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These notes were made during a six week trip to India. These are just our food experiences and you may have a totally different experience depending on your budget, where you travel and where you eat.

Indian streer foodNotes from November 2005

India is a very large country and the cuisine is very diverse. My records here are only for the places that I have traveled. I have listed specific food types and flavours from different areas, but will start with a summary of some of the common elements throughout.

Beef and pork are uncommon here, because of religious beliefs they are not eaten. Cows are holy to the Hindus and it is not permissible for muslims to consume pigs. Food in the south is mainly vegetarian, but as you travel further north more meat will appear on menus. Mainly chicken, mutton (goat) and fish. Seafood is more prevalent in the coastal towns. However, we tended to eat mainly vegetarian meals for food safety reasons. When you get a glimpse of the markets in India you may understand why! There are still many ‘pure veg’ restaurants in the north.

vegetable sellers in the marketAlso the further north you go the more culturally diverse cuisine that can be found. In most tourist areas you can find international cuisine, but it is often not very good quality. There are quite a few top quality international cuisine restaurants in Delhi. There are also many of the typical western takeaway chains.

Ghee is the main fat source used in cooking. It is clarified butter, and Indians call it butter to a westerner. I have used both words interchangeably below.

The tandoor oven is a special style of cooking mainly in the north. It is a very large hot oven – much like a wood fired pizza oven, but often with the opening facing upwards. The special naan bread is cooked by placing the dough on the side wall of the oven which crisps up due to the high heat.

Southern Indian Thali with RiceEating with the fingers are the main utensil used in India. As you get further north forks and spoons are used more often, especially in the tourist restaurants.

Staples

Rice is the staple of the south, while bread is the staple of the north, of course with some cross over. Environmental conditions support this trend; with the largest rice growing in the south and wheat grown mainly in the north. Dal, which is Hindi for lentil, is eaten all over.

Rice is eaten with most meals. Usually white and plain. Other varieties are ghee rice, masala rice, vegetable fried rice, and other spiced rice dishes like jeera rice. There are many different types of rice from short and sticky to long and dry. Some popular dishes made with rice include:

indian wadaBread is always unleavened and mostly wholewheat. There is a huge range of different styles but ‘Roti’ is a generic term for all the different types. Or chapatti. Naan is cooked in a Tandoor oven. Paratha is cooked on a hot plate with a little ghee. Parota is two pieces of flat bread fried with a filling, sometimes stuffed quite full it is more like a pie. Any of these types of bread can be done plain, garlic or with cheese (garlic and cheese is particularly delicious). Papa (or papadam in Australia) is very thin and crispy flat bread, having been deep fried. Puri is deep fried flat dough which puffs up like a crispy balloon, which can be small or large. Another variety in Rajasthan is a round ball of dough that is baked in the oven with a butter coating and also eaten with curries.

Dal means lentil in Hindi. A basic lentil curry, cooked until very soft with spices, chilli and tomato. It is much thicker, creamier and sometimes a little dry in the north, whereas in the south it is served with a much thinner consistency.

Indian fruit and vegetable market in VaranasiWada (pronounced Vada) is made from lentil flour, it is the shape of a donut, but savoury, and deep fried. It is eaten for breakfast with dipping sauces.

Fruit and Vegetables

Common vegetables used in cooking; potato, onion, okra, green beans, peas, cauliflower, capsicum, carrot (which are red), mushrooms, eggplant, chilli. I saw corn rarely, but during my last week in the north, I saw and ate a ‘spicy corn cup’. This consisted of a cup of fresh corn kernels mixed with butter, lemon juice, salt, chilli powder and cumin powder, what a hit for the taste buds. Another quick snack are the carrots and radishes (the ones shaped like carrots), with a slice down the centre which is filled with lemon juice and cumin powder.
Singara is a vegetable that tastes a little bit like a water chestnut, has a black shell which is peeled to reveal white flesh inside with the texture of a broccoli stem. It is eaten raw, and cooked when the texture becomes more like a potato.

Available fruits include apples, oranges, mandarins (which they call oranges), bananas, mango and pineapple.
Indian mealPeanuts are sold nearly everywhere - usually roasted with the shell in a wok with sand, and sold in old newspaper packaging.

Breakfast

Curries

indian curriesMost curry based dishes as we know in Australia are from the north. There is an infinite array of different style curries, with differing vegetables or meat. Usually when eating a curry, locals will have a riata or curd with the dish to tone down the chilli. Riata is mildly spiced yoghurt with cucumber, carrot and tomato pieces. Some of the more common curry dishes I will explain below:

Vegertarian Indian ThaliThali

This is a meal that dominates many restaurants in India. It is different all over the country with regional specialties. The basis of a thali is bread and/or rice served with a combination of curries, chutney, curd, samba and occasionally dessert. Great when you can’t decide what to order!

Snacks

Loads of snack foods cooked on the street side. Majority of the snacks are deep fried Some of them are described below:

UttapamSouthern Specialties

Rajhastani Specialties

Goan Indian meal on the beachGoan Specialties

Coconut milk is used in many of the dishes in this region. Being on the coast seafood was always fresh. Seafood curries were a delight here, rich thick and very tasty. One special meal we ate was a whole fish cooked in the tandoor oven with spices, served with rice and salad.

Desserts

Desserts are not very popular in Indian culture. However there is a strong tradition for an after meal sweet. After all meals you are presented with a plate full of aniseeds to chew on. They can be plain, but occasionally come with small sugar pieces mixed together, or sugar coated aniseed in the more fancy restaurants. A tradition I quickly got used to.

Indian ChaiDrinks

Coca-Cola in IndiaInternational cuisine

In the more touristed regions it is possible to eat a range of international foods. Usually a restuarant that tries to serve western food, try to serve every type of cuisine. So you will get restuarants that have the longest menus ever, with Indian, South Indian, Italian, Israeli, Tibeten, American, and many more. Often the food leaves a lot to be desired!

Takeaway food

There are only a handful of western takeaway stores, and most of then in Dehli. McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Wimpies. At certain busy times there are cues to get into McDonalds and Pizza Hut. They are very formal dining restuarants with a porter at the door, and you have to be seated by a waiter in Pizza Hut!.

McDonalds around the worldMcDonalds menu items

The McDonalds in India had many more vegetarian options that meat options, however to aline with Indian dietary fat intake most of the burgers are deep fried. (see also McDonald's around the world)

Related Pages

Old Comments

  • Hi, if you come to India next time then please try to visit Kolkata. Just to taste typical Bengali foods. Just eat these items and many more (from Sagar Banerjee, July 2011)
    • Polao
    • Chingri Macher Malaikari
    • Vetki Macher Paturi
    • Rasogolla
    • Kouchuri
    • Sitabhog
    • Siraz ka Biriyani
    • Mutton Dakbanglo