North Indian food vs. South Indian food– a debate for dinner tables and restaurants, as you browse through the menu in anticipation. Demarcations in territories, differences in geography, agricultural practices, and eating practices, have led to a diversification in North Indian and South Indian food. Here we will enumerate why one of it is better than the other. Kidding.
Wherever you are, geographically, you cannot deny that both the northern and southern parts of India have a world of differences in their cooking methods, which leads to bursts of different flavors that attack your taste buds. Even the style in which the food is served differs both in North India and South India. For instance, South Indian food is traditionally served on banana leaves and is eaten with hand.
North Indian food vs. South Indian food – what exactly does either mean? You probably think (if you’re an Indian) that you know the answer depending upon where you live because geography has so much to do with what we eat, from where we source our foods.
Masalas (spices) that leave your lips tingling and turmeric stained fingers – this is what forms the core of Indian cuisine. An amalgamation of regional and historical influence, food cooked in India is diverse, like its culture and eclectic.
All over the world associate comfort and nostalgia. Bangles clink as mothers and grandmothers (rather unfortunate traditional gender roles but we digress) stir up a storm in the kitchens. Tantalizing scents of curries, the feel of soft (somehow perfectly round ) Rotis and warm rice. Restaurant meals cooked in ghee and butter, garnished with dollops of cream and chaunk.
And no, unlike what you’ve been taught, chicken butter masala and idli dosas aren’t the only options here. There are a plethora of dishes that go unrecognized owing to the popularity of the stereotypical idli dosa and chicken butter masala and chicken biryani.
Every Indian region has its signature dish that it is proud of, for example, Litti Chokha from Bihar and Dhuska from Jharkhand. These dishes usually don’t find themselves in restaurant menus and are often clubbed as a part of the street food culture. However, be it street food or the main course, North Indian and South Indian food both comprise these delicacies.
Indian cuisine is an umbrella term that comprises a plethora of cuisines, replete with their unique tastes. There are several instances of the same food prepared in a slightly different manner in other households or perhaps, in a neighboring state.
The nuances of Indian cooking becomes more evident when you learn about the other regions as well. Most of what is served in the West is North Indian – such as naans, samosas, and rotis. However, there are several that remain unexplored, such as food from the North-Eastern states or Goan cuisine, which bring exciting flavors to your palate.
The variety ranges from sweet to savory, sour and bitter, and this is probably what India is famous for: the multitude of cultural differences existing within its boundaries. This blog explores this diversity, which focuses on North Indian food vs. South Indian food.
North Indian food vs. South Indian food – Geography
Geography matters, and not just in your classroom! It is interesting to understand where the food on your table comes from, for that you need to be well versed in history and the geography of your region. This helps understand what kind of crop and spice can be grown in that area.
North India primarily comprises the regions Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Ladakh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Punjab. The region has varying topography, such as the fertile Indo Gangetic plains and the towering Himalayas. As such, the food is sourced from these regions, which consist of wheat, bajra (spiked millet), among others.
South India comprises Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, as well as the Lakshwadeep Islands and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These states are located on the Deccan Plateau and use rice as a staple. Pulses like urad are grown and used in batter for idlis, dosas, and vadas.
North Indian food vs. South Indian food – Flavors
The first main thing that pops out in the North Indian food vs. South Indian food debate is probably the flavor profiles. North Indian dishes are usually dairy-rich and use ghee and butter often to cook instead of just oil. For instance, the infamous butter chicken is fried in butter and garnished with fresh cream. The taste is mildly sweet with a thick, luxuriant gravy.
The meat often has a smoky flavor as they have been cooked in tandoors – such as kebabs. The naans and puris are made with maida or all-purpose flour. Punjab is also famous for its assortment of stuffed parathas and Makki di roti (Rotis made with corn) with yogurt.
South Indian food, on the other hand, plays with sourness by using tamarind, raw mangoes, tomatoes, and lemon. Gongura, for example, is a leaf that is ground and used in chutneys. It imparts a characteristic tartness to the chutney. The food often cooked in mustard oil or coconut oil (Kerala) and also incorporates curry leaves. (Yes indeed, coconut oil has been used in Kerala for a long time, way before the West began including it in their food. The North Indian curries are creamy while South Indian curries are watery so that the rice can soak up all the goodness.
There is a misconception that South Indian cuisine can be clubbed into one broad term and refers to merely idly and dosas. However, that is incorrect and takes away the individuality of each of the states and the islands.
North Indian food vs. South Indian food – Influences
A long history dating back to even more than 5000 years must mean settlers, invasions, and a rich, colorful past. The Mughals, Persians, British, Portuguese – everyone has given something to the Indian subcontinent in the culinary arts (as well as colonial expansion and systemic oppression!).
North Indian cuisine reflects Mughal influences, especially in the preparation of the meats. The several conquests of the country, along with its highly prolific trade relations, have led to the import of a variety of styles. The Arabs brought gifts of coffee and asafoetida (locally known as hing – a pungent spice known for its aid with digestion). The Portuguese helped with New World vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes. The British brought tea leaves with a side of colonialism (sorry couldn’t help it).
North Indian food vs South Indian food – Spices
North Indian food and South Indian food both use a plethora of spices, some that are locally grown to flavor their food. The spices, known locally as masalas, are tempered in oil or ghee to ensure that they release their aroma and impart maximum flavor. Both in North Indian food and South Indian food, some basic spices are used. Mustard seeds, cardamom pods, star anise, cumin seeds and powder, Kashmiri red chilies, coriander powder, and turmeric.
The garam masala is probably one of the most famous spice mixes out there. Kandigunda (a Telugu term) or gunpowder is a spice made from a type of ground pulse called arhar. Kashmiri cooking incorporates saffron strands that are locally grown in the region. Kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) are used to flavor several curries ( a process similar to how you use oregano on pizza). Generally, South Indian food is considered to be less spicy than its North Indian counterparts. Indians love their spice and use at least five to do justice to their vegetables and meat.
North Indian food vs South Indian food – Vegan dream!
North Indian food and South Indian food are indeed a treasure for those exploring veganism or vegetarianism. Almost thirty percent of the Indian population feeds on vegetarian food. And the 70% that is non-vegetarian still consumes a lot of plant-based food such as legumes and lentils. What is commonly known as a type of lentil soup in the West is dal, a food staple served with Rotis or rice. Chickpeas have been gaining a lot of popularity, especially on Instagram. In India, they are known as the humble chole, served with bhaturas, and mixed in street food and snacks called chaat.
North Indian food vs South Indian food: A Sweet Affair
Now you didn’t think that Indians cared only about spice and cholesterol, did you? Of course not, we care about diabetes as well! Well, that’s a joke done in poor taste. However, it cannot be denied that Indians love their sweets. While Bengal is indeed famous for its sweets, desserts or sweet dishes are also common in the rest of the continent.
Kashmiri Shufta – A traditional Kashmiri delicacy loaded with nuts and rose petals. Walnuts are common to the Kashmiri landscape and are often used in their food.
Phirni – A beloved sweet dish, garnished with luxuriant saffron strands and made with rice.
Kozhukkattai – A Tamil dish, easy to make with ingredients like jaggery, grated coconut (coconut is found in abundance in South India, which is why it is a common ingredient) and rice flour.
North Indian Food vs South Indian Food – What’s Brewing?
While tea and coffee are obvious choices, there are certain drinks that Indians can’t do without. (And please people, it’s tea or chai, not chai tea, thank you!). North Indians and South Indians both love their drinks (the non-alcoholic ones, in this context) and cannot imagine lives without it! Here are some popular drinks from both regions.
Nariyal Pani – Nariyal Pani or tender coconut water is a drink that’s quite popular in South India because of the easy availability of coconuts. It’s refreshing and incredibly good for your skin and health and does wonder to cope with the summer heat.
Lassi – A popular drink from Punjab made from yogurt. It is creamy and served in huge glasses to quench your thirst.
Filter Kaapi – A staple of Tamil Nadu, this coffee served in a special apparatus. Hot and yet oddly calming.
North Indian food vs. South Indian food: Unpopular food
The title is a misnomer because these are only unpopular outside the regions they are cooked in. To bring variety to the table, here are some dishes that have been oft-ignored because of popular food items. Here, we break stereotypes (South Indian? Idli. North Indian? Butter chicken, of course!) North Indian food vs. South Indian food drama and bring you some from the north and south corners of the country.
Rogan Josh – Traditionally made of lamb, this is a popular curry dish from the valley of Kashmir.
Pulihoram – A popular rice dish from Andhra cuisine – the tamarind rice. Sour and delicious!
Macchli Amritsari – You’ve had your Punjabi chicken dishes, but this preparation is equally delicious. Gear up for some yum fish cooked in tandoori masala.
Kozhipidi – A Malayali dish, cooked with coconut milk, chicken, and love! It is a dish made of chicken(kozhi) and rice balls (pidi), and both of them are mixed in a thick coconut milk soup.
It is difficult to include everything about North Indian food vs. South Indian food in one blog post. This one barely scratches the surface to underscore the differences. There will always be something left out, something forgotten. However, we hope that this post sheds some light on the nuances of these cuisines. Easy recipes have been included so that you can try your luck in the kitchen during this lockdown.
The next time people try to bash any one side in the North Indian food vs. South Indian food debate, you know which side to choose – both!