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India is blessed with an expansive and magnificent diversity of cultures, climates and crops that have influenced the cuisines from the north to the south.
Food in the north is characterised by wheat-based staples, rich dairy products and milder spice blends. Whereas typical meals in the south are rice-based, incorporate more seafood and have an extra layer of heat.
Indian cuisine welcomes meat and fish but focuses on vegetarianism, which is a principle of its primary religion, Hinduism.
Lentils are popular throughout the country, but are closely associated with southern cuisine. With greater access to the coast, people in the south also have more seafood options.
"North India is more landlocked and has less access to the ocean, so it's more about meat and chicken. Whereas a lot of...protein in south India comes from seafood."
The staple crop in north India is wheat, which is transformed into a variety of breads, such as naan or paratha.
Although eaten daily in northern Indian households, these breads are considered a specialty in the south.
"There's a lot more rice dependence," says Minhas. "Even when you make breads in south Indian culture, you find that those breads are made from rice."
The tropical climate of southern India makes it ideal for growing rice crops, which are transformed into innumerable rice-based delicacies, such as dosa, idli and appam.
Minhas explains, "The spices you find all over India are very similar, but are proportioned differently."
Being close to the equator means that southern India has a more stable climate and thus, heat largely influences eating patterns.
"We love the heat in terms of spice and the actual weather," Bangalore-born chef Achuta tells SBS Food. "There's a lot of focus on preservation by drying or fermenting."
This contrasts with the north where milder masala blends are preferred.
Minhas says, "When you kick off a dish, the first couple of things you put into it have a big influence on the type of flavour. When we start off a north Indian dish, the base of it would be oil; something like sunflower oil or mustard oil." After that come spices like cumin, cardamom, turmeric and fennel seed.
"Whereas, if we do the exact same process for southern Indian, the base of the cooking changes. The first thing they might use is coconut oil… but then you've got curry leaves, mustard seeds, dried red chillies and coconut. The two results in very different flavours."
People in the north tend to use more dairy products, such as ghee, cream and milk, to further flavour and thicken their curries and sauces.
Shashank Achuta says, "As you move towards the north, it is a lot fresher with more local produce. It is also more dependent on heavy things like meat, or cream and milk…the things that keep you going in the cold months."
Southern Indian curries use coconut milk or water, which is a runnier consistency than dairy and ideal for pouring over rice.
Through his food business, Sydney Tiffin Room, Achuta hopes to shine a light on the hyper-regionality of Indian cuisine. He changes his menu every few weeks to tackle a different subculture or region of India.
"I've explored just a handful of southern Indian cuisines and it's amazing to me how the ingredients, techniques and spices that you use are polar opposites of each other but geographically so close together," he says.
The seasonal menus that can be found at Minhas' restaurant, Lavendra, also draw attention to India's diverse cuisine.
"Every state, or every second state you go to, you will find something new and something special," Minhas says. "I explore specific cultures in detail. People come into the restaurant and walk out with a greater understanding of the complexity of Indian food, and the complexity of the history."
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