The sheer range of dishes on the Indian menu has to be one of the top reasons the cuisine is so popular all over the world. From sumptuous vegetarian dishes to succulent meat curries, the varied ethnicities and religions that call the sub-continent home have pulled together a delectable selection of cooking techniques, ingredients and recipes that form a cuisine that offers a little something for everyone.
When people think of the religious communities of India, many tend to think of the substantial Hindu population that inhabit the states. However, India also plays host to significant Jain, Christian, Sikh and Muslim communities – each of which has brought its own unique culinary preferences to the Indian table.
The Islamic influence
The Islamic influence on Indian cuisine arguably kicked into high gear when the Mughal rulers conquered North India in the 16th century. Over the next couple of hundred years, the Mughals shaped the culture of India – you might be familiar with some of the architectural gems, such as the TajMahal, which were constructed under Mugahl rule. These mighty Muslim rulers also greatly influenced the cuisine of the country.
The Mughals had a predilection for an opulent lifestyle and when it came to their food, no expense was spared. Thick, creamy gravies and buttery sauces were favoured in the royal kitchens whilst inventive recipes like the Indian ice-cream kulfi, made from ice shipped down from the Himalayas, were the types of dishes considered worthy of the Mughal table.
The renowned ruler, Shahjahan, remembered for building the TajMahal, is thought to have been one of the most influential Islamic rulers when it came to cuisine. Under his rule, cooking was seen as an art-form and many of the more complicated recipes of Indian cuisine were developed during his reign. Dishes such as the aromatic biryani were highly favoured as were inventive kebabs and the succulent meats of the Tandoor.
The introduction of Islamic ingredients
One of the most famous of the rulers was Babur, remembered for his role in the invasion of India. Hailing from Central Asia, Babur not only led his people to victory and years of rule in the sub-continent, he also introduced key ingredients to Indian cuisine that play a pivotal role in dishes to this day. Babur brought fresh ginger, dates, nuts, apricots and pomegranates with him – these dried fruits and nuts were used extensively in a range of Mughlai dishes.
A key component of Mughlai cuisine is the extensive spicing that was favoured by the maharajas. Colourful bursts of cumin, turmeric and coriander were blended with the warming notes of cardamom, cinnamon and plenty of spicy, chilli powder to create the heavy flavours North India is famous for today.
To experience a delicious range of Indian dishes, inspired by a variety of fascinating cultures, pay a visit to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants and feast on a selection of dishes inspired by all the authentic flavour of the East. Each recipe has been given a modern twist, but the traditional roots of the dishes are still plain to see.