Hailed for its fragrant, tangy and tantalisingly spicy flavours, it’s little wonder that India’s distinctive fare is one of the world’s most popular cuisines.
Travel around the country and you’ll soon discover that this cuisine differs considerably across the regions. Varying soil types, climates and cultures all play their part, not to mention the influence of colonialism. Potatoes, tomatoes and chillies, for example, were all introduced during Portuguese rule.
Religion has also had a significant impact, with Hindu, Jain and Buddhist faiths all favouring a vegetarian diet. One-third of India’s population is considered to be vegetarian.
But what exactly are these regional variations? And where should we go to sample traditional Indian dishes that we’ve come to know and love? Consult our culinary guide to India to find out more.
Northern India is not only the home of many of the country’s best attractions – the Taj Mahal, Ranthambore National Park and the Golden Triangle – it is also where you’ll find many of the western world’s most popular Indian dishes.
This is the birthplace of creamy Korma, roti and naan, as well as popular snacks such as samosas. During its time under Mughal rule, the region saw a wealth of Middle Eastern flavours being introduced into its cuisine. Clay ovens called tandoors are popular here, particularly for cooking meat. This is how the old favourite tandoori chicken was born.
DON’T MISS: Momos, a form of dumpling originating in the northeastern states near Nepal, and Rajma, a vegetarian dish consisting of kidney beans in thick gravy.
The cuisine in eastern states of India is known less for its spicy flavours and more for its sweet treats and desserts. Popular treats include rasgulla - small dumplings boiled in a light sugar, and sandesh – made with crumbled paneer and sugar.
Rice and green vegetables are abundant here and ingredients such as mustard seeds, poppy seeds and mustard oil feature prominently in cooking.
Dishes tend to lean on relatively simple flavours and the geographical location of the region means Chinese and Mongolian influences are prominent. In coastal areas, seafood is popular with fried fish and fish curries being hot favourites.
Over in Kolkata, there’s a fantastic street food scene with vendors selling a vast array of Bengali snacks and regional delicacies.
DON’T MISS: Macher jhol, a traditional spicy fish stew originating from Bengal.
Completely unique in flavour, the food in southern India is like nowhere else in the country or the world. Dining here is a culinary delight - particularly in Kerala, where the cuisine has a world-famous reputation and is recognised for its seafood and heavy use of pepper, turmeric and cardamom.
Due to high rainfall, rice is plentiful in southern India and is a key feature of most dishes. The south is the home of pappadams and is also known for its delicious fried snacks like idlis and vadas – forms of savoury doughnuts often eaten for breakfast.
Those that struggle with spice might have a difficult time, though, for the food here is thought to be the hottest in the country, this is particularly true in Chettinad. If you’re passing through, try a local delicacy called nethili varuval, which is fried anchovies in turmeric and red chilli paste.
DON’T MISS: Dosa, a form of savoury pancake, often cooked roadside, stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes and served with a sambar.
Cuisine in the west’s coastal states is largely seafood based. Maharashtra enjoys a fish and coconut milk-dominated cuisine and Goa is famous for its delicious fish curries – though it is also the only state within which beef is on the majority of restaurant menus.
Having played a key part in trading with Portugal, Goa has distinct Portuguese influence and is the birthplace of fiery Vindaloo which gets its name from Vinho de Alho, a Portuguese marinade that fuses chillies, garlic, vinegar and wine.
In Gujarat, the population is largely vegetarian – a result of the strong Jain culture – and the food is recognisable by its underlying sweetness. The dry climate here means a lower production of vegetables, so chutneys are popular for preserving produce. Be careful, though, because Gujarat is an alcohol-free state, so no washing down food with beer!
DON’T MISS: Dhokla, a Gujarati breakfast food and snack made of fermented rice and chickpea batter.
Head off on your own culinary journey with us. We offer a range of escorted tours throughout India. Explore our India holidays today.
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