India is a country of great diversity with various regional cuisines. India has 28 states, 40% of Indian population being vegetarian and about 1% strict Vegan.
Some of the factors affecting its current cuisine are as follows:
- Invasion by other countries: This brought in different foods and cooking methods to modify the native cuisine.
- Mughals introduced paneer (Indian cheese), naan (leavened bread), stuffed meats, poultry and fruits and cooking methods like tandoori in a clay oven.
- The British brought in potatoes, tomatoes, chilies and tea to India and knowing that these were not healthy and difficult to digest, spices were added to improve their digestion.
- Ayurveda, one of the ancient medical systems of India, had a significant influence on diet and lifestyle prior to the invasions. Its main contribution is to approach the root of health problems and to provide an individualized remedy based on body types.
Some of the general principles are as follows:
- Food is prescribed based on body type, Agni or digestive capacity (metabolism) and the lifestyle of a person.
- Food recommendation is made based on the 6 tastes in Ayurveda, which are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent, versus the macronutrients used as basis in modern nutrition.
- Seasonal routine is observed to maintain balance with the nature’s rhythms.
- Religion also plays a role in food choices and restrictions.
- Many Hindus observe a fast every 11th day of the moon cycle.
- Muslims fast during Ramadan eating only after dusk.
- Jains refrain from eating after 6 pm and avoid onions, garlic and some root vegetables.
Fasting is in tune with Ayurvedic principles and is interwoven into the culture as a means to detox the body on a regular basis to maintain optimum health.
Wheat is the staple grain in the Northern states and rice is the staple in the southern states. The lentils and spices used and method of preparation also vary greatly between the different regions.