As incredible as it may sound but it is true that there were no chillies in India till Europeans came here. This is an irony of sorts but now there are no chilies in the Europeans cuisines and there is hardly any Indian cuisine without chillies. Yes! One of the most disbelieving food related fact is that chilies are a colonial contribution and now hot green and red Indian chillies in different forms is a distinctive feature of cuisines here.
Taste for the spices evolved over the centuries in the hot climate as they contained powerful antibiotic properties that kills and suppresses fungi or bacteria which could spoil the food faster. When chillies, cumin, garlic and onion are combined together, the antibiotic effect of the chilli gets elevated than it is individually.
There was a time probably many centuries ago when we were proud of pepper. No chillies were known to India back then. Only pepper was used to provide heat in the Indian dishes. It became so popular in Europe that we used to export it to Venice, Rome and other European trading centers and this was no less than black gold for them.
When Columbus landed in South America he was utterly confused and thought that the people he encountered were all Indians. He thought the chilies that they were making use of was pepper, he thought to it to be an Indian spice. In fact there was no mention of chilli in the Indian literature prior to 16th century.
Vasco-da-Gama, a Portuguese explorer who discovered a route from South America via Cape of Good Hope to Africa and India in the year 1498 was actually responsible for making this spice leave the colony of Brazil and become popular all around the world. He brought the seeds for chilli to Goa with him.
This is the place where chillies were first planted and then they spread further to Bombay where they began to be called, Gova Mirch. Chilli had become so famous in India that on its arrival and in spite of being foreign, our own medicine system Ayurveda accepted it as an important ingredient of the Vedic system. Indian chillies became so famous that the traders started taking Indian chillies to the west along with nutmeg, spices and pepper. It is perhaps one of the reasons why India became so rich in the pre-colonial era.
It is believed that the export of chilli was controlled by the Turks who bought chilies from the Indian West Coast and took them to the Black Sea ports. It was due to this that Europeans began to think that it is just an Indian spice. When the Turks had their rein in Hungary they introduced chilies there. So, the paprika which you may have heard about in Hungary has its roots is an Indian chilli. It is what we call Kashmiri Mirch or Bedgi chilli of South India. Hence, it is true that the colonists have introduced this South American flavour to our cuisine; the Indian genius made it our own and introduced it in a new way to the world.
There is absolutely no evidence of colonists taking to hills of North East and Nagaland because these areas were cut off from the rest. This one remains a mystery as a breed of wild chillies grew long-long way from Goa or even South America, puzzling…?