Although a number of religions exist in India, the two cultures that have influenced Indian cooking and food habits are the Hindu and the Muslim traditions. Each new wave of settlers brought with them their own culinary practices. However, over time they adopted a lot of specialties and cooking methods from the Indian cuisine and blended the two to perfection. The Portuguese, the Persians and the British made important contributions to the Indian culinary scene. It was the British who started the commercial cultivation of tea in India.
The Hindu vegetarian tradition is widespread in India, although many Hindus eat meat now. The Muslim tradition is most evident in the cooking of meats. Mughlai food, kababs, rich Kormas (curries) and nargisi koftas (meatballs), the biryani (a layered rice and meat preparation), rogan josh, and preparations from the clay over or tandoor like tandoori rotis and tandoori chicken are all important contributions made by Muslim settlers in India.
North Indian Food
A typical North-Indian meal would consist of chapatis or rotis (unleavened bread baked on a griddle) or paranthas (unleavened bread fried on a griddle), rice and an assortment of assessories like dals, friend vegetables, curries, curd, chutney, and pickles. For dessert one could choose from the wide array of sweetmeats from Bengal like rasagulla, sandesh, rasamalai and gulab-jamuns. North Indian desserts are very similar in taste as they are derived from a milk pudding or rice base and are usually soaked in syrup. Kheer is a form of rice pudding, shahi tukra or bread pudding and kulfi, a nutty ice cream are other common northern desserts.
South Indian Food
South Indian food is largely non-greasy, roasted and steamed. Rice is the staple diet and forms the basis of every meal. It is usually served with sambhar, rasam (a thin soup), dry and curried vegetables and a curd preparation called pachadi. Coconut is an important ingredient in all South Indian food. The South Indian dosa (rice pancakes), idli (steamed rice cakes) and vada, which is made of fermented rice and dal, are now popular throughout the country. The popular dishes from Kerala are appams (a rice pancake) and thick stews. Desserts from the south include the Mysore pak and the creamy payasum.