TRADITIONAL FOODS OF INDIA
Foods Consumed in Different Regions of India
Eating Styles of India
Traditional Equipments used for Cooking
Changes in consumption of Traditional Foods
Traditional Foods –Modern Functions
The Future of Traditional Foods
As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling through
many millennia, India's cuisine has benefited from numerous food influences. The diverse
climate in the region, ranging from deep tropical to alpine, has also helped considerably
broaden the set of ingredients readily available to the many schools of cookery in India. In
many cases, food has become a marker of religious and social identity, with varying taboos
and preferences (for instance, a segment of the Jain population will not consume any roots or
subterranean vegetables). One strong influence over Indian foods is the longstanding
vegetarianism within sections of India's Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities. People who
follow a strict vegetarian diet make up 20–42% of the population in India, while less than
30% are regular meat-eaters.
Around 7000 BC, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the
Indus Valley. By 3000 BC, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in
India. Many recipes first emerged during the initial Vedic period, when India was still heavily
forested and agriculture was complemented with game hunting and forest produce. In Vedic
times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products and honey.
Over time, some segments of the population embraced vegetarianism, due to ancient Hindu
philosophy of ahimsa. This practice gained more popularity following the advent of
Buddhism and a cooperative climate where variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains could
easily be grown throughout the year. A food classification system that categorised any item
as saatvic, raajsic or taamsic developed in Ayurveda. Each was deemed to have a powerful
effect on the body and the mind
Later, invasions from Central Asia, Arabia, the Mughal empire, and Persia, and others
had a deep and fundamental effect on Indian cooking. Influence from traders such as the Arab
and Portuguese diversified sub continental tastes and meals. As with other cuisines, Indian
cuisine has absorbed the new-world vegetables such as tomato, chilli, and potato, as staples.
These are actually relatively recent additions.
Islamic rule introduced rich gravies, pilafs and non-vegetarian fare such as kebabs,
resulting in Mughlai cuisine (Mughal in origin), as well as such fruits as apricots, melons,
peaches, and plums. The Mughals were great patrons of cooking. Lavish dishes were
prepared during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The Nizams of Hyderabad state
meanwhile developed and perfected their own style of cooking with the most notable dish
being the Biryani. During this period the Portuguese and British introduced foods from the
New World such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilies as well as cooking techniques like
Throughout history, India’s borders have seen
the passage of many in search of its distinctly
aromatic spices. From cardamom to turmeric, the
spices of India have led to the creation of one of the
world’s most flavourful cuisines. As a nation of
twenty–eight states, distinct regional cuisines
showcasing seasonal ingredients and unique cooking
techniques can be found from the wheat-bearing
north to the rice-laden south. Each section boasts particular culinary preference shaped by
agricultural, historical and religious influences.
India is unique in its own way. It is not confined to one culture or one language, but
has several cultures flowing through its vast lands and many languages are spoken. It is
multi-cultural and multi-lingual unit, encompassing people from various social and ethnic
backgrounds. Citizens of India dress up
differently, have different cuisine and their social
and religious pursuits vary. Indian cuisine varies
from region to region. Traditionally, some states
in India have their own unique dishes, which they
often prepare during religious and social
The many similarities between the culinary regions of India are highlighted with an
exquisite use of spices and flavourings. These range from cardamom, cumin, cloves, fennel
seeds and garlic to ginger, chilles, fenugreek, saffron and turmic. Spice mixtures or masalas
are a crucial element of Indian cuisine. Whether fresh or dried, masalas make use of local
ingredients and are prepared daily along with grains, pulses and vegetables.
While meat, poultry, fish and seafood dishes are offered throughout India, most
vegetarian specialities are found in the central and southern regions. For an added dimension
of flavor, a variety of fruits are served fresh or pickled, such as chutney and relish. Dairy
products, such as clarified butter (ghee), cheese (paneer), yogurt, milk and buttermilk (moru)
are used as ingredients and condiments. Raita is popular chilled yogurt condiment garnished
with chopped fruit or vegetables and spices.
Dal preparations (dried legumes and
pulses) are at the centre of Indian meals. When
combined with grains, they provide an
inexpensive source of essential protein. Dals are
prepared whole and pureed and are generally
served with vegetables and meat, where accepted. In the northern regions, thick and hearty
stew-like dals are eaten with bread, while the thinner preparations of the south are best suited
for rice. Channa dal or gram lentils are the most widely grown dal in India. Used both as
protein and starch, garbanzos and lentils supply the base for breads, crepes and thickeners for
curries. Other types of dals commonly eaten include peas, kidney beans, mung beans and
Served at nearly every meal, vegetables are one of India’s most significant
ingredients. India’s perfected vegetable cookery offers rich and flavorful dishes, ranging from
appetizers and side dishes to entrees and fried, roasted, braised, sautéed, pureed and stuffed.
Dairy products, fruits, nuts, spices and seasonings are used to embellish greens (palak),
eggplant, gourds, roots and squash while caramelized onions and tomatoes provide the
foundation for many sauces and stews. Cauliflower and potatoes (alu gobi), peas and potatoes
(alu matter), peas and cheese (matter paneer), and
spinach and cheese (saag paneer) are popular
From bread to rice based dishes, grains and
starches are present at every meal as well,
commonly served alongside curries, meats,
seafood, dals, vegetables and condiments. In the
northern states, bread is primarily made of wheat flour. The central and southern areas use
flour made from ground lentils, garbanzos, mung beans, corn or rice.
There are several types of rice grown and eaten in India, from long-grains and
medium-grain to glutinous and wild. While basmathi is generally reserved for special
occasional, plain boiled rice is served with everyday meals, especially in the southern areas.
One- pot rice dishes, such as biryani, a combination of basmathi rice, meat or seafood,
vegetables and expensive spices, nuts, fruits and meat, seafood or yogurt are oftentimes
prepared for celebrations and religious festivals.
Foods Consumed in Different Regions of India
Northern Region and Western region
Meals in this region consist mostly of
chapattis (rotis) accompanied Dal (pulses),
vegetables and curds (Yoghurt). Rice is also
taken but in lesser quantity. Side dishes consist
of chutney (preserves) as well as achar
(pickles). There are the Mughlai and Kashmiri
cuisines, which represent the Central Asian
influence. People from this region also consume a lot of milk based sweets. In the north,
breakfast often consists of Paranthas rolled (chapattis made of ghee) and puris (small chapatis
fried in oil). Maharashtrians love eating fish and meat. Fish
is often stuffed or fried lightly. Meat, on the other hand is
braised and spiced up with sour and sweet ingredients.
Many Punjabis also eat meat. They have lamb and chicken
dishes laced with spicy mustard, sweet or onion cream
sauces. They also have sweet lassi (buttermilk) and fresh
Mostly rice is consumed and most of the
dishes are made up of rice. The consumption of rice is
heavy along with vegetables and dal as well as
chutney. For breakfast they have Idlis (steamed rice
cakes) and Dosas (a type of pancake), which are made
of rice and dal. Upma (a type of porridge) which is
also rice based, is also very popular. Sambar (type of
liquid soup) is consumed with most of the breakfast
items. Coconut is consumed a lot. It is used in chutneys as well as in curries in Kerala. The
staple food of south is rice.
In West Bengal fish is consumed a lot. It is
the staple food. Fish and rice is very popular. Sweets
are also consumed in plenty. The fish is sauted in
yoghurt and marinated in spices, which consist of
aniseeds, cumin seeds, mustard, black cumin seed and
fenugreek. Mustard oil is used. Most of the sweets are
cheese or milk based such as rasgolla, gulab jamun
and sondesh. Bengali sweets are quite often served with sticky syrup which is sweet.
In Rajasthan and Gujarat plenty of achar and a variety of
dals are consumed as not many vegetables are available. In Gujarat
food is generally vegetarian. The staple grain is millet, wheat being
secondary. Other stuff consumed are sesame, peanuts and several
vegetables. Pulses are very essential as a source of protein for the
Gujaratis, whether taken as a side dish or as soup known as Dal.
“Kichdi” is also very popular, which consists of mild rice and lentils.
A number of snacks are consumed in various regions such as samosas, vadas, pakodas,
Coconut milk, lassi (buttermilk), nimbu pani (lemonade) coffee and tea are very
Flaked or beaten rice such as “poha, avalakki” is also a very popular traditional
product consumed either as snack after toasting or frying and spicing or after soaking in
water and seasoning with spices and vegetables to make a breakfast item (cereal). Beaten
rice is widely consumed in western and southern parts of India.
There are many traditional sweets
prepared from grains, which are commonly
consumed as snacks besides biscuits and
cookies. These include candies
(chikki,gajjak,etc.) which are prepared from
puffed or expanded rice or Bengal gram,
roasted peanuts and jaggery. Sweets like
puran poli, laddu, jilebi, boondi, jhangri, Mysore pak, besan burfi, fimi, chiroti, sohan papri,
halws, shrikhand etc., are some of the important and commonly consumed traditional sweet
Indian dishes are very popular in abroad.
Several restaurants in the West offer Indian
cuisine. Generally, India cuisine is considered to
be spicy, but the sweets can be very tasty to eat.
Foods like milk based sweets, snacks (idli,
vada, samosas etc) have become an integral part of
Indian culture. These traditional foods have
already gained international recognition. Indians
have carried their culinary practices wherever they immigrated and as a result, we have
Indian cuisine catering to the palate of most of the people worldwide today. In India, these
foods are ubiquitous. They are available in all places, right from railway stations to
supermarkets in urban areas and also in village markets. Traditional foods play a vital role in
many religious festivals. Some selected foods are exclusively made for festivals and also
some of these foods, especially sweets like laddu, kheer, halwa, adhirasam are prepared for
special offerings in temples.
Eating Styles in India
Eating styles vary according to location,
religious affiliation, and dininig occasion. The type
of event, be it an everyday meal or a large feast
involving many peoples, greatly affects the style of
services and the number of dishes served.
Traditionally, women are responsible for
preparing and serving meals. It is customary for the
men and guests to receive their first, followed by the children and women. In India,
presenting food to family and guest is considered both a pleasure and a privilege.
A typical meal includes a staple preparation (rice, bread or both), dal, vegetables,
curry, side dishes and condiments such as poppadums, raitas and relish. Everything is served
at the same time on individual serving trays known as thalis. Thalis are ideal for daily meals
and small gatherings, but for larger celebrations, banana leaves and earthenware bowls are
commonly used and thrown away after the meal. Each tray, or banana leaf, holds a portion of
rice and/or bread and several small bowls of each dish. Because most people eat with the
fingers of their right, it is consisted unclean or impure to share food amongst individual
At the end of the meal, diners are presented with a bowl of water to wash their hands
and an assortment of ingredients to make paan. Commonly chewed after meals as a breath
freshener and digestive aid, paan consists of betel leaves, betel nuts and lime paste in its basic
Traditional Equipments used for Cooking
Type of mill used for grinding grains and spices. It
is made of two stones disks stacked on top of each other.
Grains or spices are poured into holes in the center of the
top stone. A wooden handle is turned, causing the top
stone to move and grind ingredients into flour or powder.
Square hearth or stove fueled with charcoal, dried
cow-dung cakes, or firewood.
Silver - lined brass saucepans. They are without handles and are available in different
sizes and depths.
Used for specific dishes that require long
cooking times with low, even heat.
Long-handles iron ladle
Karhai (or kadhai)
Pan used for deep frying. Generally made of cast iron, it resembles a deep and narrow
wok. Karhais lend a smoky flavour to foods.
Handle free frying pan.
Mortar and pestle
Used for grinding spices.
Long - handled flat iron disk that is often
perforated. It is used for frying, stirring and
removing ingredients from hot oil.
Barrel - shaped open clay oven fueled with
charcoal. Tandoors are designed to spread heat evenly
with temperatures ranging from 700oC to 800oF/371oto
427oC. Ovens come in several sizes from small clay and
iron domestic varieties to large commercial styles made
of bricks or iron.
Heavy iron pan used for cooking some types of
Round and shallow individual serving trays
made of stainless steel or brass for everyday eating and silver for special occasions.
Changes in consumption of Traditional Foods
Traditional foods have started entering into the market in a new ‘avatar’ now. With
long shelf-life and new packing techniques, the idli, vada and gulab jamun mixes have
adorned the shopping malls today.
There has been a drastic change in the eating habits of the Indians due to the transition
in their lifestyles. In the last few decades, both developed and developing countries have
been experiencing many changes in their ways of living which has led to an increased
demand for processed foods.
A Food which undergoes processing, adding value to conventional and innovative
basic forms through various permutations and combinations of providing protection,
preservation, packaging, convenience, transportation and disposability, is known as a
processed food or formulated foods. Even in developing countries like India, an entirely new
range of processed foods have flooded the markets like never before. The spurt of activity in
processed foods has been brought about primarily due to need for convenience demanded by
There is a vast difference between the consumer of yesteryears and the new-age
consumer and this change is increasing presumably with rapid urbanization and varied
sociocultural changes. There has been a drastic change in the attitudes of women too. They
prefer to spend less time in the kitchen today and more on leisure. The habit of eating out,
women taking full-time jobs, weakening of family ties, influence of media, increased
difficulties and expenses involved in obtaining domestic packaged, pre-cooked food which is
easy to cook, handle and store.
It has been reported that the armed forces are the single largest users of convenience
foods (about 40% of the convenience foods produced in India are consumed by the armed
forces). Microbiological specifications have been laid down for products like precooked
dehydrated pulav, kichadi, upma, halwa, chapattis,
chikkis and omlette mix (ready-to-cook).
All foods except chapathi and chikki are
ready-to-cook and hence get heat treatment prior to
consumption. For eg., Defense Food Research
Laboratory (DFRL), Mysore has developed a technology by which chapatis can be stored for
more than six months. Other products, like instant rice, pulav, khichdi, halwa, etc., have been
mainly developed for armed forces to provide greater efficiency and convenience when they
are sent to the field.
Traditional Foods –Modern Functions
Traditional foods enjoy immense popularity owing to certain distinct properties. They
augment food security, generate employment, improve nutritional status and add variety to
dietary regimen. They are also endowed with several medicinal benefits.
There are several options for preserving food including drying, freezing, canning and
pickling. However, many of these are inappropriate for use at small-scale level in developing
countries. For instance, the canning of vegetables at the small-scale level has serious food
safety implications and freezing of foods is not economically viable. The technologies used
to produce traditional food products have been employed for generations to preserve food for
consumption at a later date and to improve food security.
Income and Employment
Traditional food products are found to be an important source of income and
employment for millions of people around the world particularly the vulnerable and
Optimum health and nutrition of individuals is dependent upon a regular supply of
food and intake of balanced diet. When diets are sub-optimal, the individual’s capacity to
work with optimum efficiency is greatly reduced. The most vulnerable groups are women,
children and infants. Non-availability of food, dietary restrictions and taboos,
misconceptions and limited time available for feeding or eating aggravate the poor nutritional
status. Traditional foods being rich sources of almost all nutrients help in improving the
nutritional status of people to a larger extent.
‘Spicy’ not ‘bland’
Many traditional food products have strong flavours, which can enhance a dull, bland
and starchy diet. Pickles and chutneys are used to enhance the overall flavour of the meal.
Pickles are one of the most important commodities among traditional food products exported
from India. Like papad, it is an export earner. Addition of blended Indian spice powders to
western style soups would certainly enhance its taste.
Several traditional foods have been endowed with different kinds of medicinal
benefits. Foods are believed to contain ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ properties. They are also classified
as Tamasic,Sattivika and Rajasic foods. According to
Bhagwad Gita, “tamasic” foods are cold, stale and highly
spiced, rendering the consumer dull and slothful. Pork,
beef, non-scaly fish and strong brews are some examples.
“Sattivika” foods are savoury, nutritive and agreeable,
conducive to serenity and spirituality. Examples of theses
foods are milk and milk products, jaggery, honey, fruits,
goat and sheep meat, chicken, eggs and wine. Rajasic foods
are bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry and burning; they stimulate a person and make him
restless. People believed that eating foods, which clashed with any ingrained temperament or
seasonal contraindications, would result in imbalances and thereby ill health and disease.
In South India, ‘ugadi pachadi’ consisting of nee, mango,
jaggery giving five different tastes, is consumed on traditional
‘New years’ day. It is believed that these different tastes provide
different experiences one has to face in life. It is commonly
believed that ‘ugadi pachadi’ has a laxative effect while idli serves
as an antacie, ‘sunniundalu’ (made of barley, rice, jowar) is curative for urinary tract
infection, ‘ariselu’ are believed to add bulk to the faeces and thereby serves as a laxative.
There are many traditional beliefs about the medicinal properties of traditional food products.
However, there are certain food beliefs for which a sound scientific basis is
forwarded. These beliefs include:
i. Certain lactic acid bacteria (eg. Lactobacillus acidophilus) and moulds have been
found to produce antibodies and bacteriocins.
ii. The beneficial health effects of lactic acid bacteria on intestinal flora have been well
documented. Ingestion of foods containing live lactic acid bacteria is likely to
improve resistance against diarrhea causing microorganisms.
iii. Substances in traditional fermented foods have been found to have a protective effect
against certain types of cancer.
Traditional foods and HACCP approach
As most of the traditional foods are produced in the unorganized sector, they are
prone to contamination with extraneous material and to easy spoilage. Usage of some
modern methods like Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) can assure their
HACCP is a food safety risk management tool that is applied to determine significant
hazards pertaining to specific products and processes and to control the occurrence of such
hazards, HACCP has received international acceptance as a
means of planning for food safety. HACCP is a change
from traditional methods that are reliant on end product,
testing to determine if the product is safe. HACCP is
preventive in its approach in that it aims to prevent rather than detect problems.
Several foodstuffs like bhujia, sev, chiwda, mixture, rasgolla etc., are being produced
on a mass scale and exported. HACCP has a major role to play in this sector.
Many of the benefits of HACCP are of a long-term nature such a reduced wastage
through improved process control, more efficient use of resources, which will provide a
fiancial reward for the company. Traditional foods surely stand to benefit from this.
Marketing of traditional foods abroad is mostly targeted to two groups of population-
Indians living abroad and the bulk population of respective countries. For the latter group,
recipe modification particularly with respect to reduction of spices, fat and/or sugar is
necessary to promote their acceptance.
The export of Indian foods abroad can be promoted by the orientation of more Indian
restaurants in important citis of western countries. The entire world is inescapably caught in
the web of globalization. The vast market potential abroad has to be improved. Attractive
packaging and display increased shelf-life, better microbiological ‘safety will go a long way
in enhancing the popularity of the traditional foods. It is thereby important to include an
element of novelty and minimize production costs to enable the Indian Food Industry to
survive. This is a challenge traditional food industry faces today.
The Future of Traditional Foods
` The nutritional importance of traditional foods needs to be recognized and
popularized. Traditional food products are socially, culturally, and economically important.
Traditional foods play an important role in ensuring food security and hold a tremendous
potential in combating malnutrition to a significant extent. It is essential that the knowledge
of their production is not lost. The wealth of knowledge on traditional products needs to be
further expanded in collaboration with small-scale food processors.