South Asian cuisine

Top: Home cooked Northern/Western Indian lunch delivered to the office by the tiffin wallah; Bottom: South Indian thali style dinner

South Asian cuisine is the cuisine of South Asia, comprising the traditional cuisines from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Staples and common ingredients

Chapati, a type of flat bread from the former regions, is a common part of meals to be had in many parts of Indian subcontinent. Other staples from many of the cuisines include rice, roti made from atta flour, and beans.

Foods in this area of the world are flavoured with various types of chilli, black pepper, cloves, and other strong herbs and spices along with the flavoured butter ghee. Ginger is an ingredient that can be used in both savory and sweet recipes in South Asian cuisine. Chopped ginger is fried with meat and pickled ginger is often an accompaniment to boiled rice. Ginger juice and ginger boiled in syrup are used to make desserts. Turmeric and cumin are often used to make curries.

Common meats include lamb, goat, fish and chicken. Beef is less common than in Western cuisines because cattle have a special place in Hinduism. Prohibitions against beef extend to the meat of (water) buffalo and yaks to some extent. Pork is considered as a taboo food item by all Muslims and is avoided by most Hindus, though it is commonly eaten in Goa. A variety of very sweet desserts which use dairy products is also found in South Asian cuisines. The main ingredients to South Asian desserts are reduced milk, ground almonds, lentil flour, ghee and sugar. Kheer is a dairy based rice pudding, a popular and common dessert.


Top: Traditional outdoor Indian cooking in the Thar Desert in Jaisalmer, showing roti bread and vegetable stew being cooked; Bottom: Traditional kitchen in a Hindu temple in Karnataka, India.

Many of India's foods go back as far as five thousand years. The Indus Valley peoples, who settled in what is now northern Pakistan, hunted turtles and alligator. They also collected wild grains, herbs and plants. Many foods and ingredients from the Indus period (c. 3000–1500 B.C.) are still common today. Some consist of wheat, barley, rice, tamarind, eggplant and cucumber. The Indus Valley peoples cooked with oils, ginger, salt, green peppers, and turmeric root, which would be dried and ground into an orange powder.

Indians have used leafy vegetables, lentils, and milk products such as yogurt and ghee all along their history. They also used spices such as cumin and coriander. Black pepper which is native to India was often used by 400 A.D. The Greeks brought saffron and the Chinese introduced tea. The Portuguese and British made red chili, potato and cauliflower popular after 1700 A.D. Mughals, who began arriving in India after 1200, saw food as an art and many of their dishes are cooked with as many as twenty-five spices. They also used rose water, cashews, raisins and almonds.

Regional South Asian cuisines

Further information: List of South Asian cuisines


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