North Indian Cuisine
Food, in India, is a massive talking point irrespective of whether you are travelling around the country or have been living here all your life. The variety of people and cultures, in India, is probably greater than any other country in the world. Classification of cuisine is always a difficult task when it comes to Indian food although classification based on regions, such as North Indian Cuisine, South Indian Cuisine and so on, seems to be the most logical way of making sense of it all. When you look at just one aspect of this classification - North Indian Cuisine - you quickly realize that there is a lot more happening under that one banner than you can comprehend.
The northern part of India consists of about 7-states and overlaps with about 5-more. That, effectively means, that there are 12-distinct cultures influencing what we know as North Indian Cuisine, and that, by the way, is also a broad classification of the situation. Every state has its own general style of food, which has subtle changes based on the regions within those states. It is common to find that one dish, say Butter Chicken, is made in different ways in every town or village, such that across a 100-kilometre stretch, there might be fifteen or twenty variations of it. North Indian Cuisine, or any form of Indian Cuisine for that matter, is heavily influenced by local traditions, customs and, most importantly, produce!
North Indian Cuisine and its Influences
Throughout history, the Northern part of India has been the main connecting road to the rest of the Asian continent and the middle-east. That meant, invading forces would travel through Afghanistan and enter India (modern-day Pakistan). With them, they would bring death and destruction, but also a massive part of their culture and food. Their cooking techniques, especially those brought in by the Mughal rulers of Turkish-Mongol descent. Their food, with a distinct Persian influence, has become the basis for a large part of North Indian Cuisine, especially when it comes to the rich gravies, generous use of butter & yogurt, as well as the bright, flamboyant colours.
That, however, does not mean that Indian food was primarily vegetarian before the Mughal Dynasty conquered our lands. Food from the regions of Awadh, the hilly regions of Kumaon, Bhojpuri food and others have as massive a vegetarian line-up of dishes as the meat-side of things. The absence of beef (the cheapest meat in India) from most Indian menus, the high cost of other forms of meat as well as the predominantly agriculture-based economy have, all, contributed towards making vegetarianism the preferred form of cuisine.
That said, external influences have been very important when it comes to determining the final outcome, when it comes to Indian cuisine, and taste & cooking styles
The most popular Forms of North Indian Cuisine
As with any form or style of cooking, there are certain regions that gain more prominence over others. North Indian Cuisine is also amongst the most popular and recognizable forms of Indian food around the world. There are many factors that contribute to its popularity, and one of those is the "loudness" of its dishes. North Indian culture is, in general, quite loud, flashy and colourful - something that reflects in its cuisine. One look at North Indian Cuisine and you will instantly notice a few things - it is rich, with a generally-thick texture, lots of bright colours and all about bold tastes!
A dish like Butter Chicken, one of the most famous dishes out of the North Indian state of Punjab, is orange in colour and loaded with butter and cream. Then, there's Lal Maas or Red Mutton, aptly named after the glorious red colour of the gravy that accompanies red meat - a popular dish from the North Indian state of Rajasthan. Then there's Rogan Josh, another mutton dish that uses a lot of chillies, yogurt and a plethora of spices to create an exciting dish, native to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Even vegetarian dishes like Dum Aloo (Pressure-cooked Potatoes), Dal Makhani (Lentils in Butter/Cream), Pindi Chana (Spicy Chick Peas) and others are flamboyant dishes, known for their big flavours and bold colours.
It may have something to do with the local temperatures - while India, in general, is a really hot country, the northern parts sit in the lap of the might Himalayan mountains, which is a precursor for cold winds, freezing winters and, therefore, thick gravies, spicy dishes and bright colours! All of it reflects in North Indian Cuisine and its popularity resonates all over the world!
There are other forms of North Indian Cuisine that are not so popular around the world and are becoming fashionable, only now, within India. Food from the regions of Bihar, Awadh (Uttar Pradesh), Kumaon (Uttarakhand), and Rajasthan are extremely different from what you would find in Punjabi food, Mughlai food and Kashmiri food. Some of these cuisines are dominated by vegetarian dishes while others are known for their finger-food like kebabs, samosas and pakoras (vegetables coated with corn-flour and deep-fried). Other regions have taken from these cooking styles and dishes to create their own forms of food, based on local-produce from their regions, and now you can find samosas and pakoras that are distinctly South Indian or West Indian in taste.
If you are interested in Indian food and love the bold tastes and flavours, then North Indian Cuisine is the right path to head down!