Culture and History of our food

History and culture of Indian cuisine

History of food from the Sub Continent
Pakistan and India


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 across the board.

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. 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.

History of our cuisine
Pakistan and India being a one country prior to 1947. We will refer to cuisine as Pak-Indo cuisine. As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling through many millennia, The Pak-Indo 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 the sub continent.

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 food 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. While on the Pakistan side it is the opposite.

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 categorized 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 the cooking of the Sub continent. Influence from traders such as the Arabs and Portuguese diversified sub continental tastes and meals. As with other cuisines, Indian cuisine has absorbed and adapted North and South American vegetables such as tomato, chilli, and potato, as staples.

In the past 500 years, new additions were included in Pak-Indo cuisine.
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 baking.

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 flavorful 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.

The sub-continent, 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. People of the Sub Continent dress up differently, have different cuisine and their social and religious pursuits vary. Pak-Indo cuisine varies from region to region. Traditionally, some states have their own unique dishes, which they often prepare during religious and social gatherings. The many similarities between the culinary regions of Pakistan and India are highlighted with an exquisite use of spices and flavorings. These range from cardamom, cumin, cloves, fennel seeds and garlic to ginger, chilies, fenugreek, saffron and turmeric. Spice mixtures or masalas are a crucial element of our 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 Pakistan and India, most vegetarian specialties 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 center 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 split peas.

Served at nearly every meal, vegetables are considered as significant ingredients. Pak-Indo cuisine has 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 vegetable combinations.

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 the Sub continent, 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.




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