A beginner’s guide to the cuisine of India
The cuisine of India contains such a broad range of foods and flavours, that it’s hard to comprehend the diversity and complexity of the dishes associated with this part of the world.
Across the sub-continent, there is enormous regional and seasonal variations in the food that is eaten, with cultural and religious influences that date back 8,000 years.
Throughout the history of this region, events such as foreign invasions, trade relations, and colonialism have played a role in introducing certain foods and ingredients to this region. For instance, the potato – which has become a staple ingredient in some regional dishes in India -, was first introduced to this part of the world by the Portuguese. It was the Portuguese who also introduced chillies and breadfruit to the tables of India.
Indian cuisine has also shaped the history of international relations. For example, the spice trade between India and Europe was the primary catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery. Spices were bought from India and traded around Europe and Asia.
Additionally, Indian cuisine has influenced numerous other cuisines across the world – especially those from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the British Isles, Fiji, and the Caribbean.
While there’s enormous regional variations in the dishes that are prepared in India, some of the essential spices that you’ll commonly find in Indian food include:
- Mustard seeds
- Garam masala
While the food that is served will depend on where you are in India or elsewhere in the world, some of the main dishes that are generally associated with Indian cuisine include:
- Rice is a staple ingredient, but comes in numerous variations such as white, red, brown, sticky, or black.
- Lentils are generally featured as dhal and are often spiced and flavoured.
- Chicken and lamb are the most commonly eaten meats in India. Fish is eaten in coastal areas. Beef is eaten in the north-east of the country. People in India often follow a vegetarian diet. Religion is also an important factor. Hindus don’t eat beef, and Muslims don’t eat pork.
- Bread is often served with a meal, either as naan or roti.
The cuisine of India in the UK
The UK’s first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostanee Coffee House, opened in 1810. Current estimates suggest that there are now over 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine across the UK. Government statistics indicate that the Indian food industry in the UK is worth £3.2 billion, accounts for two-thirds of all meals not cooked at home, and serves about 2.5 million customers every week.
The fusion of UK and Indian cuisine has seen the development of a number of popular Anglo-Indian dishes. For example, Chicken Tikka Masala is one of the most popular Indian dishes in the UK, but is generally unknown back in India.
Where to find Indian Cuisine in London
In Gracechurch Street, on the City side of London Bridge. Fairly basic but reliable.
Dishoom is billed as an original Bombay Cafe with a range of small plates, drinks, and desserts on offer. The fit-out is all slow-turning fans, big mirrors, and clever retro lighting - bringing a touch of Bombay glamour to its outlets in Covent Garden and Shoreditch.
Found in Chapel Market - a short walk from Angel tube, this is a relaxed and informal vegetarian eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet. You can take your own wine which is a bonus.
Not technically on Brick Lane, but if anyone asks me for a recommendation of where to get a good curry on Brick Lane I always send them here. Their tandoori is a knock-out. Unfortunately, they’ve now closed the restaurant part of their operation, so they’re only offering take-away or delivery.
Masala Zone is a chain of Indian restaurants with locations across central London. Modern and stylish, with professional service, there’s a lot to like about Masala Zone - especially if you like Indian food. A good simple option if you fancy a bit of spice.