Many recipes first emerged during the initial Vedic period. During this period, India was heavily forested and agriculture was complemented with game hunting and forest produce. In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products, honey, poultry and other sorts of meats.
Over time, some segments of the population embraced vegetarianism. This was facilitated by the advent of Buddhism. Also due to the cooperative climate, a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains could easily be grown throughout the year. A food classification system that categorized any item as saatvic, raajsic or taamsic developed in Ayurveda.
In this period vegetarianism also flourished throughout India. Consumption of beef was prohibited. This subsequently also became a long-standing feature in Hinduism and India. Like in so many other ancient cultures wheat and barley were main crops. But rice was also important. Lentils and various vegetables like eggplant, onions and garlic were grown.
Despite of having extreme diversities of religion, caste, community and class, there were some common factors in Indian Cuisine. The basic part of an Indian meal was a grain like rice, wheat, millet or maize, which depended on the region. This was usually eaten with dal, vegetables & savory pickles or chutneys.
Dishes of fish, meat or poultry were also consumed. The lentils, vegetables & other dishes would always be seasoned with spices. This not only added to the taste of the food but at the same time also had medicinal values. These facts were recorded in religious texts up to three thousand years ago.
Early Indians ate food that was easily available from nature. Fruits, wild berries, meat, fish, etc. were the main food items of the nomadic dwellers. With the advent of civilization, people settled and started to do farming. This led to the discovery of food crops, pulses, etc. Food in ancient India was cultivated in the fertile river valleys. Rice was their staple food that was eaten with cooked lentils, vegetables and meat.
Wheat was used to make flat breads known as "Chapatti". The food habits of nearby countries also affected the food in ancient India. Cooking of chicken came to India from Thailand and mutton came from West Asia. The food pattern did not change with the arrival of the Aryans. With complex religious rituals taking the center stage, animal sacrifices peaked and more and more people turned vegetarians.
Cows became holy more than 3000 years back. Cows were respected and worshipped hence people stopped eating beef. Milk was used to make yoghurt and ghee. Milk and milk products came much into use during ancient times. Rice was eaten with curd and yogurt. Most people in India became vegetarians and meat was consumed very rarely. Fish and seafood came to be eaten along the rivers. Hence, it was in the south that there were most dishes based on it.
Thus, in the ancient times, it was vegetarianism which manifested itself. The fact that animal sacrifice early was a common religious practice can be seen as a paradox to vegetarianism. But it should probably be seen as part of a counter movement to the decadent pagan cultures of old. Ancient Indian food habits were very much a result of religious restrictions.
For food preparation various types of vegetable oils were used. Clay ovens, cauldrons and open fire were all used in ancient India. The preparation methods vary with the cuisine. In the north the clay tandoori oven stick out. For preserving fermentation, drying and pickling was used a lot by adding salt and not smoking.