India food guide 

Indian food feels instantly familiar, full of spices and flavours that have made their way into diets all over the world, often in the form of comforting bowls of curry served over soft rice. You’ll find flavours ranging from warm turmeric, pepper and cumin, to fragrant coriander and cardamom; from creamy coconut to fiery chilli.

The roots of many of these familiar dishes are wholly Indian, but a lot of the subtleties and differences which make India’s cuisines so vibrant have become diluted as they’ve travelled. It’s only when you visit India for yourself and see how the traditional dishes of each region speak volumes about its culture, location, economy and history, that you realise the phrase ‘Indian food’ is really no more helpful a description than ‘European food’!

In Delhi

Delhi’s bustling street markets display the multicultural effervescence of the capital, with vendors from all over the country congregating to sell different street snacks and delicacies. If you’re looking for fine dining, you’ll find many of the country’s top restaurants here too. Find out more about Delhi’s food scene here...

In Kerala

Cooking pots in Kerala reflect the state’s long coastline, bringing in plenty of fresh fish and seafood, as they do in Goa, where the infamous vindaloo originates and you’ll find a fair few Portugese flavours. Carry on up the west coast to munch on sev puri chaat in Mumbai, and sit at Gujarati tables practically heaving under a feast of vegetarian dishes seasoned with sweet and salty contrasts. Head to our West Coast India food guide/blog here…

In Chennai & Kashmir

Find the source of dishes which have made their way across the oceans, with biryanis in Hyderabad, Madras flavours in Chennai, and rogan josh in Kashmir. The hot, dry spice of tandoori cooking, named after the huge clay tandor ovens in which the bread and meat rapidly sear, originated in pre-partition Punjab and remains a mainstay in the northern state of Rajasthan. Find out more about Rajasthani cuisine here...

And what if you can’t decide? Happily, most destinations in India have an answer for the indecisive diner in the form of thali. These mixed plates of a variety of dishes and sides differ from region to region in all ways but one: the generous portions. You’ll certainly never get up from a thali meal feeling hungry! Take a look at these pictures of different regional thali from Times of India to get your mouth watering...

There’s such variety that we could never hope to cover all of India’s cuisine in just these few paragraphs. Suffice it to say that, wherever you travel in India there will be distinct flavours and different foodie delights to discover.

A well-loved fusion…

If you’re looking for the origins of the top take-away favourite, Tikka Masala, you’ll have to take a trip to Britain! This dish is widely believed to have been invented by South East Asian chefs in the UK during the ‘60s or ‘70s, who combined traditional grilled tikka meat with an improvised sauce to suit local tastes, and the rest is history...

Lunch on the go...

Train travel in India offers the kind of immersive (and often frill-free) experience that we love, and the traditional railway thali boxes - aluminium trays full of varied local delights - are a particular highlight. Sometimes they are provided on board, while other times you order ahead and collect your box at the next station, and they are the ultimate travellers’ feast.

Health and hygiene

Food hygiene in India has been a hot topic for many years, but much of the concern is now pretty outdated and it gets more of a negative reputation than it deserves. Take a look at Karl’s blog post for more info...

Vegetarian and vegan food in India

Vegetarian cuisine is easy to find throughout India, as many Indians follow a vegetarian diet for religious or economic reasons, and many standard dishes across the country are made with a range of pulses and vegetables. 

Vegans will find things a little trickier, however, as dairy is everywhere. Looking out for ingredients such as paneer and curd cheese might not be too much of a struggle, but you’ll have a hard time avoiding ghee, the clarified butter used as a base oil in most dishes. If you’re eating food cooked to order, you can often ask for the ghee to be swapped for vegetable oil, and explaining any dietary needs to the chef - though it might feel tiresomely repetitive - always helps make sure you get what you need.

Some of the richer traditional breads, such as naan, are usually made with yoghurt, so opt for puri and roti instead if they’re on offer, but always double check the ingredients first as they may still contain ghee.

Take a look at Happy Cow’s list of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in India for some ideas on where to head for great vegetarian and vegan grub.

Gluten free in India

India is definitely one of the easiest countries in Asia to eat gluten-free. There’s none of the soy-sauce dodging you have to do in many places for a start, and there’s widespread use of wheat-free ingredients, including chickpea and lentil flours.

You can enjoy most sauce-based dishes (usual caveat - check first!) as wheat flour is rarely used as a thickener here, and there’s always plenty of rice, grilled meat, fish and fresh vegetables on offer.

Unfortunately, samosas and many traditional breads are out of bounds, but papadums and dosa (a savoury pancake-type bread) are made from rice and lentil flour, and are usually gluten-free. 

Check out Legal Nomad’s guide to gluten free north India for more ideas...

Eating with kids in India

Though some children will chomp through spicy dishes without a problem, many kids like things a bit milder, and it might be reassuring for travellers to know that many Indian youngsters prefer milder foods too, so there’s likely to be something on the menu that the little ones will enjoy. 

As a baseline, there’s always rice and bread which can be eaten plain or dipped in/topped with mild, creamy sauces, and lots of kids love the skewers of tikka meats and paneer, or plates of fried fish.

If you’re staying in a major city hotel, the breakfast buffet is likely to offer international options, such as pastries and fruit, which are great for filling little tummies ready for a day’s exploring, and smaller boutiques are often able to alter menus to order as they don’t have as many other guests to attend to. Check out our blog about planning a family trip to India for more tips...

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