The South West - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma
Indian food relies on spices which have always been considered to be India’s prime commodity.
The variation in Indian food from region to region can be quite staggering. Religious and caste restrictions, weather, geography and the impact of foreigners have affected the eating habits of Indians.
For example, Brahmins are strict vegetarians usually, but in the coastal states of West Bengal and Kerala, they consume a lot of fish.
In the North, the Mughal influence has resulted in meat-eating habits among many North Indians. Also, a variety of flours are used to make different types of breads like chapathis, rotis, phulkas, puris and naan.
Wheat is the staple food of Punjabi. Tandoori food consists of various meats marinated with spices and roasted over a primitive clay-pot with a wood-fire called tandoor. Naan is the special wheat bread cooked over the tandoor. Hyderabad is famous for it’s superb bryiani, delicious grilled kebabs, kormas and rich apricot dessert.
The North East - China, Korea, Japan
Chinese food is above all characterized by the plants and animals that have grown prosperously in China for centuries. The Chinese believe that food affects health as a matter of general principle. The selection of the right food at any particular time must also be dependent upon one's health condition at that time.
Chinese cooking is, in this sense, the manipulation of these foodstuffs as basic ingredients. Since ingredients are not the same everywhere, Chinese food begins to assume a local character simply by virtue of the ingredients it uses.
A balanced meal must have an appropriate amount of both grain and main dishes. Grains include cooked rice, steamed wheat, corn-flour or noodles. Vegetables and meats are sliced and combined in various ways to produce flavoursome dishes.
The cuisine offers a wide variety of flavours and combinations. For example; pork may be diced, sliced, shredded or ground when combined with other meats and vegetable ingredients to produces dishes of utterly diverse, shapes, flavours, colours, tastes and aromas.
Another feature of Chinese food is the great variety of preserved foods. Food is preserved by smoking, salting, pickling and drying.
The South East - Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei
The original cuisine of the South East is probably the peasant cuisine of Thailand. The peasant cuisine spread east across the mountains into Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and south down the Malayan peninsula and the island arc of Indonesia.
The cuisine did not develop in isolation, of course. As it spread, it was influenced by ideas coming from the North and West Asia. More recently the cuisines of Europe have influenced the native ones. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were French colonies, Malaysia was a British Colony and Indonesia was a Dutch colony. Thailand successfully resisted European colonisation.
Lemon grass and galangal are two important flavours which make the cuisines of the region unique.Curries are very common across the region, but less common in Vietnam where the Chinese influence is strong. The concept probably came from India and spread east, but the people of the South East modified the original by substituting coconut milk for yogurt as the base for the sauce.
Chilli, native to the Americas arrived in the region with European explorers. Other spices used in the region; cinnamon from Sri Lanka, cardamom and cumin from India, coriander and star anise from China.
Several herbs are common in the region, Thai basil, sweet basil, coriander and mint the most common. Citrus especially limes are native to the islands of Indonesia and Malaysia. Fish sauce is probably a local invention.
Rice is a staple starch in all three cuisines areas. In addition to rice, South Western cuisines include a variety of leavened and unleavened breads and South East and North East cuisines include rice and egg noodles.
In the South West, the major oil used in frying is ghee, or clarified butter. In the South East and North East, the major oils are vegetable oils.
Garlic and Ginger
Garlic and ginger are used in all three cuisine areas, as are chilli, although chillies are much more common in the South West and South East. The North Eastern cuisines use soy sauce in nearly everything; the South East substitutes with fish sauce; there is no equivalent in South Western cooking. In the South East, there are two additional flavourings that are not used in the other cuisines - galangal and lemon grass.
Curries are very important to the cuisines of the South East and South West but less so in the North East. South Western curries are generally based on yogurt, whereas the curries of the South East and North East are generally based on coconut milk.