Two main influences govern the dietary customs of India, religion and the caste system. Caste is a social grouping or class that is associated with the Hindu religion. Although, technically it is not apart of Hinduism, it is a major aspect of the Indian culture.
The caste system comes directly from the sacred Vedas. These Vedas identify the different classes and the types of food that each class is expected to eat.
Tamasic foods include meat and fermented food and drink, such as breads, cheese, alcohol, and kimchi. People who are apart of the lower caste follow this diet. The majority of the foods on the Tamasic diet are spoiled or leftover food. It is believed that consuming the foods of this diet, produce feelings of anger, jealousy, and greed.
Rajasic diets include onions, garlic, spicy food, eggs, and fish. The middle castes are expected to eat these foods to stimulate intellect and passion. Strong emotional qualities and the sense of contentment are also attributed to the Rajasic diet.
Sattvic foods are mainly of a vegetarian selection, and include fruits, vegetables, and grains. This is the most desired food of all the diets and is geared toward the higher castes. The higher value of food on the Sattvic diet does not irritate the stomach and has a purifying effect on the mind.
The Brahman castes are the lower ranks of the Indian culture, there are certain foods that they are forbidden to eat. Meat and all meat products, including eggs, are top on the list of forbidden foods. Milk, yogurt, butter, and other milk products are an approved food but are difficult for the Brahman to obtain because they are expensive. Other restrictions include onions, mushrooms and caffeine.
Other dietary customs that are unique to India are more specific to religion, mainly Hinduism. It is believed that a true Hindu will not eat food that is not offered to God first. It is imperative to gain God’s blessing before it is put into the body. One way a person can do this, is to place the food before the spirit, then recite specific prayers. It then becomes blessed food.
Purification of a meal must also be performed before eating. A truly devoted Hindu will perform a ritual of sprinkling water completely around the plate, finishing the act of purification.
Celebrating a child’s birthday also has customs attached to it. Instead of candles being placed on the cake, a lamp is lit instead. This is symbolic of a new life, new beginning and the spreading of knowledge.
Many customs are associated with India. Dietary customs are just another way to show true worship and respect to God and the many different religions related to the region.