Indian Cookery – Ingredients

Those people who know me particularly well, may have noticed that I am partial to the occasional Indian meal.

But never more than, say, two or three times a week. Well, okay then, four. Or five. At least, not unless I’m actually in India.

I never thought that I would ever write a post on cookery, but I was thinking recently about the ingredients that have travelled to India from, especially, South and Central America since the Spanish first arrived there, and thought it might be fun to explore this a little.

The obvious ones, that have had a huge influence upon cooking in the sub-continent, are chillies, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. I cannot imagine Indian cookery without them!



Market stall in Kalimpong

Just think. There would be no Bombay aloo

No Aloo dum.

No tomato-based sauces.

No peppers!

Clearly, Indian cookery must have changed in a huge way since South America was first reached in the late fifteenth century.

So it could certainly be said that the Spanish are largely responsible for Indian cuisine as it is today!

Of course, this is also true for most other countries of the world, too. Where would European cookery be, for example, without potatoes or tomatoes?

It would be interesting to know whether either of my readers know what the staple Indian dishes (other than dal) would have been before their arrival.

I would also be interested to hear whether any part of India has retained more of the traditional ingredients and, perhaps, resisted assimilating the ‘newer’ ones. Certainly, pretty well all of the regional food that I’ve had seems to accommodate those imports.

37 thoughts on “Indian Cookery – Ingredients

  1. Mick, as you know, the cuisine of India varies from region to region. Being from the South, and growing up in the seventies it was not until quite late in life that I made the acquaintance of rotis, dal, paneer and methi leaves. We basically had a rice and coconut based diet in those days. Potatoes and tomatoes were available but were very sparingly used.

    The coconut, Kera in Sanskrit, which lent its name to my state Kerala, was the cornerstone of our cuisine.

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    1. Thanks, Sylvia. I’ve never been to Kerala, and know little of its cuisine. It does sound as though the food you describe was basically traditional. My only trip to the south was centred on Tamil Nadu, and there did seem to be plenty of potatoes and tomatoes used in the cuisine. I suppose it would have traditionally been more like the Keralan cuisine?


      1. hey mick. keralites (I am from Kerala) usually eat rice — be it porridge, boiled rice, or rice batter used to make flatbreads. we use a lot of coconut, curry leaves and dry spices like pepper, red chillies. our food is mostly cooked with coconut oil and our desserts have coconut milk. we are a coastal state with a lot of coconut trees…some regions in kerala don’t seem to have vegetables…they make do with rice and fish. πŸ™‚ daal, potatoes, methi, etc. belong more to other parts of India.

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        1. Thanks, Sushi. I’ve always understood that Southern India uses far more rice than the north, where breads are eaten much more. I also have the impression that the fish dishes can be rather hot in Kerala, and I suppose this is using chillies and wonder if they would nave been hot before chillies reached India.

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            1. Ah, yes. Pepper corms. They were tremendously expensive in the European Middle Ages and even before. I’ve always been surprised that sweet peppers share that name with them, since they are unrelated. Just from memory, they were one of three main spices that made up much of India’s trade with the west then, along with (I think) ginger and cardamon.

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  2. I do like Indian food. But then I also like Mexican, Italian, Lebanese, Morrocan, Chinese, Philippino, (and the list goes on). I suspect there are cross influences on almost all of those. We eat a fair bit of Philippino food at our house, and not surprisingly the Spanish influence is very strong. Amazing what 400 years of occupation will do to a cuisine.

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    1. Now that would be a book rather than a blog post, Dave. Yes, lots of cross-influences, especially these days with travel so much easier than it used to be. It is frequently said, partly jokingly, that curry is now the British national dish.

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  3. Mick, tapioca and fish curry is considered to be a typical Kerala dish. BUT, tapioca is an import. I often wonder about the time before tapioca became such an integral part of Kerala cuisine.

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    1. Yet another food that came from South America, in fact. I do wonder what the staple diet would have been in various parts of India before these foods all arrived. I must look through my copy of ‘Marco Polo’s Travels’ and see if anything is mentioned – it’s not the sort of thing that would be recorded in court records or diplomatic papers!

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  4. I have to admit that Indian food is too spicy for me. A good friend of mine married a man from Bombay, and he is an excellent cook. But when he prepares food from India, I can’t eat more than a couple of bites, and that’s AFTER he tones the heat down a bit!

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    1. I’m imagining a diet rich in beans, leafy vegetables and rice, in the South, and similar with bread more common in the North. Of course, this is leaving meat and fish out of the equation, since their availability would not have changed much, their consumption being driven more by religious/social imperatives.

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      1. Rice was common throughout India, right up to the Indus basin. Beans and chickpea, yes. MIllets, sorghum, etc were popular alternatives to wheat. For meat (including beef), it was common enough for most of Indian history, the first real vegetarian movements were the Jain and Buddhist sects.

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