The multiple families of Indian cuisine are characterized by their sophisticated and subtle use of many spices and herbs. Arguably considered to be the world's most diverse cuisine, each family of this cuisine is characterized by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking
techniques. Though a significant portion of Indian food is vegetarian, many traditional Indian dishes also include chicken, goat, lamb, fish, and other meats.
Food is an important part of Indian culture, playing a role in everyday life as well as in festivals. In many families, everyday meals are usually sit-down affairs consisting of two to three main course dishes, varied accompaniments such as chutneys and pickles, carbohydrate staples such as rice and roti (bread), as well as desserts.
Diversity is a defining feature of India's geography, culture, and food.
Indian cuisine varies from region to region, reflecting the varied
demographics of the ethnically diverse subcontinent. Generally, Indian
cuisine can be split into four categories: North Indian, South Indian, East
Indian, and West Indian. Despite this diversity, some unifying threads
emerge in the art of Indian cuisine. Varied uses of spices are an integral part of food preparation, and are used to enhance the flavor of a dish and create unique flavors and aromas. Cuisine across India has also been influenced by various cultural groups that entered India throughout history, from regions as diverse as West Asia, Central Asia and Europe.
As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling
through many millennia, the subcontinent 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 consume no roots or subterranean vegetable; see Jain vegetarianism) which has also driven these groups to innovate extensively with the food sources that are deemed acceptable.
One strong influence over Indian foods is the longstanding vegetarianism within sections of India's Hindu and Jain communities. At 31%, slightly less than a third of Indians are vegetarians.
Around 7000 BCE, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been
domesticated in the Indus Valley. By 3000 BCE, 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. This was facilitated by 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 Indian cooking. Influence from traders such as the Arabs and Chinese, and invaders such as the Mongols, Turks, Persians, Afghans, Arabs, British and Portuguese diversified subcontinental 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, often considered by many connoisseurs to be the finest of the main dishes in India.
During this period the Portuguese introduced foods from the New World
such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilies and cooking techniques