(Last Updated on : 04/09/2013)
Food, in Indian culture which indeed played a great role in Indian tradition, also stood as an emblem of the concept of racial synthesis in the same. The progress of any civilization banks upon the reformation of the intricate base culture. The recent trends of multicultural globalisation have in actuality led to the experiments with traditional food. Food fashion has again led to food fusion gimmick. Food, once consumed as a factor of basic need factor for bare existence and subsistence, has culminated its extension into aesthetic grandeur. What looks good sells better nowadays! Food in Indian culture is the resultant fall-out of all those historical, ethnic, geographic cultures those illustrate India. Wheat did not form part of the dietary of the Rigvedic Indians as it is not mentioned in the Rig Veda
and it continued to be considered as an exotic article up to the present day. Barley or yava seems to have been the staple food grain of the Aryans. Rice seems to have been the staple food grain of both the Proto-Australoids and the Dravidians. By the time of the compilation of the Samhitas of the Yajur Veda
, wheat or godhuma and many varieties of rice, and lentils or masura had become part and parcel of Indian dietary. The Satapatha Brahmana calls wheat the second best of the food articles. Its introduction in the Aryans dietary might have been due to the contract of the Aryans with the Dravidians, who had been using wheat as far back as 2500 B.C. if not earlier.
Early Aryans used meat of oxen, barren cows, and goats for preparing non-vegetarian dishes but they most probably used fish as a food article only when they came in contract with the Proto-Australoids and the Dravidians.
The early Aryans used clarified butter as the frying medium. Only the non-Aryans used oil for frying. But the lawgivers later permitted the use of oil if clarified butter was not available.
Of the fruits the Inter Samhitas and the Brahmanas mention three varieties of jujube, namely badara, kuvala and karkandhu, bilva or aegle marmelos, kharjura or phoemisilvestris, mango and amalaka or myrobalari were also prevalent. The authors of the Sutras also mention udumbara i.e. Indian fig, saphaka or trapabispinsa, jambu or rose apple and mango.
The excavations at some Neolithica and Caleolithic sites in the Deccan and at Harappa suggest the widespread use of dates, melons, pomegranates, lemons and coconut fruits by the people associated with these cultures. Sugarcane and bananas were important Indian crops even in the times of the sutras. It is known that their origin is from South-east Asia i.e. Australia. It is also known that in later times all these fruits formed part of Indian dietary. Thus it is clear that there was a synthesis even in this category.
The common vegetables used by early Aryans were cucumber or urvaruka, lotus stalks or bisa, roots of lotus or saluka and bottle gourd or alabu. From the sutras it is known that leafy vegetables were also cooked and formed part of the diet of the Indians but respectable people avoided garlic, onions and leeks. Of these it seems that the Aryans included bottle gourd or alabu as a result of their contact with the Proto-Australoids. Of the beverages the common drinks of the early Aryans were soma and sura, but masara is mentioned in the Yaurveda and was the beverage used by the Dravidians. The above description clearly shows that even in the proto-historic times the food of Indians reflected the synthetic feature of Indian culture.
The modern India witnesses a strong compilation of traditional foods metamorphosed into contemporary style suited to the taste and preferences of the Gen y. Street foods, and influences of Western capitalist society have aggravated the media culture which in turn has popularised the bifurcated graph between need and desire; manipulation of the mass of the society. Food columns, food magazines, food related blogs, and food festivals undeniably throws light on these. Food, unarguably, is the culture of Indian life.