Food & Cuisine in India
Chicken Tikka and Butter Chicken are perhaps the most well-known dishes from India. Even so, the flavours of India continue to entice the many millions around the world. Indian food and cuisine, as well as Indian restaurants, offer a wide range of culinary experiences - from rich gravies and spicy vegetables to soft breads and tenderised meats.
Experience the tastes of India, an amazing experience for your taste buds.
Our India restaurant guide below will tell you all you need to know about food and cuisine in India. After an exciting local shopping spree, relax in beautiful surroundings and taste a variety of dishes to your heart's content. You can check out information about the local dining scene is like in the destinations below, as well as some of our local suggestions on places to have a meal - whatever yoru tastes!
India Food & Cuisine Guide
Religion and caste have an influence on food habits, and they say food binds people from all walks of life. Indian gastronomy sure is proof of this! Indian cuisine, like society, was also divided as per caste system. Eating out in India will show you that ancient India had two basic types - Satwik food and Rajsik food. Satwik food was prescribed for people of a higher caste, like Brahmins, who were regarded as more cerebral and spiritual compared to others. They mainly consumed vegetarian fare that included vegetable preparations and fruits. However, garlic, mushrooms, onions, and root vegetables were strictly out of bounds.
The Rajsik food was liberal and included everything except beef, as Indians consider the cow to be a holy animal. Rajsik food was consumed mainly by the warriors and working class, who needed the power and strength to work and fight in keeping with their position as the creators and defenders of wealth.
North Indian Cuisine
North India food and cuisine is largely influenced by the climatic condition. Since it is exposed to extreme climates - from scorching summers to biting winters - food has a major role in balancing body temperature. This is the reason why North Indian food is rich and heavy.
While North Indian cuisine caters to both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian palate, the non-vegetarian fare has an unmistakable Mughal flavour. North India is home to a variety of breads like chapattis, rotis, phulkas, puris and naan. These are predominantly wheat based and readily available at all restaurants.
Among all food and cuisine in India, Punjabi food from the north is the richest. Being the land of farmers, a variety of wheat, bread and milk products are consumed here everyday. Vegetables mixed in spices are filled in cases of wheat dough, flattened and shallow fried on an iron tawa (a heavy bottomed flat iron pan), to make delicious parathas. This makes eating out in India a truly unique experience. The true Punjabi starts his day with these parathas, daal or spiced lentils washed down with sweetened or salted buttermilk known as lassi.
The world famous Punjabi tandoori food finds its origin in this peasant land. Roasting various meats marinated in ginger and garlic paste, curd and spices over a clay oven or tandoor is what constitutes tandoori cuisine.
The rich, bountiful and breathtaking valleys of Kashmir bring a lot of greens to the table. Almost all leaves are consumed in some form or the other. Some of the leaves unique to this region are lotus leaves, roots and hak leaves. Hak is a thick broad leaf that adds a dash of vibrant green to the food
Meat and sea food, cooked in Mughlai style are also consumed with equal relish. Be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian, all the dishes supplement the main course of rice.
Drinking tea is second nature to most Kashmiris, given the mountainous terrain and cold climate. The tea called the ‘kahava' is a green tea, with the flavour of spices which instantly warm the body and soul.
West Bengal is the ‘fishy' belt of India and eating fish is second nature to Bengalis. They can have fish in any form for breakfast, lunch and dinner in most India restaurants in Bengal. Hilsa, a fish found only in the Bengal waters, is cooked in an interesting way -it is wrapped in a pumpkin leaf with spices and then steamed.
Bengalis are also known for their compulsive sweet tooth. Some of the well known milk sweets are roshgolla, sandesh and cham-chams.
South Indian Cuisine
If North Indian cuisine dishes out a variety of rotis and naans, South Indian cuisine is all about rice. Semi boiled rice, raw rice and Basmati rice are predominantly used in this part of India.
South India is known as the land of spices and coconut. Coconut based curries are popular in Kerala while the meat and poultry dishes from Chettinad are cooked in roasted spices and tamarind.
The most attractive part of South Indian meals is the morning breakfast. The assortment of delicacies found here should not be missed for the world. The spread varies with every region and district. While the Malayalis of Kerala begin their day with appams and mutton or chicken stew, Tamilians eat pongal or sweetened rice. Two common dishes across all South Indian states are idlis or steamed rice cakes, and dosas or rice pancakes shallow fried and served with various chutneys. These have slowly but surely found their way to North Indian gastronomy too.
Andhra & Mughlai Cuisine
Apparently if you don't have tears streaming down your face when you eat Andhra food, you probably are not eating the authentic version! Andhra cuisine is the spiciest of Indian cuisines and the customary finish to a meal with yogurt or bananas is actually to douse the raging fire in the belly!
Hyderabad, was ruled by the Moguls through a good part of history, hence the spicy Mughlai flavours permeate through the air. The best places to taste lip smacking biriyani, kormas, grilled kebabs, and sinfully rich deserts are in the crowded by-lanes of Hyderabad.
Variations in Indian Food
Spices are an integral part of Indian cooking, infusing the right flavour and taste to any dish. Most Indian chefs have their little spice tray tucked in the side from which they generously garnish their creations.
To do justice to Indian cooking, you must eat the Indian multi-course lunch or dinner, popularly called thali meals. Thali literally means a large plate or banana leaf, on which an assortment of dishes are tastefully arranged on the side. The centre portion is the rightful place for rice, rotis or puris (deep fried wheat bread).
The variation in Indian food and cuisine is astounding. While some dishes can be rustled up in a jiffy, some others require a whole day of pounding, marination or continuous stirring. Whether involving a quick or cumbersome process of cooking, one thing is you'll never be let down by the experience.
Indian sweets are definitely not for the weak hearted or figure conscious. All sweets are cooked in pure ghee (fat). Some of the recommended sweets are jalebis or round loops fried and dipped in sweetened saffron syrup, kulfi or authentic Indian ice cream and payasam or kheer, which is the Indian counterpart of rice pudding.
Each state has its signature sweet dish. Payasam finds its origin in the South Indian states; jalebis are associated with North India; sandesh, cham-chams and roshgulla are clearly Bengali.
No Indian meal is complete without the ubiquitous paan. It is a dark green leaf laced with lime and stuffed with betel nuts, cardamom, aniseed, sugar and grated coconut. The way it is wrapped also differs from state to state. Mumbai is very famous for its paan and paanwallahs (vendors who sell paan). Paan is a great mouth freshener and acts as an astringent for the body. It is believed to clear the system in a natural way.
While most states have their traditional cuisines, metro cities like Mumbai offer an eclectic mix of all cuisines. Being on the coastline, you can find an exotic variety of sea food in Mumbai. Bombay prawn and pomfret are two of the lip smacking preparations you can indulge in.
Tea is widely consumed in North India and it is often drunk as a beverage. Coffee, especially filtered coffee, holds pride of place in South India. It is coffee that is a sweeter and milkier version of the Brazilian and Java variety.
Most foreign liquors like beer, whiskey, rum, and tequila are available in restaurants and hotels. Indian wines are slowly and steadily gaining an international foothold. Local Indian brews include toddy, extracted out of coconut palms, tharra, a strong drink made from cane, orange and pineapple, and feni, made from cashew and coconut. Most restaurants in India will serve these drinks.
You don't need a permit to drink in India, but Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana are dry states and consumption of liquor is prohibited here.
Facts about Desi Brews
Feni from Goa is a great beach drink. Toddy from Kerala is best recommended for the wee hours of morning. Tharra leaves a dirty stink on the drinker and is deadly if consumed in excess. Indian beers like Kingfisher and Kalyani are milder relatives of the Australian ones.
Medicinal Properties of Indian Cuisine
There are immense medicinal properties that Indian spices possess in addition to their flavouring properties. Tea that is brewed with ginger is an instant reliever of colds and sore throats. It is also said to be an aphrodisiac. Turmeric fights skin diseases while neem leaves keep small pox at bay.
Handy Indian Food Information
- Naan is a wheat bread cooked in the tandoor.
- Rajasthani and Gujarati cuisines have a wide range of dals and pickles. These compensate for the paucity of fresh vegetables and fruits in these parched regions.
- The 36 course Kashmiri thali is called Waazwaan.
- Kahaya or Kashmiri tea is poured from a large metal kettle called samovar.
- The famous Masala Dosa is made of spiced potatoes, vegetables or even minced lamb stuffed in between the dosa.
- Puttu or rice powder steamed in a bamboo shoot with sweetened coconut milk is a popular breakfast combination.
- Thali meals should be eaten with hands, for this enhances the taste.
- The hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong grow some of the best teas in the world.
- The ‘All India Liquor Permit' issued by the authorities actually states 'requirement for a person to drink for medical reasons'!