The cuisine of India is characterized by its use of various spices, herbs and other vegetables grown in India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism across some sections of its society. Each family of Indian cuisine is characterized by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. As a consequence, it varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse Indian subcontinent.
The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), chana (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Pulses may be used whole, dehusked, for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad, or split. Pulses are used extensively in the form of dal (split). Some of the pulses like chana and "Mung" are also processed into flour (besan).
Most Indian curries are cooked in vegetable oil. In North and West India, groundnut oil has traditionally been most popular for cooking, while in Eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. In South India, coconut oil and Gingelly Oil is common. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity all over India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is also a popular cooking medium that replaces Desi ghee, clarified butter (the milk solids have been removed).
The most important/frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing, perungayam), ginger (adrak, inji), coriander, and garlic (lassan, poondu). Popular spice mixes are garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly including cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. Each region, and sometimes each individual chef, has a distinctive blend of Garam Masala. Goda Masala is a popular spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves are commonly used like tejpat (cassia leaf), coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves is typical of all South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, and rose petal essence are used.
The term "curry" is usually understood to mean "gravy" in India, rather than "spices." The term Desi Diet indicates a Diet followed by Indians.
Several customs are associated with the manner of food consumption. Traditionally, meals are eaten while seated either on the floor or on very low stools or cushions. Food is most often eaten without cutlery, using instead the fingers of the right hand. However, these traditional ways of dining are being influenced by eating styles from other parts of the world. Eating with your hands is considered important in Indian etiquette because a person eating with his hands knows the exact temperature of food before the morsel is consumed thus preventing blisters in the mouth due to the consumption of hot food.
Traditional serving styles vary from region to region in India. A universal aspect of presentation is the thali, a large plate with samplings of different regional dishes accompanied by raita, breads such as naan, puri, or roti, and rice. In South India, a cleaned banana leaf is often used as a hygienic, visually interesting and environmentally friendly, alternative to plates.
Amongst upper class north Indians, cutlery, which has been adopted since Roman influence in the 16th century is now in common use amongst the upper classes; the Roman's exports of Pepper lead to the introduction of cutlery in Asia. Amongst the upper class communities of Punjab, Delhi, Rajhistan, Mumbai, Lucknow, and Himachal spoons and forks have been adopted. Whilst it is considered uncouth to not use cutlery when eating a meal accompanied by rice, it is actually considered obscene to use cutlery when eating with any form of roti (Indian bread).