The Evolution of Food in India: A Historical Perspective

March 16, 2024

Indian food is marching towards a blend of traditional dishes and global cuisine. Like humans, technology, and others, food has also been evolving over the years. The food history of India also includes the growth of agriculture, industrialization, colonization, and the change in our cultures, traditions, and religious practices. As all these factors contributed largely to the kind of food we consume today, the Indian food history can never be read in isolation. This blog aims to explain the evolution of food in India with a historical lens that also decodes the influences of various other factors in the history of Indian cuisine. 

Prehistoric and Ancient India: The Foundation of Indian Food

Indian Food

Indian cuisine emerged at least eleven thousand years ago. It was when people started to grow wheat and barley and began to understand the nuances of agriculture. The advances in the field then directly influenced the history of Indian cuisine. For instance, people started to also harvest spices like turmeric, cardamom, mustard and others. To present a clearer perspective, it was during this ancient period that India started to carve its own cuisine where spices dominated their dishes. 

Classical Era: Culinary Traditions and Regional Diversity

If you read between the lines of ancient works, you can find foods like rice, pulao, and cooked vegetables mentioned in texts like Mahabharata. The culinary traditions of India have always been based on rice, wheat and spices. The basic diversity among different regions began to emerge as Indians engaged more in agriculture. Each soil supported a different plant, herb, vegetables, and spices. Therefore, the plants harvested and the foods consumed are largely dependent on these natural differences. It is precisely why whole wheat dominates India’s northern states, rice is more common in the south. 

Indian cuisine and its diverse flavors

The diverse flavors of Indian cuisine are a result of the coexistence of people who follow different cultures and religions and belong to different regions. The flavors are all varied because all six primary tastes — sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent — are found in Indian dishes. The first of the many factors that influence diversity is the geographical location. So when dosas frequent the south Indian spaces, samosas and rotis are popular in the north. 

Even the way some of these dishes are cooked are different. Sambar is made sweeter in Karnataka, with coconut oil in Kerala, very spicy in Andhra Pradesh, etc. Each of their cultural practices influences the way food is made. Places like Mumbai, which is located near the sea, have more seafood and other coastal favorites. The second most important factor is cultural practice. For example, Gujaratis are primarily vegetarians so their food habits vary accordingly. Religions also play a major role; Jains are vegetarians and Muslims have a very royal culture of eating with protein-rich foods.

Importance of understanding the historical roots of Indian food

Understanding the history of Indian cuisine helps in knowing where our food habits come from. At a stage where we are all jumping to fast eating, easy cooking, and several diet plans, a look at the traditional cuisine and eating habits creates an awareness about why and how Indian food aligns with the holistic approach to wellness. Besides, it also shows how agriculture, food habits, and trade have spread Indian cuisine across the globe and have influenced the lifestyles of different cultures. Take Thai cuisine, for instance. Based on the book India’s Benevolence to Thailand, we get to know that Thai people learned the use of spices and the ways to include them in their food from Indians. 

Different Cuisines across India

There is no way you can count the number of cuisines across India. Like how languages are further divided into dialects, food practices in each state are divided based on the culture, region, religion and more. For example, Hindus in Chennai might have different eating habits compared to those in Delhi. It is because even if they are from the same religion, their culture is heavily influenced by regional practices. Some popular cuisines across India include Punjabi, Rajasthani, Bengali, Tamil, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and more. If you love the Chole Bhature of the North, you are going to enjoy the Pongal of the South. The dishes are completely diverse and delicious in their own ways. 

Regional Delicacies: The Tapestry of Indian Cuisine

Each Indian dish has at least seven ingredients which when put together, bring new flavours and exciting aroma. Each of these ingredients has unique textures and flavours. Therefore, a combination of these offers a whole new dish that has intricate layers of flavours. 

Street Food Culture: The Soul of Indian Streets

When you speak of Indian cuisine, street foods form a separate chapter. People sarcastically and literally say India lives and eats on its streets. The range of chaat varieties, kaalaan (chilly mushroom), pani puri aka golgappa aka puchkas, bajjis and more available in the nook and corners of different cities tell you different stories. Again, street food culture across India varies based on the same factors. A simple example is how pani puri is known by different names across the country. They are special and rooted in the places they originate and you can enjoy their original taste only in those areas. 

The Modern Indian Food Scene: Fusion and Innovation

When you speak of Indian food history and how it has evolved to reach this modern scene, you also begin to understand how interaction with different cultures over thousands of years has altered what we call today as Indian cuisine. Besides the influence of agriculture, soil, culture and other regional differences, the contact, trade and colonial influences have further diversified the food varieties in India.

One of the major reasons why modern Indian food is quite popular is because of the fusion of Indian cuisine where you incorporate various food styles from other countries with an Indian touch. This fusion includes Indian Chinese cuisine, Anglo-Indian cuisine, Malaysian Indian cuisine and more. 


Indian cuisine cannot be boxed into anything. A series of factors influence its diversity and a look at the Indian food history tells you why it is so varied. In fact, the evolution of food in India is happening as we speak. With the advent of newer technologies and simpler cooking methods, along with the medium to learn about several different cuisines, we are just stepping into another era of Indian food, one that is more modern and global than now. In this era you can sit and order food online without leaving your home.


1. Who is the father of Indian food?

There is no particular person who is celebrated as the father of Indian food. Since its food history goes way back in time and there is no one particular cuisine that defines Indian food, there is no one who is celebrated as the father of Indian food. 

2. What is Indian food culture?

Indian food culture is an umbrella term that refers to the coexistence of different food practices, influenced by the diverse civilizations and traditions in India. That said, one common aspect that creates a unique identity of the Indian food culture is the generous use of spices. 

3. Why is Indian food famous?

The Indian food is rich in flavors and has vibrant spices. Each cuisine across the globe has a specialty that makes it unique. The spiciness, layered textures, and the variety of choices they offer because of the different regional culinary styles have made Indian food famous across several countries. 

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