Asian Food Primer: Indian Food

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
by David Johnson

Throughout history waves of invaders, traders, and settlers have left their marks on India. The Persians, Portuguese, and British have influenced Indian cooking. Perhaps the biggest differences in Indian cooking are religious - Hindu sects and castes have varying dietary habits and taboos, and Hindus do not eat beef, while Muslims do not eat pork. Halal meat is that which has been slaughtered according to Islamic law.

Indian cuisine generally relies on vegetables and spices, including the famous curries. In India, curries are not pre-purchased, rather they are individually blended from various spices by each cook. Foods that are common to various regions include ghee, a clarified butter, dahi, (curd), and dal (lentils).

Wheat, in the form of baked or grilled bread, is a staple in northern India, while rice is used in the south. In Kashmir, influences from Persia and Central Asia are strong, while Bengali cooking is similar to that of Bangladesh.

Punjab and Gujarat

Most Indians in the United States come from the western Indian states of Punjab and Gujarat therefore food from those regions is most available. Punjabi food is available in much of the rest of India because after India and Pakistan separated in 1947 millions of Hindus fled the Pakistani portion of the Punjab. Settling in such cities as Mumbai (Bombay), they opened Punjabi restaurants to make a living, introducing that cuisine to other Indians.

Common ingredients:


bread, baked or grilled on a griddle; beans, lentils, vegetables, curd, pickles, curries

Popular dishes:

kebabs, meatballs, biryani (rice and meat); rice or bread pudding

Southern India

In the south, food is non-greasy and usually roasted or steamed. The state of Tamil is distinguished for its heavy use of tamarind, while Kerala is known for its stews.

Common ingredients:

Mortar and Wild Herbs

vegetables, rice, curries and other spices

Popular dishes:

rasam (thin soup) usually served with rice, curried vegetables and curd; stews; rice pancakes; steamed rice cakes

More Information:

Map of India

Asian Foods Guide

Sources +