At a young age I was exposed to Indian cuisine, and have been enjoying it my entire life. Until recently I was under the impression that Indian cuisine consisted of a rather limited menu of tandoori chicken, saag paneer, and samosas. With a little research I learned that Indian cuisine is comprised of a wide variety of foods from the many different regions of India. The types of cuisine found in each region depend on that region’s particular climate, soil type, and indigenous plant life. Each region utilizes in its cooking whatever spices, vegetables, meats, etc. that are grown locally. Another important influence on each region’s food choices involves varying religious and cultural practices. The Hindu and Jain religions have been especially important in dictating the varying regional cuisines. The increased proliferation of vegetarianism has been another significant factor in directing food choices among the different regions in India. One of the most widely known dietary restrictions seen in Indian cuisine is the absence of beef, which is a practice held sacred by many Hindu communities. Indian meals, depending on the region, are conducted with different etiquette that most Americans would not be used to. Most Indian meals are consumed family style with each person sharing from the same plates of food. This is in contrast to Western restaurants, which tend to serve each individual their own plate of food. Also, in more traditional regions, meals are eaten with the right hand rather than using silverware. Regions of South India sometimes use banana leaves to serve food, which add a unique flavor to each dish.
According to Rahul Akerkar, a well-known Indian-born chef, “there is no such thing as Indian food.” He makes the excellent point that “each state has its own regional cuisines,” which most Americans are completely unaware of due to the westernization of Indian cuisine. In the U.S., the different regional cuisines of India have been “trivialized” and reduced down to a few “overspiced” and “overcooked” popular dishes. He claims that it is a shame that most Americans will never experience the wide variety of cuisines that India has to offer. Luckily, everyone going on the trip to India this summer, including myself, will have the opportunity to experience a variety of authentic Indian cuisines. I think it is definitely worth the time and effort to do some research on the type of cuisines that are native to the cities we will be visiting.
Indian cuisine continues to evolve as Indian culture becomes increasingly integrated with other societies and their respective cuisines. It is my hope that Indian food in America will evolve into a more authentic representation of the distinct cuisines of India’s different regions.