Image of a bowl off lentil daal with steam coming off the top.

The Origins of Daal: A History of Indian Lentil Stew

Whether you call it ‘dal’, ‘dahl, or ‘daal’, the likelihood is, you’ve tried and loved this ubiquitous Indian dish. Heralded for its nutritional value, comforting consistency, and rich diversity in preparation, this is a lentil stew laden with history. From a hearty healthy stew to a creamy indulgent curry, and everything in between, at Majahma we love the diversity of daal! Our plant-based Indian takeaway explores daal in all its regional differences, serving up a different daal with each rotating weekly menu, and embracing the plant-based power-house that is the lentil! But there are more ways to explore daal than with your tastebuds alone: read this blog to learn about the origins of daal. 

Pulses: A Rich past

Archaeological excavations have revealed that pulses, and lentils in particular, were a staple food in ancient India. The roots of daal can be traced to the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world's oldest urban cultures which existed around 2500 BCE.  Ancient Indian texts and scriptures, including the Vedas, mention the use of pulses and beans whilst Ayurvedic texts, which form the basis of traditional Indian medicine, celebrate daal both as food and as medicine. 

As the Indian subcontinent underwent various political, social, and cultural changes, so too did daal. Different dynasties and empires brought their own culinary influences: from royal feasts to common meals, daal featured heavily. The consumption of pulses increased with the rising prominence of vegetarianism during the Maurya and Gupta Empires. With the heavy influence of Persia during the Mughal Period, different rich and aromatic daal preparations emerged, with the creamy and decadent tones of Daal Makhani a legacy of this fusion.

‘Dal’, ‘Dahl, or ‘Daal’: Diverse In Name and Nature 

The Indian nation is diverse both geographically and culturally, therefore, daal preparations differ from the top side of India to the bottom and from the East to the West side of the country. In the North of India we see aromatic, creamy presentations of daal, with decadent dishes like Daal Tadka and Daal Makhani. In the South, Sambar and Rasam are veg-heavy and more soup-like, but these lighter presentations of daal are no less flavorful. The East of India favours simple daals to be paired with rice and fish whilst, in the West, daal preparations tend to have a hint of sweetness and form an integral part of the thali meal. Differences in the spelling of daal can likewise be attributed to the size of the country. India is home to many languages whilst letters are pronounced differently, even within the same language, from region to region. On top of this, the translation of Hindi and other Indian languages into English has not been standardised, creating diverse translations of the word. Majahma’s menu embraces diversity in Indian food and culture, featuring a different daal with each weekly rotating menu, celebrating Indian food from top to bottom and East to West. 

Daal and the diaspora 

During the British Empire's colonial rule, Indian people were sent to British colonies all over the world. From South Africa, to Mauritius, Fiji to the Caribbean, and the Malay Peninsula to Uganda, wherever the Indian diaspora went, daal followed. After the end of colonialism, many people from the former colonies, including India, moved to the UK, Canada, the USA, and other parts of Europe for better opportunities. They established Indian communities in these places and opened restaurants and grocery stores, which popularised daal beyond Indian communities. Today, daal is loved across the globe, a legacy of Indian culture despite British colonialism. 

With every hearty bowl of daal, whether a soupy Sambar from the South or a luxurious Daal Makhani from the North, is emblematic of the broader tapestry of Indian history. The journey of daal since 2500 BCE reflects the rich cultural and geographical diversity of India and its people, as well the various dynasties and empires that ruled India until independence was won in 1947. Your daal education doesn’t need to end here! At Majahma, we celebrate daal every single week, serving up delicious home-cooked daal. Sample different daals, in the cultural richness and diversity of every dish, with our rotating weekly menu!

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