India is a vast country with many differences in climate, culture, and crops throughout, and as a result, the cuisine that has developed in Northern India versus Southern India are very different from one another. While there are many more subtle differences than these, including discrepancies between Eastern Indian versus Western Indian dining and even many smaller locales, these are the main differences between the dishes of India.
Grains: Northern India grows a lot of wheat, so bread such as naan and roti are common here, while rice and lentils dominate in Southern Indian food.
Meat: In general, all of the chicken and lamb dishes you see in restaurants originate from Northern India. Southern India is closer to the sea and more tropical, with a lot more vegetable crops, so the cuisine there tends to be vegetarian with some seafood.
Dairy: Both Northern Indians and Southern Indians eat a lot of yogurts, but how dairy is used in the cuisine differs dramatically. For instance, Northern Indians put ghee (butter) in a lot more of their cuisine, while Southern Indians use coconut milk instead of regular dairy.
Sauces: Curries are popular throughout India, but tend to be more popular in Northern India. With all the dairy used in cooking, sauces in the North tend to be thicker, whereas the more tropical Southern India uses coconut milk in their sauces, making them thinner. As you can imagine, the South, therefore, tends to have the healthiest Indian dishes, and the cuisine is quickly gaining popularity among vegetarians and vegans.
Spice: Even the degree of spiciness can vary dramatically. In Northern India, the cuisine tends to be less spicy, using mild to moderate spices such as masala. Southern India, on the other hand, tends toward much spicier food, as many tropical cultures do.
Popularity: You may have noticed that the dishes from Northern India sounded a little more familiar to you than those from Southern India. While the latter are gaining in popularity, thanks to the vegetarian and vegan communities, Northern Indian dishes such as palak paneer, chicken masala, and even chai tend to be better known among Americans.
If you’re looking for a great Indian restaurant, look no further than Little India of Denver. Westword has voted Little India the best Indian food in Denver for 16 years running, and there’s a good reason for that! Visit one of our locations on East 6th Avenue or South Downing Street, and find out why Denver loves us.
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