Ancient Indian Cooking Practices

Ancient Indian Cooking Practices involves various cooking techniques, processes and tools involved in cooking across cultures, traditions and regions in India. Here we discuss the details of these ancient Indian cooking practices where food was cooked in many interesting ways and had the best of flavors.

A few techniques and tools used in ancient India are as follows:

  • bhatti (coal and mud oven)
  • sigri (outdoor stove)
  • tandoor (clay / metal oven)
  • tawa (pan)
  • koyla (coal)

bhatti: refers to an ancient microwave technique of cooking. Here the stove is made with thick layer of mud, bricks or clay with a hollow space internally. Then the hollow space is filled with fuel like coal, wood or cow for making a flame along with some oil for ignition. This is an ancient technique which has been in practice since ages for roasting and cooking the food. This concept is believed to have paved a way for steam and microwave technique of cooking in modern era. The utensils are closed with lids and put on the flames to cook the food with flame at the bottom and the steam within. Simultaneously closed bhatti’s are an ancient example of microwave cooking where the food is allowed to cook after particular temperature for a certain period of time.

sigri: refers to a stove used for cooking, especially in North India. The fuel used is usually coal, dried cow dung and wood. Therefore it is ideally used the most by those people who cannot afford liquefied petroleum gas stoves. Sigri’s are also used during winters for warmth in cold places and hill stations in North India. A traditional sigri is made from a steel cylinder by cutting a small hole in the side wall used for lighting the stove. Then, several thin iron rods are pushed through the walls, about seven centimeters below the upper opening, to form a mesh. The walls and the interior are covered with an inch layer of clay to act as an insulator. Lighting of a sigri requires a substantial amount of effort. First, the fuel (either coal, cow dung or wood pieces) is loaded through the upper opening. A piece of chosen fuel (perhaps soaked in kerosene) is then lit and inserted through the hole in the side of the sigri, below the iron rods. The sigri is then left in a well-ventilated area until it stops emitting smoke. Once it is up-to a particular temperature, it will produce a smokeless heat. During this period it is necessary to occasionally stoke and fan the sigri to keep the flame consistent. The use of sigri’s is now confined to villages and small towns because of the lengthy amount of time it takes to light and the large volume of smoke initially produced. Sigri’s are a good method for cooking dishes which require an even supply of heat or to impart a smoky flavor.

tandoor: refers to a variety of ovens often made of clay or metal. These are commonly used in cylindrical shapes in India. The heat in tandoor s generally generated by charcoal or wood burning within tandoor itself. By doing this, the food is exposed to radiant heat cooking, hot air, convention type cooking and smoking at a constant temperature. The temperature in a tandoor goes to high extremes and is kept in constant heat for better cooking results and crisp texture to the food cooked within. Generally traditional tandoor’s are fixed in a place and used regularly without any movement. But nowadays make shift patters are evolved and tandoor’s can be installed at various places for many occasions. In India, traditional lifestyle offered communal tandoor’s in rural villages of Punjab and Haryana. However now this concept is gradually getting vanished due to urbanization and nuclear settlements. Still, the concept of tandoor is not yet sidelined due to the flavor being offered by the food cooked in it.

tawa / tava: refers to a cooking pan which is widely used in Indian subcontinent and Asian countries. It is generally made up of cast iron, sheet steel, sheet iron or aluminium or a mixed version. It is generally available in two versions like flat tava and concave tava. The flat version is used for cooking rotis, varieties of flat breads, pan cakes where as the concave version is used for frying and making curries or other dishes. The other major usage in India is for making chat food dishes like ragada, pav bhaji, tikiya chat etc. Nowadays the developed version of this tawa known as nonstick tava is being popular due to ease of usage and cleaning.

koyla (coal): coal is one of the oldest and still prevalent fuel for cooking in India. Traditional India used coal and wood extensively for cooking needs and even today many of the dhabas on the highways and road side are practicing the same procedure of cooking food on coal. This is mainly due to easy availability of coal, cooking flexibility, particular technique of cooking with coal in some parts of the country. In eastern India, specifically in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, there are a few dishes which are still exclusively made on coal, for example litti chokha. Apart from this, the Mughlai Cuisine uses coal in Tandoor to make a blend in their cooking technique, where burning coal gives the required heat at a constant temperature.