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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

You’ve been eating and drinking them all your life without knowing the actual origins! We bet you never knew these Indian foods are not Indian at all but are a gift of foreign influences.



That delicious samosa you always munch on as a tea-time snack or when sudden hunger-pangs hit is not Indian at all! The triangular potato/meat-filled savoury dish that is easily found on every street-corner actually has origins in the Middle East. Originally called ‘sambosa‘, the Indian samosa was actually introduced to the country sometime between the 13th and 14th century by traders of the Middle East. But whatever, we’re just happy we get to hog these yummy yummy snacks!

Gulab Jamuns



Ooh. We’re sure your mouth is already watering. The very thought of these calorie-filled dough balls, deep-fried and then soaked is enough to send anyone to food heaven. And what’s more, this dish is so versatile that you can enjoy it hot, cold or simply at room temperature. But the favourite Indian dessert originated in the Mediterranean and Persia. Though the original form of the dessert is called luqmat al qadi and made of dough balls deep fried, soaked in honey syrup and sprinkled with sugar, once it reached India, the recipe was modified. How we wish it was lunch-time already!




The very sound takes you to the beaches of Goa and a relaxed family lunch. But the very spicy meat curry is not Goan at all! Vindaloo has it’s roots in Portuguese cuisine and it has been adapted from the very famous carne de vinha d’alhos which is the Portuguese name for Vindaloo. Originally, Vindaloo was made of wine, pork and garlic and that is how it derived it’s name (vin – wine, alhos – garlic) though Indians modified it by using palm vinegar, pork/beef/chicken and multiple spices. Though the original recipe does not use potatoes, Indians modified the recipe further by using potatoes as the word “aloo” in Vindaloo means potato in Hindi. Now you know where that sudden piece of potato popped up from between those meat chunks.



Mix and Stir

This mouth-watering Bengali delicacy is another surprise which has it’s origins in Portuguese cuisine. The Portuguese influence extended all the way from Goa to Eastern Bengal or Bangladesh and the influences are visible in Bengali food even today. Shukto is prepared from Karela or Bitter Gourd which is Indian in origin but was prepared by the Portuguese in olden days. Slowly, Indian influences like multiple other vegetables and a dash of milk/sweet to cut the spice were added to the dish. Just be happy you get to savour this amazing dish today!




The unassuming comfort drink of almost every Indian is in no way true desi. Famous the world over as chai (Starbucks has a Chai Latte on their menu), tea has it’s origins in China. While the Chinese used it as a medicinal drink, the Britains soon discovered it and loved it’s versatile nature. Now, the British being British wanted to cut China’s monopoly in the tea market. So, they brought the humble ‘chai’ to India (by teaching cultivation techniques to the tribals in North-East India plus offering incentives to Britons who wanted to cultivate in India). And it has been a part of India ever since! In fact, it was only in the 1950s that tea became so popular. Now, don’t suddenly look down into that cup you’re sipping from while reading this!

Dal Bhaat



Dal Bhaat or Dal-rice is a comfort food all over India. There are even variations of this food like the Khichdi which are very popular among Indians. Though dal bhaat seems like a very simple, Indian dish, it is not Indian at all. Dal bhaat is actually of Nepali origin and it was through North Indian influences that the dish entered India and spread throughout the region. We’re sure you’re going to dream of the Himalayas the next time you’re eating this simple food!




Rajma chawal has quickly spread from being a North Indian staple to being loved by most Indians. The dish which is as popular as the North Indian chole-bhature is a wholesome meal in itself. However, the preparation of Rajma or the kidney bean in Rajma chawal is not Indian. The bean was brought to India through Central Mexico and Guatemala. The initial preparation or soaking and boiling the beans and adding a few spices is adapted from Mexican recipes. Rajma is a staple in Mexican diet even today though it’s Indian variants are quite different from the Mexican preparations. The bean and recipes prepared using Rajma are famous in North India and the locals often add Indian spices and vegetables like onions and tomatoes to make it tangy. Cool, isn’t it?

Bandel Cheese



This is another staple Bengali dish which has Portuguese influences. While the cheese was developed in India and has it’s origins in Eastern India, it was created by the Portuguese using their own techniques for making cheese and breads. The cheese which has developed into a wide variety today was originally available in just one variety. Over time, people experimented and created the smoked flavor of Bandel cheese. It was the fermentation techniques of the Portuguese that helped developed this cheese and in the olden days, it was made by Burmese cooks under Portuguese supervision.




This is one dish that is loved all over the world. A type of leavened bread, Naan is a staple of North India and is available in almost all North Indian restaurants across the country. The Americans and Europeans have recently discovered the joys of this bread and love pairing it with their chicken tikka. However, naan is not Indian but was brought to India during the Mughal era. Naan has it’s roots in Persian cuisine though the form of leavened bread is actually Iranian. The soft, melt-in-the-mouth bread is surely a favourite but trying different forms with rose-water, khus or stuffed naan might actually tingle your taste buds!



We even have an item number associated with this delicious sweet! How can it not be Indian? But it isn’t. Jalebi is actually from the Middle East though different variations of the sweet were found across different Asian regions. Originally called zalabiya (Arabic)or the zalibiya (Persian), the dish was brought to India by Persian invaders. Today, the dessert Jalebi is famous all over the country in different forms. While North India loves their thin and crispy jalebis, the South Indian version consists of thicker and have a slightly different shape. Jaangiri and Imartee are variations of the Jalebi. Wow! So many variations of just one sweet. No wonder you thought it was Indian!

Filter Coffee


“What?”, you say, “How can Filter coffee not be Indian? Well, filter coffee became popular in India pretty late, in the 1950s, around the same time Chai began to get traction. Coffee was not a part of India till the 16th century when it was smuggled into the country, by Baba Budan, on his pilgrimage to Mecca. On returning, he cultivated coffee and the drink soon became popular. Indians would drink coffee without milk or sugar in place of liqueur. Filter coffee was popularised by Coffee Cess Committee when they set up their first Coffee House in then Bombay in 1936. So much information! Time for a kaapi break?


By Rutu Ladage

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Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...