A Taste of India

A Taste of India

By: Sumana Mani, Compassion India Communications Specialist, and Hannah Tirzah Shunker, East India Country Director's Assistant   |   Posted: October 03, 2005

India is a land of multiplicity, offering variances in dress, food, culture and language. People in the southern regions and eastern regions speak different languages and enjoy different cultures.

India is a vast land of immense diversity and natural beauty. There are seas, rivers, lush plains, deserts, forests, snow-clad mountains and mangrove forests that house the famous Bengal Tiger.

The people of India are as diverse as the land's scenic beauty. Through time, Indians have maintained a passion for their dances, songs and way of life. There is also a perfect synthesis of modernity and tradition that gives way to unique trends in music like Bengali rock music and Indy pop.


The most common form of greeting someone in many parts of India is by placing your hands together (palms facing each other) and saying namaste, which means "greetings and regards"  in Hindi. In Tamil, the language spoken in Chennai where Compassion's second Indian office is located, this would be translated into vanakkam which means the same thing. However, in many projects you will find that children will greet you in English  either a "hi" or "hello."

A common cultural practice in West Bengal and north India is the touching of feet. Don't be alarmed when you visit a family and the children bow down before you and touch yours! It is their way of showing that they respect you and want your blessing. If you would like to respond to the children, then you may place your hand lightly on their head, a gesture meaning that you are blessing them. If it is with an older person, then just smile and say namaste.


Indian cuisine is as varied as the land, reflecting the different cultures and sub-cultures in the country. It not only varies from state to state but also within people groups and cultures in a state.

Staple Tamilian food is rice, a dal-based curry called a sambar, mulligatawny soup, curd, vegetables and fruit. In some other states, food is extremely spicy or has a lot of coconut or fried groundnut paste as a base. Typical Bengali food is spicy with a slightly sweet flavor and every Bengali must have his or her quota of rice and fish daily.

Indians have a notoriously sweet tooth and most Indian sweets are made of milk or milk products, ghee (clarified butter), nuts, spices and plenty of sugar. When in Kolkata, you must try the rasogolla a fabulous Indian sweet that is made from cottage cheese and soaked in sugary syrup.


You can get just about anything you want in India and the ideal place to do your shopping is Spencer's Plaza in Chennai and the New Market (which is actually very old) in Kolkata. Both shopping centers are situated in the heart of the cities and have everything from tea and coffee, clothes (Indian and Western wear), handicrafts and jewelry to crockery, carpets, books, cell phones and other household items.

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