The Indian foods we cook in our homes today are a combination of tastes - some indigenous and some influenced by intruders into the country.

This heterogeneous nation viewed from a historical perspective is very interesting. Geographically placed midway to invaders on either side of the globe, Aryans, Persians, Turks, Greeks, Chinese, nomads, Arabs, Portuguese, and British have conquered the land. The exotic spices of this country were certainly enticing to foreigners, and one of the major reasons for their encroachment. The country and its people survived the trepidations and emerged at the end of it all a culturally stronger nation. In the area of spices and foods, India has evolved over the centuries by building upon, blending and infusing its own with the contributions of its invaders.

Pictured here is Okra Curry

Cooking in many Indian families is serious business. To them, tasty, good food is a necessity of life. Cooking is an art to some others who do things meticulously in the kitchen. They have the system down to a science. Serious cooks go through the laborious steps to make sure the end result is perfect. The right utensils made of only a certain size, shape, material or color are used to prepare different foods.

Indian foods contain dishes that are made of just a couple ingredients to combinations of multiple spices, herbs and seasonings. A whole array of spices exist from aromatic, sweet and hot, to spices with medicinal properties, or are just taste enhancers. Ingredients used in our cooking promote easy digestion and prevent cholesterol, heart disease, flatulence, ulcers, nausea, colic, inflammation, and other conditions. Some spices and vegetables also have aphrodisiacal properties. There are foods for everyday nutrition, foods for rainy days, sunny days, up or low days, different religious needs, weddings, or ceremonies, and foods that serve multitudinous needs of the human psyche and physiology.

Dosai with chutneys, creamy north Indian dish

The variety in Indian foods is probably larger than any other country's. India is divided into 28 states and 7 union territories. None of these states share a language. Religion plays a part in this diverse mix. Needless to say, there is diversity in foods as well.

Each state has its own indigenous vegetable or fruit that are taste differentiators as well. Each food has a distinct taste and a refined palette can easily place the origin of a dish. It is interesting to note that the proportion of spices and the order in which they are used while cooking, can significantly alter the taste of the same dish prepared with the same vegetable and spices but in a different order and proportion.

In general, foods in almost all states are spicy with a blend of interesting aromas, tastes, and smells, but not necessarily hot. The degree of zest or heat varies depending on individual tastes or what a palette can handle. Food habits of different sects of people are quite often related to their religious beliefs. Since food is central to our being, Indians in general enjoy three proper meals with snack or tea time in between.

A typical meal
What you see above is a typical serving of a good lunch. Banana leaf is used during special occasions. In south India, a typical day starts out with a morning ritual of coffee. Fresh ground coffee is placed in little percolators. After the coffee drips through, hot boiling milk and sugar are added to taste. This is followed in about two hours by a good, tasty breakfast that consists of idlis, dosas, vadas, uppuma, and utthappam, to name a few.

Around early afternoon is the most elaborate meal of the day. Rice in vegetarian, or meat in other homes is a staple prepared with a variety of vegetable side dishes, a thick sauce called Saambar and another Rasam. There are numerous add-ons that are musts with every meal. The list includes pachadi made from yogurt with tasty garnishes, a crisp wafer called appalam, potato chips, a variety of chutneys, pickles accompany every meal. Yogurt with rice is usually the last course of a lunch.
Three hours later is tea or coffee time. This is usually followed by a light snack or slightly heavy tiffin. Then follows dinner. Most people eat light dinners or just finish their
day-long food fest with a couple fruits and a glass of milk.