India is a large country where diverse cultures converge and a rich culinary heritage has developed. India is divided into four regions, with the cuisine varying from area to area based on climate and agriculture. Cuisine from northern India uses cream and oil. Southern Indian cuisine is less greasy, with most dishes being roasted or steamed, and coconut is a staple. Eastern India is known for its desserts and western India has a variety of cooking styles.
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Indian food is rich in flavor. Spices create the distinct flavor of Indian cuisine and are categorized as either sweet, pungent, tangy, hot or amalgamating. Common spices include mustard, chili, pepper, ginger, tamarind, sumach and kokam. Spices do more than flavor a dish, though; they are also used to cool and heat the body during hot or cold weather. Indian dishes may be spicy, but it depends on the cook and the region the recipe is from. Yogurt is commonly used to flavor dishes or as a sauce to cool spicy dishes.
India's religious diversity influences its cuisine. Beef and pork aren't typically used in Indian food because cows are sacred in the Hindu religion and pork is forbidden in the Muslim religion. Fish dishes are common in coastal regions like Bengal and Kerala. Poultry and lamb are commonly consumed in mountainous areas and the plains.
Half of India's population adheres to a vegetarian diet, usually because of Buddhist, Hindu or Jain religious values. Like the United States, India is a large country with many different climates and geographical characteristics. Different fruits and vegetables are produced in different climates, so a vast array of produce is used in Indian food. Tomatoes, onions, cucumber, eggplant and bananas are all commonly consumed. Legumes, like lentils and chickpeas, are also an important staple of meals. A common preparation of lentils is dhal, a soupy dish served over rice.
Rice and Bread
Southern India's climate is hot so the cuisine is usually rice-based because the grain grows easily in the area. Northern India, however, has a mixed climate and incorporates more breads. Northern breads are unleavened and include naan, chapatis and rotis.