Each region of India has its own style of cooking and distinct flavours. The North is known for its tandoori and korma dishes; the South is famous for hot and spicy foods; the East specialises in chilli curries; and the West uses coconut and seafood, whereas the Central part of India is a blend of all. As the majority of India’s population practices Hinduism, vegetarianism is widespread across the continent, but Hindu food habits also vary according to regional traditions.
In the Ganges, a meal typically consists of plain rice, accompanied by vegetables sautéed with spices, dhal (a blend of pulses), unleavened bread and a sweet. Bengali cuisine is considered somewhat more elaborate and refined, being the only place in India in which food is served in separate courses.
In the south, where rice is the staple, it is eaten in many forms, including thin crepes known as dosai or steamed to form idli.
Goans are known for their use of vinegar and fiery chillies, with the hot curry known as vindaloo hailing from this region. The name, however, actually derives from the Portuguese words for vinegar and garlic.
Spices are unquestionably the cornerstone of Indian cooking and are widely cultivated according to region. For example, cardomom, cloves and peppers are harvested mainly in the south, while chillies and turmeric come mainly from Rajasthan, Kashmir and Gujarat.
The period of British colonial rule left its mark on the food of India and the blending of eastern spices into western food that began at that time has endured to this day. Examples include kedgeree (a rice and lentil breakfast dish), mulligatawny ("pepper water") soup and the ubiquitous curry. Curry is a catch-all term used originally by the Raj to refer to any sauced dish of spicy meat, fish or vegetables and is probably an adaption of the Tamil word kari, meaning "sauce".