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December 16, 2005

From Peasant Cuisine to Palace Cuisine By Ammini Ramachandran

        From Peasant Cuisine to Palace Cuisine
   An Introduction to the culinary history of India

From ingenious vegetarian offerings with a wide range of flavors to the elegant meat-centered feasts of Mogul emperors, India’s culinary traditions are rich, and as varied as her land and people. The country’s geography and climate ranges from landlocked high altitude mountains, to fertile river valleys, to arid plateaus, to verdant tropical coasts. In times past food production was totally dependent on geographic and climatic conditions, from which evolved the various peasant cuisines of India. Until the British conquest at the end of the eighteenth century, each region of India was ruled by its own royal family and each had its own provincial language, local customs, culture, and unique cuisine. The proficient palace chefs of these small independent kingdoms perfected the many elegant palace cuisines of India.

India’s population is very diverse and they follow many different religions. Food related taboos differentiating the sacred from the disrespectful are taken very seriously. Hindus and Sikhs won’t eat the sacred cow. Strictly vegetarians, mostly Brahmins, and Jains refuse even the spices associated with the preparation of meat, such as onions and garlic. The descendants of the Moguls of Delhi and Punjab, being Muslim, refuse pork, but are great experts in the preparation of meat dishes. Christians of India have some excellent beef and seafood dishes.

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