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The story of our food

K. T. Achaya

Achaya, K. T.;

The story of our food

Orient Blackswan, 2000, 148 pages  [gbook]

ISBN 817371293X, 9788173712937

topics: |  food | india | history

In his preface, Achaya says:

This little book has been written to help you share some of the excitement that lies behind the food of India, and the magnificent culinary legacy we have inherited.

Every page informs you of the great scholarship that went behind the concepts reported here.

This book is a shortened version of the larger research volume, [achaya-1998-indian-food-historical|Indian food: A Historical Companion] (1998).

achaya marshalls all resources related to food, even these ancient bhimbetka paintings of hunting...

Fundamentally Indian food items - came from abroad?

Some of our vegetable items - potato, green chilly, papaya, pineapple, groundnut - are so quintessentially a part of Indian cuisine that we may think that these have been with us for ever. But all these items came with the Portuguese - who originally got them from South America. Achaya outlines our food histories - green chillies for example, are called "mirch" because that comes from the sanskrit marich, which originally used to refer to pepper. Pepper was a hot export spice from India, and was the only way of spicing up food, until green chillies were found in Central America. Tea and groundnut came from China. All these food items (and of course, tomatoes) were not there three centuries ago, and many traditional cuisines look upon some of these items with suspicion.

Similarly, Achaya argues that the idli may be a concept that was imported from Indonesia, but subsequently modified in Telugu and Tamil hands. On the other hand, the Appam of Kerala was known from much earlier - it is mentioned in the sangam literature written around 3d c. AD (Perumpanuru).

The samosa comes from Central Asia; in Uzbekistan (where Babur was born) and in Kazakhstan, samsas remain a popular snack. % It arrived in India via the silk route, and was initially called qotab - (was it a favourite of Qutab-ud-din Aibak? or the Pir Qutabuddin, I wonder).


The fine varieties of mangoes which the Portuguese had developed by
grafting techniques [e.g. Alfonso] were also avidly pursued by the Mughals.
The Ain-i-Akbari (1590) lists 35 fruits:

    watermelons, peaches, almonds, pistachios,
    pomegranates, etc. are everywhere to be found. 72

The Ain-i-Akbari, written in 1590, lists the fruits grown in the imperial
gardens but does not include Papaya.  The punjabis call it kharbuja, which
is their word for melon.  105


It comes as a surprise to know that there are 100,000 varieities of rice
in India alone, and twice that number in the whole world.


	Preface				ix
   1	Our Early Ancestors	1
   2	The Harappan Meal	9
   3	How Weeds Became Foodgrains	18
   4	The Aryan Way of Life	30
   5	Theory and Practice	39
   6	Through Other Eyes	51
   7	The Muslim Contribution	64
   8	Many Regions, Many Foods	74
   9	Europe Views the Indian Scene	87
  10	The Taste of the New World	101
  11	More Exotic Delights	110
  12	Bibliography	123
  13	Glossary of Indian and Non-English Words	125
  14	General Index	129

link: Vidhya's Vegetarian Kitchen The English words rice and curry have their origins in Tamil (Arisi and kari). “In the famous manual of statecraft written in 300BC, the Arthasastra of Kautilya, a balanced meal of a gentleman is described. This consists of rice 500g, dhal: 125g, oil: 56g and salt 5g respectively. This balanced diet mentioned so long ago is the same in essentials as the so-called recommended balanced diet which the Indian Council of Medical Research laid down in 1987!.” --- blurb this book outlines the variety of cuisines, food materials and dishes that collectively form indian food . it draws upon a range of sources literature, archeology, epigraphic records, anthropology, philology, botanical and genetical studies to trace the history of indian food: classification, customs, rituals and beliefs, including the etymology of food terms. it shows how our wonderful indian cuisine, with all its regional variants, is the outcome of food plants brought into india from numerous directions over thousands of years. and of a social ethic in which cleanliness was indeed next to godliness.

For more details


This book is a shortened version of the larger research volume, Indian food: A Historical Companion (1998).

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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Jun 17