The Cuisine of East India

An Introduction to This Simple Food of India

Variety of spices and lentils in market, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Jeremy Woodhouse Getty Images

East India is comprised of the states of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Orissa. This region is home to beaches and mountains and Cherrapunji, the city with the highest rainfall in the world.

Because of the climate, Eastern India grows a lot of rice! Green vegetables and fruit are also abundant and thus are the recipes using them. People, though, are a balanced mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian.

The geographical location of this region means its food bears the strong influence of Chinese and Mongolian cuisine. 

Style of Food

Although East India has three schools of cuisine--Bengali and Assam, the Northeastern states and then Orissa--simple is the key word for food of this region. Preparation is not elaborate and neither are most of the ingredients. Steaming and frying are popular methods of cooking. In coastal regions fish is the food of choice while further inland pork wins the position on the plate. People of no other region in India can rival the Eastern Indians' love for sweets and desserts. Some of India’s most popular and world-renowned sweets come from here.

Staple Ingredients

This region is known for its abundance of rice due to the ideal growing climate. Dishes also utilize a variety of local vegetables and fruit. Other popular ingredients are mustard seeds and paste, chilies (both green and red), as well as Paanch Phoran which is a mix of five spices – white cumin seeds, onion seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds.

Yogurt, coconut, maize and gram flour are also common ingredients. Milk and dairy products play a huge role in the preparation of sweets in Eastern India. Mustard oil is very popular and used for both deep frying and cooking. Other vegetable oils are also utilized and ghee is used for cooking special occasion foods.

Popular Dishes

East Indian cuisine's distinct character sets it apart from other areas of the country. The dishes features less spice than their neighboring regions' recipes, allowing the main ingredients to really shine through. The coastal section allows for a variety of fresh seafood, the warm climate and lush forest for ample produce. The European explorers and Muslim settlers left their mark, resulting in a unique style of cooking that is purely East Indian.

Some popular dishes are momos (steamed, meat- or vegetable-filled wontons) and Thukpa (a clear soup). Tomato Achaar (tomato pickle), Machcher Jhol (fish curry), and Jhaal-Muri (a spicy snack made with puffed rice and mustard oil) are also commonly seen on menus. 

Sweets are King

Sweets are a big deal in East India, and the region is renowned for its sugary treats--as well as the inhabitants' sweet tooths! Favorites include Sandesh (made of paneer and sugar) and Rasgolla (dumplings in syrup), as well as creamy rice pudding (kheer). They are lighter and less dense than other Indian desserts.