We all remember that stock scene of every Hollywood movie with sequences set in India – the American gasping for air and reaching for water while trying out the hot, spicy Indian food. One may wonder whether it is just the spice-quotient that separates the Indian and American cuisine or there’s more to it than meets the eye. Let’s see.
The chief factors that distinguish the Indian and American cuisines are the level of spiciness, the predominance of meat or vegetables, the nature of key ingredients, and the prevalence of processed foods. While Indians consume spicier, vegetable-rich dishes made of fresh vegetables, the Americans prefer meat items that are far less spicy as well as processed foods.
Importantly, there is no single American cuisine or Indian cuisine: they are actually collective terms referring to a diverse set of cuisine. As America is a land of immigrants, what we call American cuisine is actually a combination of Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai and other different cuisines. These diverse cuisines, with their own unique styles, have blended together to form a distinctly American cuisine.
Similarly, Indian cuisine is an umbrella term for a diverse set of the region- and culture-specific cuisines across the vast span of Indian subcontinents. The differences can be seen in the kind of food (seafood and meat in coastal areas like Kerala while paneer and vegetables in North India), kind of ingredients used (coconut oil in Kerala, peanut oil in Maharashtra, mustard oil in East India). The differences are evident both in the case of the main meal as well as snacks, starters, and desserts.
Despite these regional and ethnic differences, there are a lot of common features that bind these cuisines as either Indian or American. These common features are also the major features distinguishing the Indian from the American or vice versa. The table below illustrates this.
|Features||American Food||Indian Food|
|Spiciness||Less to moderate use of spices in most dishes||Liberal use of spices to add flavour as well as aroma|
|Predominance of Veg/Non-veg food||Meat and non-veg items preferred to vegetables||Vegetarian food is the staple diet|
|Use of fried food||Prefers deep-fried food in the form of poppers, French fries, meat fries etc.||More than deep-frying, prefers steaming or stir-frying|
|Kind of meat preferred||Large use of red meat like beef and lamb||Prefers white meat like poultry. Uses fish also.|
|Oils used||Coconut oil, mustard oil, peanut oil||Vegetable oil, sunflower oil, butter|
|Spices used||Salt, pepper, garlic, oregano||Salt, cardamom, black pepper, coriander, asafoetida etc.|
|Desserts||Wide variety of desserts owing to lots of cuisines||Generally, sweet desserts made of rice or other flour|
Is Indian Cuisine too Spicy for Americans?
One of the defining features that separate Indian cuisine from its American counterpart is its higher level of spiciness so much that Americans generally find the Indian cuisine to be too spicy and hot for their plate. Most Indian dishes are seasoned with one or the other type of spices such as salt, cardamom, black pepper, coriander, dried red chilli, curry leaves, asafoetida, cinnamon, ginger, garlic etc. Americans use spices sparingly, the most common being salt, pepper, garlic and oregano.
However, when we say that Indian food is very spicy, it doesn’t always mean that the cuisine is always ‘chilly hot’. In fact, it’s a common misconception that Indian spiciness means hot dishes with a lot of chilly. While Indians use different types of chilly – dried red chilli, green chilli, chilli powder – in their dishes such as Rasam, Vindaloo, Chicken Curry, Chilli Beef etc – there are also dishes that are not very hot – like rajma, dal, mutter paneer etc.
Do Indians eat more vegetables than Americans?
Indians have more numbers and a wide variety of fresh vegetables in their cuisine compared to Americans who prefer meat to vegetables. While the majority of studies claim that India is a largely vegetarian country with around 40% of the population as vegetarian, there are also studies that says vegetarian India is a myth.
However, one thing that cannot be disputed is that Indian cuisine is rich in vegetables. While the vegetable content will be greater in largely vegetarian places like North India, the cuisines in Eastern India and South India is noted for a mix of veg and non-veg items like meat and fish.
The amount of meat in American cuisine is so large that some refer to America as the Meat-Eating Nation. They tend to have both cooked and canned meat products. While they do use vegetables in their cuisine, it is mostly used as complementary to the main non-veg dishes.
Which is healthy – Indian or American Cuisine?
While several ingredients in both Indian and American cuisines are not good for a healthy lifestyle, it can still be said that Indian cuisine is comparatively healthier than American. The important reasons for this are the higher use of vegetables in Indian cuisine and the lesser use of red meat.
According to reports, more than one-third of the American population suffers from obesity and about one-third of the total American deaths per year is due to cardiovascular diseases. This is primarily because of the excess use of red meat in their cuisine. Red meat like beef and lamb is rich in high saturated fats compared to white meat like poultry that the Indian cuisine prefers.
The Americans consume a lot of deep-fried items like French fries, fried chicken, jalapeno poppers, doughnuts etc. Additionally, they largely rely on white flour products (white bread, pastries, bagels, snack crackers) which have easily digestible carbohydrates that can cause diabetes and obesity. Indian cuisine uses rice and wheat flour which have resistant starch that is not easily digested.
Which has more variety – Indian or American Cuisine?
Indian and American cuisine are equally diverse in their flavour even though this diversity differs in terms of the kind of food items – breakfast items, starters, meals, desserts, snacks etc. The diversity of American food comes from the combination of different cuisines of immigrants from all across the world. Thus, you have a very rich synthesis of French, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, and Thai cuisines.
The diversity of Indian food comes from its cultural diversity as well as tropical and geographical differences. For instance, in the coastal region of Kerala, rice and fish curry is a staple meal, while in the Northern states, wheat roti and dal is the major meal. The abundance of coconut in Kerala makes coconut an essential part of gravy in their dishes while central India uses peanuts in their dishes.
However, in the case of breakfast and snacks, Indian cuisine outscores the Americans in terms of diversity. While Americans usually have pancakes, oatmeal, porridge, muffins etc for their breakfast, the Indian menu is much more varied with puttu (steamed cakes), dosa, idli, upma, puri, poha, paratha and many more.
Dosa itself has its own sub-varieties – masala dosa, rava dosa, rice dosa, ghee-roasted dosa et al. Similarly, you have aloo paratha, paneer paratha, onion paratha and many more. All these bread are eaten with a number of different side dishes – coconut chutney, aloo curry, chickpea curry, sambar etc.
Indians also have a diverse set of snacks for their evening tea which itself has varied versions like ginger tea, cardamom tea, masala tea, butter tea, jaggery tea etc. The snacks are also varied like samosas, pakoras, banana fry, banana chips, unniyappam, neyyappam and so on. Interestingly, neyyappam was in the final race for getting named as the seventh version of Android but lost to nougat.
What are the most popular American foods?
The most popular American food items include varieties of burgers (hamburger, cheeseburger), pastas, pizza, fried chicken, french fries, S’mores, croissants, pancakes, hot dogs etc.
- Pancakes: Made of flour in different variations of flavour, pancake is a constant presence on the American breakfast table. They are basically, flat cakes which are round in shape and thin in size.
- Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers: Burger is certainly the most popular dish in America. According to NSDA, Americans consume an average of 2.4 million hamburgers a day and about 50 billion burgers a month. Although, hamburger was the first one to get popular, cheese soon emerged as a popular ingredient of burgers.
- Pizzas and Pastas: The chief Italian foods in the American cuisine are pizzas and pastas. They come in different variations but the most popular ones are those with cheese as a main ingredient. Mac n’ Cheese is a perfect example.
- French fries: American love potatoes. They also love fried snacks. Quite naturally, they adore French fries.
- Fried Chicken: Although fried chicken has become popular all across the world, it’s the Americans who beat the rest of the world when it comes to consuming fried chicken. Their love for chicken wings is as famous as their love for buffalo wings.
- Hot dogs: They love hot dogs of different ingredients- be it chicken, buffalo or corn. It’s more American than any other food: the meat or corn sandwiched between two long buns or a sliced one, with a ketchup on top.
- S’mores: A classic American dessert that adorns family occasions, s’mores contain roasted marshmallow and chocolate layers that are sandwiched between two slices of graham cracker.
- Sausages: American love waking up or coming home to the smell of sausages. They are usually made of minced pork which either grilled or fried before eating them with apples, onions, cabbages etc.
Apart from these items, Americans also love to eat items such as apple pie, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate cookies, potato chips, BBQ fries, Twinkles etc.
What are the most popular Indian foods?
Although the diversity of Indian cuisine spreading across the whole Indian subcontinent makes the selection process difficult, one can still say that the most popular Indian foods include biriyani, curried meat, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, dosa, idli, puri, samosas, chaats, samosas, rice pudding, roti and dal.
- Biriyani: Brought to India from Persia by the Mughals in the 18th century, Biriyani has now become a quintessential Indian food with its own authentic flavours and variations in different parts. For instance, biriyani in Northern Kerala is sweeter while biriyani in Hyderabad is hot and spicier. Biriyani in Bengal, on the other hand, big piece of potato as an essential
- Dosa: Originating in South India, dosa has not only made its way to cuisines all across India but has also got recognized as one of the most consumed breakfast items in the world. They are basically thin round-shaped pancakes made from fermented batter of rice and black lentils.Dosa come in different varieties such as masala dosa, rava dosa, paper dosa, uthappam, onion dosa, etc. It is usually served with sambar or some kind of chutney. While Dosa is made on the pan, the same batter can be used to make another famous Indian dish – idli. It can also be served along the same kind of side dishes
- Chaats: Small, road-side chaat shops is a recurrent sight if you travel through any part of India. Chaats are basically savoury dishes that are made of items such as boiled potatoes, onions, vegetables, lentils, peanuts, puffed rice, green chilli, yogurt, etc. Chaats are generally very spicy and hot. The most common types of chaats are Pani Puri, Dahi Puri, Masala Puri, Delhi Tikki, Pav Bhaji, Vada Pav etc. Don’t forget to try these out if you are visiting India.
- Butter Chicken/Butter Paneer: These are two items made with almost the same ingredients and with the same method of preparation; the only difference being the main ingredient – butter or paneer. With a creamy gravy and mild spiciness, butter chicken/butter paneer is a favourite one in both Indian households and restaurants.
- Tandoori Meat and Breads: Tandoor is the widely used charcoal/clay in India. It is used to cook breads, vegetables, and meat. The firewood or the charcoal used in the tandoor is kept burning and the food is exposed to live fire. This tenderizes the food and also gives a smokey flavour which is special attraction of the food. The most popular tandoori items are Tandoori Chicken, Tandoori Roti, Tandoori Naan etc.
Apart from these, there are several other popular Indian food items such as Samosas, Gulab Jam, Ladoo, Jilebi, Chilly Chicken, Chicken 65, Gobi Manjurian, Pulav, Pakoras etc.
Indian and American cuisines are very diverse in themselves and diverse from each other. And it is this diversity that pushes the foodies in all of us to crave for more dishes to satiate our palate, to try to eat new items to the satisfaction of our senses.
Mark Turner is a food lover who likes to travel the world and find food that he never tasted before. With all the tasting he did all over he can write some amazing content related to food and cooking. You can read more about Mark Turner here.