Most Indian cuisines are related by similiar usage of spices. Often, Indian cooking is distinguished by the use of a larger variety of vegetables than many other well-known cuisines. Within these recognisable similarities, there is an enormous variety of local styles.
In the north and the west, Kashmiri and Mughlai cuisines show strong central Asian influences. Through the medium of Mughlai food, this influence has propagated into many regional kitchens. To the east, the Bengali and Assamese styles shade off into the cuisines of East Asia. Besides the main dishes, various snacks are widely popular in Indian cuisine, such as samosa and vada. Among drinks, tea enjoys heavy popularity, while coffee is mostly popular in South India. Nimbu pani (lemonade), lassi, and coconut milk are also popular.
Typically, North Indian meals consist of chapatis or rotis and rice as staples, eaten with a wide variety of side dishes like dals, curries, yogurt, chutney and achars. South Indian dishes are mostly rice-based, sambhar, rasam and curries being important side dishes.
Modern India is going through a period of rapid culinary evolution. With urbanisation and the consequent evolution of patterns of living, home cooked food has become simpler. Old recipes are recalled more often than used. A small number of influential cookbooks have served the purpose of preserving some of this culinary heritage at the cost of homogenising palates. Meanwhile restaurants, increasingly popular, encourage mixing of styles. Tandoori fish, mutton dosas and Jain pizzas are immediately recognisable by many Indians in cities.
Many Indian dishes require an entire day’s preparation of cutting vegetables, pounding spices on a stone or just sitting patiently by the fire for hours on end. On the other hand, there are simple dishes which are ideal for everyday eating.
Several customs are associated with the way in which food is consumed. Traditionally, meals are eaten while sitting on the floor or on very low stools, eating with the fingers of the right hand.
Most of the spices used in Indian food have been used for their medicinal properties in addition to the flavor and taste they impart. Ginger is believed to have originated in India and was introduced to China over 3000 years ago. In India, a knob of fresh ginger added to tea is believed to relieve sore throats and head colds, not to mention it’s aphrodisiacal properties! Turmeric is splendid against skin diseases and neem leaves are used to guard against small pox.