Originally published June 18, 1984
Cooking in India has its rules and food is governed by more than climate. Hindus believe that food was created by the supreme deity for the benefit of man and while they make the art of cooking a sacred rite attended by some ceremony, they also include a few taboos. But there is a tradition of good cooking, with perhaps more for western tastes in the Punjab and West Bengal.
All Indian cooking is regional and the man from Madras neither knows nor cares what his Punjabi compatriot eats. In the north the cooking has been influenced by neighboring countries, by foreign invasions, by the Muslims and, as elsewhere, by the weather. It includes pilaus (boiled rice) and birianis (meat and rice), tandoori dishes (roasted meat), grilled meats and kebabs.
There is the fiery curry cooking of the south linked with vegetarianism and the use of coconut, and here the staple food is rice. In the deep south, however, rice is eaten less and tapioca comes into its own, but with coconut still prominent. There is the elegant cooking of Hyderabad, where curries are milder and with a Persian air.
Most of the spices used in Indian cooking were originally chosen as much for their medicinal or antiseptic properties as for their flavor. In the days before refrigeration, antiseptics were of extreme importance. Modern tests have proven the correctness of the Indian’s preference for spices.