Indian Tandoori Oven

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Indian cuisine is characterized by the use of various spices, herbs and other vegetables and sometimes fruits grown in India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism across many sections of its society. Each family of Indian cuisine is characterized by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. As a consequence, it varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse Indian subcontinent.

India’s religious beliefs and culture have played an influential role in the evolution of its cuisine. However, cuisine across India also evolved due to the subcontinent’s large-scale cultural interactions with ancient Greece, Persia, Mongols and West Asia, making it a unique blend of various cuisines across Asia. The spice trade between India and Europe is often cited as the main catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery. The colonial period introduced European cooking styles to India adding to the flexibility and diversity of Indian cuisine. Indian cuisine has had a remarkable influence on cuisines across the world, especially those from Southeast Asia.

Elements
A typical assortment of spices and herbs used in Indian cuisine
The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), channa (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Pulses may be used whole, dehusked, for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad, or split. Pulses are used extensively in the form of dal (split). Some of the pulses like channa and “Mung” are also processed into flour (besan).

Most Indian curries are cooked in vegetable oil. In North and West India, peanut oil has traditionally been most popular for cooking, while in Eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. Coconut oil is used widely along the western coast and South India, Gingelly oil is common in the South as well. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity all over India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is also a popular cooking medium that replaces Desi ghee, clarified butter (the milk solids have been removed).

The most important or frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing, perungayam), ginger (adrak, inji), coriander (dhania), and garlic (lassan, poondu). Popular spice mixes are garam masala, which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly including cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. Each region, and sometimes each individual chef, has a distinctive blend of garam masala. Goda masala is a popular sweet spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves are commonly used like tejpat, coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves, curry roots is typical of all South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose petal essences are seasoned.

Popularity and influence outside India
Indian cuisine is one of the most popular cuisines across the globe. The cuisine is popular not only among the large Indian diaspora but also among the mainstream population of North America and Europe. In 2003, there were as many as 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine in England and Wales alone. A survey held in 2007 revealed that more than 1,200 Indian food products have been introduced in the United States since 2000. According to Britain’s Food Standards Agency, the Indian food industry in the United Kingdom is worth £3.2 billion, accounts for two-thirds of all eating out and serves about 2.5 million British customers every week.

Apart from Europe and North America, Indian cuisine is popular in South East Asia too because of its strong historical influence on the region’s local cuisines. Indian cuisine has had considerable influence on Malaysian cooking styles and also enjoys strong popularity in Singapore. Indian influence on Malay cuisine dates back to 19-century. Other cuisines which borrow Indian cooking styles include Vietnamese cuisine, Indonesian cuisine and Thai cuisine. The spread of vegetarianism in other parts of Asia is often credited to ancient Indian Buddhist practices. Indian cuisine is also fairly popular in the Arab world because of its similarity and influence on Arab cuisine.

The popularity of curry, which originated in India, across Asia has often led to the dish being labeled as the “pan-Asian” or the Asia Pan dish. Curry’s international appeal has also been compared to that of pizza. Though the tandoor did not originate in India, Indian tandoori dishes, such as chicken tikka made with Indian ingredients, enjoy widespread popularity. Historically, Indian spices and herbs were one of the most sought after trade commodities. The spice trade between India and Europe led to the rise and dominance of Arab traders to such an extent that European explorers, such as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, set out to find new trade routes with India leading to the Age of Discovery.

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