats profile with every meal.
Compliment this with tonnes of micro nutrients abundantly present in spices like turmeric, chilli powder, peppers, herbs like coriander, mint, fenugreek leaves and dense nutrition in seeds like fennel, cumin and mustard - traditional Indian food is a really rich source of healthy lifestyle.
In fact spices, herbs and seeds used in Indian cooking are also widely used in the traditional Indian medicine called Ayurveda to heal ailments like diabetes, hormonal imbalance, auto immune disorders or just simply promote a healthier lifestyle.
The world of traditional authentic Indian cuisine is delicious, healthy and full of a wide variety of recipes. It may seem daunting at first, but if started with a few simple preparations like daal tadka or aloo gobhi, it can be easily simplified and adapted to a busy lifestyle in any part of the world.
So tell me, what do you think about traditional Indian food now?
Are there any other pressing questions that you have wanted to know about Indian food?
What are your favourite Indian dishes?
Tell us in the comments below.