The genesis of Indian Cuisine lie with the ancient Indian civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The Dravidians or inhabitants of these civilizations were urban and not agrarian. They had huge granaries to store grain, houses with a drainage system, pathways or roads and public baths. They sowed the seeds of Ayurveda, or Life Sciences, which is the foundation of Indian cuisine. This system was derived after studying the physical needs, mental needs and needs of our psychology and spirituality.
The people of Mohenjodaro and Harrapa were pushed to the South part of India by the invasion of the Aryans who came from Europe or Asia Minor. It is not very clear where the Aryans originated from but Aryans are to be found in Europe, Persia and India. (In fact the Swastika - a good luck symbol of the Aryan culture is still very prevalent in India). The Aryans developed the ideas of Ayurveda further. Many of the texts on this subject were written in the Aryan period.
The Growth of Vegetarianism
The Harappans, probably ate mainly wheat and rice and lentils, and occasionally cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chicken. Rice and chicken seem to have come from Thailand, and wheat and sheep from West Asia. Some of the wheat was made into stews or soups, and some into flat breads called chapatis. The arrival of the Aryans does not seem to have changed Indian eating habits.
But by around 300 BC, under the Mauryans, a lot of Hindus felt that animal sacrifices added to your karma and kept you from getting free of the wheel of reincarnation. Animal sacrifices became less popular, and although people didnt give up eating meat entirely, they ate much less of it. And a lot of people became a vegetarian.
In the Gupta period, around 650 AD, Hindus began to worship a Mother Goddess. Cows were sacred to her, and so Hindus stopped eating beef.
And then around 1100 AD, with the Islamic conquests in northern India, most people in India stopped eating pork as well, because it is forbidden by the Koran.
People could still eat sheep or goats or chicken, but most of the people in India became vegetarians, and only ate meat very rarely or not at all.
The vegetarian food that Indians ate was mainly wheat flatbreads or a kind of flatbread made out of chickpeas, with a spicy vegetarian sauce, and yogurt. Or people ate rice, with yogurt and vegetables. A lot of spicy peppers grew in India.
Influences from subsequent conquests on the Indian sub-continent
1. The Aryans
During the Aryan period the cuisine of the Great Hindu Empires concentrated on the fine aspects of food and to understand its essence and how it contributed to the development of mind, body and spirit. After this period the cuisine was influenced by the following conquests from other cultures.
2. Mongolians (hot pot cooking)
3. Persians: The most notable was the influence of Persian rulers who established the Mughal Rule in India.
5. Greeks (Alexander the great)
6. Chinese (from trading and cultural and educational exchanges with them)
7. Arabs (traders)
8. Portuguese (the Indian Vindaloo dish is a result of the Portuguese)
9. British (Indian Ketchup, tea)
One of the greatest influences on Indias cuisine occurred in the 2nd century B.C. The powerful and benevolent and popular Emperor Ashoka time popularized a vegetarian cuisine. Even today a majority of Indians are vegetarian. The two other individuals that helped make India vegetarian are Mahavir and Buddha. (Also the ancient, urban Dravidian civilization may have been vegetarian.)
Ashoka was also the first statesman in recorded history that had an environmental department in his administration. This department set environmental laws, posted these laws on stone billboards and had an environmental enforcement program.