ANCIENT INDIAN CUISINE – ITS INFLUENCERS AND INFLUENCES

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In ancient era legumes, fruits – vegetables, honey, and dairy products were part of the main diet. Around 7000 BCE, agriculture spread from Fertile Crescent to the Indus Valley, where wheat and barley began to be grown (Indus Valley: basins of the river Indus, and seasonal river Ghaggar-Hakra, an area of northwest India, and eastern Pakistan —— Fertile Crescent: A crescent-shaped region in the Middle-East, a span from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, southeastern region of Turkey, and western fringes of Iran). History has a mention of 6200 BCE, since when variety of wheat, pearl millet (in Hindi called ‘bajra’), rice, and lentils are cultivated in the Indian subcontinent. Also, ancient Hindu text Mahabharata has a reference of cooking of rice and meat together, and the word ‘pulao’ is noted in ancient Sanskrit work to refer to the dish.

In India, Yoga tradition developed food classification, and categorised food items as ‘saatvic’, raajsic, and taamsic. Chapter 17, verses 8 to 10 in Bhagavad Gita it is significantly mentioned about food and outlaws certain dietary practices, and here are those verses- Verse 8: आयु:सत्त्वबलारोग्यसुखप्रीतिविवर्धना: | रस्या: स्निग्धा: स्थिरा हृद्या आहारा: सात्त्विकप्रिया: ||8|| -meaning, humans shall prefer juicy, succulent, nourishing, naturally tasteful foods promoting the span of life, increasing virtue, strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction; Verse 9: कट्वम्ललवणात्युष्णतीक्ष्णरूक्षविदाहिन: | आहारा राजसस्येष्टा दु:खशोकामयप्रदा: ||9|| -meaning, too bitter, too sour, salty, spicy, pungent, dry and very hot food not good for humans, such food causes disease and painful misery; and, Verse 10 says: यातयामं गतरसं पूति पर्युषितं च यत् | उच्छिष्टमपि चामेध्यं भोजनं तामसप्रियम् ||10|| -meaning, overcooked, or stale – contaminated food is not good for humans.

It is to be said that ‘In India, the taste and culinary-art varies at every forty-fifty kilometer’, — the diverse soil, climatic condition, availability of native crops, spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits – the diverse religion, ethnicity, and cultural values every aspect influences preparations of Indian cuisines. Indian cuisine manifests an 8000-year history of Indian subcontinent, a southern Asia’s physiographical region situated on Indian Plate —— what is on the platter and relished in today’s modern India is an ancient culinary-art, diverse and influenced by vivid groups – cultures interacted, traded and ruled India. Centuries of Islamic rule particularly Mughal era introduced, Mughlai recipes and introduced dishes like samosa and pilaf — the Columbian discovery of the new world brought many new vegetables and fruits like: Potato, Tomatoes, Chillies, Peanuts, and Guava to India. Later, arrivals from Arabia, Central Asia and centuries old trade relations and cultural exchange played a dominant role in influencing and adopting regional cuisines — adoption of tandoor in Middle East, originated in northwestern India.

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Today, many international cuisines are influenced by Indian culinary-art, such as: Thai cuisine, Filipino cuisine, and Indonesian cuisines. While Cambodian, Lao, Vietnamese, Burmese cuisines borrow inspiration from Indian cooking style. Indian cuisine is most popular in US, UK, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Germany, and France — a year 2019 research paper by US economist Joel Waldfogel based on travel data from TripAdvisor, ranked Indian cuisine the fourth most popular cuisine in the world, after Italian, Japanese, and Chinese food as top-three.

In another 2019 survey of 25,000 people cross thirty-four countries, and the largest fans of India cuisine who have tried it are the Indians 93%, UK 84%, Singaporeans 77%, Norwegians 75%, Australians 74%, French 71%, Finnish 71%, Malaysians 70%, Indonesians 49%, Vietnamese 44%, Thai 27%, and mainland Chinese 26%). The reason for the popularity of Indian cuisine is the rise of a large number of distinct diaspora spread across the world, and well blended Indian fusion cuisine such as: Malaysian Indian Cuisine, Indian Singaporean Cuisine, and Anglo-Indian Cuisine – an adaptation of western cuisines preparation in Indian ingredients, developed during British colonial rule.

And, lastly concluding here to mention that almost thirty-one percent (slightly less than) one-third of Indians across the world are vegetarians, and the main reason for this is the existence of Hinduism and Jainism as religions.

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