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History of the Gastronomy of India

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Jin Hyuck
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2008

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Before the Maurya Empire
II.1 2000 B.C. and Earlier
II.2 B.C. 15th Century
II.3 B.C. 7th Century
III. From the Maurya Empire until the Establishment of the Mughal Empire
IV. The Mughal Empire
V. From British rule until Present
VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            The gastronomy of India has now established itself as one of the most popular cuisines of the world, as its unique savor and taste have attracted a number of people. This paper will deal with the factors which have led the gastronomy of India to develop to be admitted its delicious taste and quality by people all around the world. In order to help the readers¡¯ understanding of the transition the Indian food has went through, the paper classified a series of significant events that affected the cuisine of India in the chronological order. Throughout the paper, the readers may be able to find out that two major factors played a major role in changing the cuisine of India : religion and foreign invasions.

II. Before the Maurya Empire

II.1 2000 B.C. and Earlier
            Most people believe that the origins of Indian history and therefore the cuisine are as old as mankind itself. Approximately in 7000 BC, sesame (1), eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley. By 3000 BC, turmeric (2), cardamom (3), black pepper and mustard were harvested in India. Many recipes first emerged during the initial Vedic period (4), when India was still heavily forested and agriculture was complemented with game hunting and forest produce. In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products and honey.
            The earliest formal civilizations of India are the Mohenjodaro (5) and Harappan (6) Civilizations, which were at about 2000 BC. The Ayurvedic (7) tradition of cooking, which is a complete holistic approach to cooking, is believed to have evolved at this point in time. This tradition lays the foundation of the concept that everything we eat affects both our body and soul. Therefore, food should be pure, natural, and balanced. The core balance consists of balancing the six tastes : Sweet. Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent.

II.2 B.C. 15th century
            At this point we see the first movement of outsiders into the country (Aryan Invasion Theory). The Mohenjo-daro people are believed to have been pushed to the southern part of the country and the cuisine there was still largely vegetarian. The roots of Hinduism are shaped at this point, and the Vedas or the religious texts are developed at this point as is the Mahabharatha (9). The caste system was developed at this point in time, dividing food habits of people broadly by caste. For example, the Brahmins (10) for the most part were vegetarians while the Kshatriyas (11) were non-vegetarians.

II.3 B.C. 7th century
            This era was marked by the emergence of Buddhism and Jainism, which greatly influenced the cuisine of India. Gradually, some groups of the people embraced vegetarianism, due to ancient Hindu philosophy of ahimsa. This practice gained more popularity following the advent of Buddhism and a cooperative climate where variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains could easily be grown throughout the year. Especially, Jainism had a remarkable influence on the cuisine in some parts of the countries. Since Jains were strong believers in non-violence, traditional Jain cuisine which was cooked without meat, and it was sometimes also cooked without onion and garlic.

III. From the Maurya Empire until the establishment of the Mughal Empire
            The Maurya Empire was founded in 322 B.C. by Chandragupta Maurya (12), who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty (13) and rapidly expanded his power westwards across central and western India by taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great's armies. By 320 B.C. the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India, defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander.
            This period was marked by reluctance to consume meat. A lot of Hindus felt that animal sacrifices added to their karma and kept them from getting free of the wheel of reincarnation. Hence, animal sacrifices became less popular, and although some people did not give up eating meat entirely, they ate much less. Besides, a number of people became vegetarians. Buddhism also played a role in preventing meat consumption. One of the prominent kings of the empire would be King Ashoka (15), who was responsible for the further development of Buddhism. As he established Buddhism as the basic principle of India, one of the teachings of Buddhism which forbids killing an animal greatly
            influenced a number of Indians to become vegetarians. This period also saw the development of Buddhism even outside India, which led some cross-pollination of food with people outside India. Besides, since the Mauryan economy was an agricultural society, the cuisine of India was mostly based on grain products. Furthermore, there are references to the development and production of several varieties of natural liquor that were consumed for recreation. In the Gupta(16) period, the tendency of vegetarianism continued. Hindus began to worship a Mother Goddess, and since cows were sacred to her, Hindus stopped eating beef (16a). Although there had existed some cultural exchanges in India after the Gupta Empire, no significant changes in gastronomy occurred until around the 10th century AD, when invasions of other cultures intensified.
            This largely vegetarian diet of Indians, however, gradually changed with frequent invasions and the entries of several foreign invaders into the country from around 10th century. When the Khilji Dynasty (18) ruled in Northern India, Ibn Battuta (19) wrote an interesting travelogue. In one instance he described a meal served to him which he outlined the use of ghee, yogurt, and pickles (19a). He also explained that the meal was composed of several courses including a milk-based dessert. 2 centuries later, Vasco Da Gama (20 arrived in India in 1498 to explore opportunities for trade which later resulted in colonization of parts of India by the Portuguese. Influence from traders such as the Arab and Portuguese diversified sub-continental tastes and meals. As with other cuisines, Indian cuisine absorbed the new-world vegetables such as tomatoes, chilly, and potatoes.

IV. The Mughal Empire
            After the Mughal Empire was established by Timurid prince Babur (21), it developed its own cuisine. The Mughali cuisine includes the addition of several seasonings like saffron, nuts and cooking in the "Dum", or sealed pot method of cooking. In the South of India, there was the Sultan dynasty in Hyderabad where the similar influences are permeated into the region. There was a continuation of other European influences in parts of South India such as Kerala (22).
            The Islamic rule of India which introduced rich gravies (23), pilafs (24) and non-vegetarian fare such as kebabs as well as such fruits as apricots, melons, peaches, and plums, greatly influenced the Mughali cuisine. The Mughals were great patrons of cooking. Lavish dishes were prepared during the reigns of Jahangir (26) and Shah Jahan (27).
            The Nizams of Hyderabad state (28) meanwhile developed and perfected their own style of cooking with the most notable dish being the Biryani (29), often considered by many connoisseurs to be the finest of the main dishes in India.

Hyderabad Chicken Biryani (30)
V. From British Rule to the Present
            The United Kingdom established contact with India from around the 17th century, with the establishment of the East India Company, which from 1759 to 1857 took control of much of India (31). The British loved the general elaborate way of eating and adapted several of the food choices of India to their taste. This period resulted in the emergence of the Anglo-Indian cuisine and the emergence of certain traditions like "high-tea", which is an elaborate late afternoon meal served with tea.

Burmese Chicken Curry (32)

The most notable cuisine that developed in this era would be curry. Before we look at the history of curry, it is important to know what the word 'curry' meant to the British at the time. The notion of a curry was what the British during their rule in India referred to when eating spicy food. Curry in the United Kingdom was the word used to describe any type of savory Indian food. Sometimes, the word 'curry' was primarily used to denote a sauce-based dish flavored with curry powder or a paste made from the powder and oils.

Fish Curry (33)

            The British love affair with curry began at the end of the sixteenth century when the Dutch were the leaders in the trade of pepper. With their monopoly over the spice, they had hiked up the price, so the monarch granted a royal charter to a small group of merchants allowing them to create a trading company on December 31, 1600. The sole purpose of the East India Company, as it was later called, was to secure a better price for pepper than the Dutch asking price. At that time India was ruled by emperors and Mughals who were often involved in battles. This strengthened the European stronghold and their chances of grasping control of many regions and territories of India. With the Mughals yielding to the British, the East India Company gathered momentum and power. This reign of the British was the most significant and the longest in Imperial history lasting officially up until 1947. The days of the Raj were decadent and this was reflected in their cooking.
            There was never any intention for the East India Company to build an empire. In fact, the British were not too keen on trading with India either. The country was merely perceived as a handy stopping off port and a place for the exchange of goods such as cotton and linen. However with the Dutch increasingly making trading in the Malay Archipelago more difficult (17th century), the coast of India became lined with ports that were protected by private armies consigned to keep an eye on the other European traders.

Chapatis on the Plate (36)

            Every social event paid special attention to the food and the British Memsahibs (34) ran households that included chefs and cooks. Many of them were highly trained to cater for the western palate. Often, the grand meals would have consisted of game and poultry which was of poor quality so the cooks would often have to improvise by creating hybrid dishes such as chapatis (35) and homemade jam. Breakfasts would consist of omelettes seasoned with spices and the simple Indian dish of rice and lentils known as kichidi turned into the British kedgeree with the addition of smoked kippers shipped from England. So from morning, noon until night, all the meals became a fusion of western and eastern cooking traditions. Just as the British in India had endeavored to replicate home comfort cuisine, they craved a little of the East and that was 'curry'.
            The first recorded or published recipe for curry in Britain is by a woman known as Hannah Glasse. In her 1747 book 'The Art of Cookery' (35a) which appeared in twenty editions throughout the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, her initial recipe for 'curry' included the spices coriander seeds and pepper. Then by the fourth edition of the book, she added ginger and turmeric. The use of hot spices was not mentioned, which reflected the limited use of chili in India ? chili plants had only been introduced into India around the late 15th century and at that time were only popular in southern India. In 1861, 'Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management' (35b) - a guide to running a home in Victorian Britain - printed a recipe for curry powder made with a veritable selection of spices. The popularity of curry among the general public was enhanced by the invention of 'Coronation chicken', which used curry to better is flavor, to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
            After 1947, when India eventually became independent from colonial rule, Indian cuisine was greatly influenced by the sub-continental cuisine since the Indian land mass was divided into several countries, most notably Pakistan.

VI. Conclusion
            The cuisine of India has went through significant changes throughout the history of India. Especially, religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Muslim as well as foreign invasions were major factors which greatly influenced the gastronomy of India. Looking at how exterior elements, such as religions and foreign cultures, have constantly affected and developed the cuisine of India, the readers might infer that although the cuisine of India has its own unique style, it was necessarily influenced by a number of external factors. This procedure of cultural exchange has indeed assisted the cuisine of India to maintain its present remarkable quality and taste.


(1)      Sesame is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum. Numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalized in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods.
(2)      Turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family,
(3)      The name cardamom is used for herbs within two genera of the ginger family Zingiberaceae, namely Elettaria and Amomum. Both varieties take the form of a small seedpod, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small black seeds. Elettaria pods are light green in color, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
(4)      The Vedic Period (or Vedic Age) is the period in the history of India during which the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, were being composed. Scholars place the Vedic period in the second and first millennia BCE continuing up to the 6th century BCE based on literary evidence.
(5)      Mohenjo-daro(Mound of the Dead) was one of the largest city-settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization of south Asia situated in the province of Sind, Pakistan. Built around 2600 BCE, the city was one of the early urban settlements in the world, existing at the same time as the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete.
(6)      Harappa is an ancient settlement which existed from about 3300 BCE and is believed to have had as many as 23,500 residents?considered large for its time. Although the Harappa Culture extended well beyond the bounds of present day Pakistan, its centres were in Sindh and the Punjab
(7)      Ayurveda( the 'science of life') is a system of traditional medicine native to India, and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine. In Sanskrit, the word Ayurveda comprises the words ?yus, meaning 'life' and veda, meaning 'science'. Evolving throughout its history, Ayurveda remains an influential system of medicine in South Asia
(9)      The Mah?bh?rata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of the Hindu itih?sa (literally "history"), and forms an important part of Hindu mythology. It is of immense importance to the culture in the Indian subcontinent, and is a major text of Hinduism.
(10)      Brahmin is the class of educators, scholars and preachers in Hinduism. It occupies the highest position among the four varnas of Brahminical Hinduism.
(11)      Kshatriya is one of the four varnas (social orders) in Hinduism. It constitutes the military and ruling order of the traditional Vedic-Hindu social system
(12)      Chandragupta Maurya, sometimes known simply as Chandragupta (born c. 340 BCE, ruled c. 320 - 298 BCE), was the founder of the Maurya Empire. Chandragupta succeeded in bringing together most of the Indian subcontinent. As a result, Chandragupta is considered the first unifier of India and the first genuine emperor of India
(13)      The Nanda dynasty ruled Magadha during the 5th and 4th centuries BC. At its greatest extent, the Nanda Empire extended from Bihar to Bengal in the west.
(14)      .
(15)      Ashoka (304 BCE ? 232 BCE) was an Indian emperor, of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled from 273 BCE to 232 BCE. Often cited as one of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most of present-day India after a number of military conquests. His empire stretched from present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Iran in the west, to the present-day Bangladesh and Assam states of India in the east, and as far south as the Mysore state.
(16)      The Gupta Empire was ruled by members of the Gupta dynasty from around 280 to 550 CE and covered most of Northern India, parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan and what is now western India and Bangladesh.
(18)      Khilji was an Indian ruling dynasty that was made-up of mamlukes (slaves). They were the second Muslim dynasty who ruled the Delhi Sultanate of India. They ruled from 1290 to 1320 over a large area in Indian subcontinent.
(19)      Ibn Battuta (born February 24, 1304; year of death uncertain, possibly 1368 or 1377) was Muslim scholar, and at times a Qadi or judge. However, he is best known as a traveler and explorer, whose account documents his travels and excursions over a period of almost thirty years, covering some 73,000 miles (117,000 km). These journeys covered almost the entirety of the known Islamic world and beyond, extending from North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the West, to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the East
(19a)      There is a brief mention about Ibn Battuta¡¯s travelogue in the period 1200-1500 AD of the following source:
(20)      Dom Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer, one of the most successful in the European Age of Discovery and the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India.
(21)      Babur (February 14, 1483- December 26, 1530) was a Muslim conqueror from Central Asia who, following a series of setbacks, finally succeeded in laying the basis for the Mughal dynasty of India. He was a direct descendant of Timur through his father, and a descendant also of Genghis Khan through his mother.
(22)      Kerala is a union state located in the south western part of India.
(23)      Gravy is a sauce made often from the juices that run naturally from meat or vegetables during cooking. It is a smooth, non-chunky liquid.
(24)      Pilaf is a dish in which a grain, such as rice or cracked wheat, is browned in oil, and then cooked in a seasoned broth. Depending on the local cuisine it may also contain a variety of meat and vegetables.
(26)      Nuruddin Salim Jahangir(September 20, 1569-November 8, 1627) (OS August 31, 1569 ? NS November 8, 1627) was the ruler of the Mughal Empire from 1605 until his death. The name Jahangir is from Persian ???????, meaning "Conqueror of the World," "World-Conqueror."
(27)      Muhammad Shah Jahan I (January 5, 1592 ? January 31, 1666) was the ruler of the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent from 1628 until 1658. The name Shah Jahan comes from Persian meaning "King of the World." He was the fifth Mughal ruler after Babur, Humayun, Akbar, and Jahangir. Famous for constructing Taj Mahal, one of the most beautiful buildings of the world.
(28)      Nizam, a shortened version of Nizam-ul-Mulk, meaning ¡®Administrator of the Realm¡¯, was the title of the native sovereigns of Hyderabad state, India, since 1719, belonging to the Asaf Jah dynasty.
(29)      Biryani is a family of primarily South Asian rice dishes made with spices, rice (usually basmati) and meat/vegetables. It was spread throughout the Middle East and South Asia (and Southeast Asia to an extent) by Muslim travellers and merchants, and is very popular in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The name is derived from the Persian word bery?(n) (?????), which means "fried" or "roasted".
(31)      The East India Company (also the English East India Company, and sometimes the British East India Company, but also known as the Honorable Company) was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading with India and China. The oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies, the Company was granted an English Royal Charter, under the name Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, by Elizabeth I on 31 December 1600.
(32)      .
(33)      .
(34)      Sahib is an Arabic term of respect, meaning Sir, master or lord, used in several languages including Hindi-Urdu (Hindustani), Bengali and Marathi.
(35)      Chapati is a staple flat bread of South India, East Africa, and Western India. It is rather thin, unleavened cooked dough. It is a type of roti.
(35a)      Hannah (Allgood) Glasse (1708-1770) published "The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy" in 1747. The book, which became the most popular cookbook of the eighteenth century, stands out for its practical advice, common sense recipes, and careful organization. It was written for the common cook to help in the preparation of economical meals. Glasse abandoned the "high polite [style]" of most cookbooks of the time to offer recipes and meal preparation advice to anyone "who can but read." Source:
(35b)      Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was edited by Isabella Beeton and was first published as a book in 1861 by S. O. Beeton Publishing, 161 Bouverie Street, London, a firm founded by her husband, Samuel Beeton. It had been previously published as a part work. It was a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain. Of the 1,112 pages, over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton's Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today, ie with all the ingredients listed at the start. Source:
(36)      .


Note : websites quoted below were visited in November/December 2008.
1.      Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
2.      Lee, Ok Sun. Crazy about India. Kimyoung Press, 2007. in Korean
3.      Achaya, K.T. A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food. Oxford University Press, 2001.
4.      Article : Cuisine of India , from Wikipedia
5.      Article : History of Indian cuisine, from Wikipedia
6.      Article : Sesame, from Wikipedia
7.      Article : Turmeric, from Wikipedia
8.      Article : Vedic Period, from Wikipedia
9.      Article : Mohenjo-daro, from Wikipedia
10.      Article : Harappa, from Wikipedia
11.      Article : Ayurveda, from Wikipedia
12.      Article : Gupta Empire, from Wikipedia Empire
13.      Article : Gravy, from Wikipedia,
14.      Article : Jahangir, from Wikipedia
15.      Article : Biryani, from Wikipedia
16.      Article : Pilaf, from Wikipedia
17.      Article : Sahib, from Wikipedia
18.      History of Indian food, from History of Food
19.      History of Indian food¡±, from History of Indian Food
20.      Rinku Bhattacharya. A historical perspective of Indian food, from History of Indian food and cooking.
21.      Origins of Indian Cuisine, from Indian food-its history, origins and influences.
22.      Article : Mahabharata. from Encyclop©¡dia Britannica Online. 23.      Article : Ibn Khald?n. from Encyclop©¡dia Britannica Online. .
24.      Article : East India Company, from Encyclop©¡dia Britannica Online
25.      Article : Chapati, hapati from Encyclop©¡dia Britannica Online .

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