India’s culinary offerings are as diverse as its people, traditions, and landscape, so banish all assumptions of Indian food based on your local curry house. India’s culinary offerings are as diverse as its people, traditions, and landscape, so banish all assumptions of Indian food based on your local curry house.
From north to south, and east to west, India’s kitchens and street stalls serve up the most delectable, and often surprising delicacies to please the most discerning of palates. So whether you are touring the deserts of Rajasthan, winding your way through the backwaters of Kerala, or kicking back on the beach, you will find something that hits the spot.
Below are some of the best dishes to try when you make your next trip to India. Don’t forget to pair them with a rich masala tea or lassi, and finish off with a generous mouthful of paan to freshen the mouth.
Butter chicken is a perfectly delicious example of the richness found in Northern Indian cuisine. The chicken in this dish is marinated for several hours with lemon, spices and yoghurt, then cooked and served in a curry sauce enriched with butter.
Paired with some roti or naan, it makes for a very satisfying meal that will keep you content until the next indulgence.
A favourite of vegetarians, paneer is the most popular type of cheese that is used across Indian cuisine. Highly versatile, paneer can be eaten deep-fried or grilled as a snack from street stalls, or eaten for a main meal slathered in a curry like palak paneer (with spinach) or mutter paneer (with peas).
Tandoori chicken is a signature dish of India, and highly recognisable by its red appearance. The name comes from tandoor – the traditional, cylindrical oven in which the chicken is cooked after being marinated in yoghurt and a red-coloured spice mix.
Lentils and other types of pulses are a firm staple in Indian cuisine. These pulses are commonly cooked into different varieties of dal that vary from region to region. Try a bowl of dal makhani, which originates from the Punjab region. Lentils and kidney beans are combined with butter, cream, and spices, making it a very veggie-friendly treat.
Dosas are thin pancakes made with fermented rice flour batter. Originating from southern India, dosas are a must-eat if you’re in the south, and especially if you find yourself in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu. Dosas are prepared in a number of ways – such as with egg, cheese, onion, or potato – often making for a difficult choice when you want to try everything. They are also usually served with a sambar (a lentil sauce) and a variety of chutneys.
Made with the same batter as dosas, uttapams are a thicker pancake with tasty ingredients like onions, peppers, tomatoes, and chillies added directly to the batter mix. These are then paired with sambar and chutney for more flavour.
These fluffy, round, savoury white steamed rice cakes are commonly eaten for breakfast in Southern India. Eaten with sambar and chutney, they make for a lighter, but still delicious and satisfying meal.
Kofta in India usually refers to delicious meatball curries. Vegetarians need not miss out thanks to malai kofta, a much sought-after vegetarian alternative originating from the north. Malai refers to the cream used in the dish, while the kofta in this dish are typically deep-fried dumplings made of paneer, mashed potatoes, or vegetables.
If you’re missing your lunchtime sandwich wrap, fear not, a kati roll will hit the spot. Using paratha flatbread as the wrap, fillings can range from vegetables, paneer, kebab, or eggs, and served with a variety of sauces and spices.
Meat lovers will love this signature dish from the Kashmir region. Typically made with red meat such as lamb, mutton, or goat, this is an aromatic curry cooked with garlic, ginger, and a mix of fragrant spices.
Biriyani is rice cooked with marinated meat and spices, with different regions in India offering their own take on this popular dish. Hyderabadi mutton biryani is a popular variant that uses the dum method of cooking – slow cooking the rice in a sealed container to combine the meat with the flavours of the spices and saffron.
This snack, also known as puchka, gol gappa (and a variety of other names depending on which region you find them in), is a fun and tasty street snack consisting of a hollow crisp shell - known as a puri - that is filled pani: flavoured water, and tamarind, chilli, potato, or chickpeas. To avoid getting the pani all over your hands, eat it all in one bite!
Chole bhature is a popular Punjabi dish that can be found all around North India. Combining spicy chickpeas with fried bread, it’s a great breakfast dish, but also makes for a delicious snack any time of day.
In Hindi, aloo means potato, and tikki means croquette. This popular vegetarian snack is made of mashed potatoes mixed in with coriander, onions and spices, and then served with a tamarind sauce or yoghurt.
A vada is made up of lentils that have been soaked overnight, ground into a powder, mixed into a batter and then deep fried. In this dish, vadas are immersed into a thick yogurt and then topped with an assortment of ingredients, such as raisins, coriander, mint, chillies, or black pepper.
These well-known deep-fried triangular snacks can be found throughout the country. The filling can be vegetarian – stuffed with potatoes, peas and onion – or non-veg, filled with minced meat.
Paapdi chaat is a sweet and spicy snack popular in North India that combines crunchy wafers of fried dough with the creaminess of yoghurt, tamarind, chickpeas and potatoes.
India is a haven for people with a serious sweet tooth, with syrupy sweet galub jamun serving as the perfect example. Made from milk solids that have been deep-fried, these balls are then soaked in fragrant syrup and served up as an indulgent dessert.
Kulfi is India’s traditional ice cream, replete with the country’s richness and incredible flavours. The taste and texture are different to regular ice cream, owing to kulfi’s base of thickened, caramelised milk. Flavourings include pistachio, cardamom, almond, and rosewater, serving as a refreshing treat on a hot day.
If you’re watching your diet, gajar ka halwa might be a dessert you’d find appealing seeing as it’s made from grated carrots and nuts. Mind you, like most Indian desserts, there is a lot of ghee and sugar hiding in this seemingly innocuous dish, so leave the diet until you’re home, and dive right in.
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