Indian food is diverse and versatile, ranging from rice dishes to vegetable varieties, savory snacks to desserts. Spicy, hot, and fatty are not the perfect description for Indian cuisine as perceived by many outsiders. Chilies and oil do form a part of several dishes, but the amount can be moderated as per one’s choice. Grilling, baking, and sautéing are also involved in many foods, making them tasty and healthy at the same time. At present, Indian food does not just confine to the respective states, where they originated but is ruling throughout the globe.
Colloquially known as murgh makhani, the accidentally-discovered butter chicken originated in the 1950s in India’s capital city Delhi. Traditionally, the chicken was prepared in a tandoor (clay oven). Its USP lies in the rich buttery sauce, comprising onion and tomato added to the chicken. The inclusion of cashew, coriander, cardamom, and pepper, make this smooth, creamy dish, all the more spicy and delicious. Team it with rice or flatbreads like naan and paratha for a ravishing meal.
Originating in north India’s Punjab, tandoori chicken was prepared in a tandoor, and that is how it got its name. Standard ovens and microwaves are used at present, but direct exposure to heat enhances its smokiness to the fullest. Yogurt, alongside nutmeg, cumin and a whole lot of aromatic spices are involved in its preparation adding to its richness and aroma.
The ends are often wrapped in an aluminum foil, while slices of onion, lemon and coriander serve as garnish. This juicy spicy platter goes well as a starter or a side dish, eaten with various flatbread varieties.
Naan is a leavened flatbread baked in an oven, prepared from flour, yeast, milk, salt, egg, and sugar. Resembling a teardrop, this soft-textured bread has a pleasant chewy taste, eaten with a whole lot of veg or meat dishes. There are many varieties like butter naan, garlic naan, kulcha (stuffed with veggies, nuts, and raisins), chili cheese naan, and so on.
South India’s traditional food, dosa, is a crispy rice pancake. It is served hot with steaming sambar (lentil-vegetable stew) and coconut chutney (sauce). Rice, black gram, and fenugreek seeds are the main ingredients included in the dosa batter. Its presentation is unique indeed, as it is either folded into halves or rolled like a wrap.
Plain dosa comes without any filling, while the masala variety has a stuffing of cooked potatoes. Neer dosa (light-textured), rava dosa (prepared from semolina and rice), and set dosa (thick and spongy, served in sets of three) are some of the popular kinds.
These round rice cakes, eaten hot, mostly for breakfast also has its roots in South India. Fluffy in texture, plain idli tastes bland. Hence sambar and chutney prepared from coriander, chili, coconut, or onion, alongside fish or vegetable curries, mostly serve as accompaniments. Idli has gained popularity globally and has come up with several variations, like rava idli, made from semolina, thatte idli as large as a plate, vegetable idli stuffed with potato, beans, carrots, and so on.
Originating in North India’s Kashmir, rogan josh, also a part of Persian cuisine, is prepared from goat or lamb’s meat. It has a vibrant red color and a fascinating aroma because of the generous amount of Kashmiri chilies and alkanet root (or rattan jot) that goes into its preparation. Other spices like cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom, and even the occasional inclusion of saffron enhance its fragrance.
One of India’s prominent street foods, samosa, is a triangular or cone-shaped fried savory snack, prepared from a dough of all-purpose flour. Mashed potato, along with green peas and onions, seasoned with spices, mostly go as fillings. At present, minced meat, dried fruit, cheese, and noodles also serve as a stuffing. Crispy outside and soft within, it is eaten with mint, tamarind, or coriander sauces or even a hot cup of tea.
A staple breakfast or teatime snack, paratha is a thick flatbread, made by rolling the flour dough into a into a square, triangle, or rectangular shape, and then frying it. Traditionally, parathas comprised ghee. At present, people choose to make it in oil or even bake it for a healthier version. It can be eaten by sprinkling a dollop of butter on top or even with curd, vegetables, or meat dishes. Paratha has different versions, named according to the stuffing like aloo paratha (potato-filled), gobi paratha (with cauliflower), and Mughlai parathas (stuffed with egg and minced meat).
Malai translates to cream, while kofta means fried balls, which very well justifies the contents of this popular North Indian vegetarian dish. The koftas are a blend of veggies like potatoes, paneer, carrots, peas, and bean. While the thick gravy is a combination of tomato, onion, spices, butter, and cream. They are soft, smooth, rich, and creamy, complementing perfectly with rice and flatbreads
Another of India’s fast food, popular in the western state of Maharashtra, this dish is a combination of pav, a soft fluffy bread roll, and bhajji, a spicy vegetable curry made with potatoes, chilies, onions, carrots, beans, and bell peppers. Cheese pav bhaji, paneer pav bhaji, and mushroom pav bhaji are some of the variations. This dish is sold in carts and has also found a prominent place in restaurants.
Chicken 65, originating in Chennai’s Hotel Buhari, is a deep-fried spicy, crispy dish, served as a quick snack. The addition of red chilies enhances its spiciness, while lemon and onion serve as garnishes. There are many speculations behind its name like the dish has 65 chicken pieces or the chicken to be used would be 65 days old. Other South Indian states also prepare this dish with variations. In Karnataka, grated coconut serves as a garnish, while in Andhra Pradesh, cooking the chicken is preferred over frying it. Gobi 65 and Paneer 65, made of cauliflower and paneer (cottage cheese), respectively, are its vegetable variants.
A vegetarian Gujarati dish, prepared from gram flour, khaman dhokla is soft, fluffy, and spongy with a sweet-savory taste. It is mostly garnished with mustard seeds, curry leaves, sesame seeds, and green chilies, and eaten with tamarind or mint sauce. Dhokla, often confused with khaman, is not the same, as the former is white and prepared from rice and chickpeas.
Mostly popular in the western parts of India, particularly Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, this is a three-in-one sweet-sour-spicy dish comprising dal, baati, and churma. The dal is primarily made using chickpeas, pigeon peas, black gram, alongside chilies, coriander, ginger, turmeric, and asafetida. Bati, on the other hand, refers to the small, round dough balls made with wheat flour, milk, and ghee. Churma, adding to the dish’s sweetness, has crushed wheat, sugar, and ghee as its main ingredients. A dollop of ghee sitting on the mashed baatis completes the presentation.
An instant hit among all, biryani, introduced to India by the Mughal rulers, is aromatic rice. Its appealing taste results from its generous share of spices, notably saffron, that attributes to its color. Condiments like curd, and raita as well as salads, serve as sides.
One can make biryani with chicken, mutton, pork, beef, or even vegetables. There are regional variations, too; for example, Kolkata Biryani is light on spices, with the big potatoes being its specialty. At the same time, Hyderabadi Biryani is spicier, with an array of flavors.
Papri chaat is one of the many chat varieties, spotted in roadside stalls and carts in every nook and corner of the country. Papri, a crisp, fried wafer, is the star of this dish, nicely arranged between boiled potatoes and chickpeas. The tamarind sauce and yogurt sprinkled on top, along with sev (crunchy noodles), give this sweet-sour-tangy dish a colorful look.
Another chat variety, aloo tikki, is a potato croquette, prepared with boiled potatoes, peas, and a whole lot of spices. Soft and crispy, its tanginess varies according to the spices that go into its making. Tamarind, mint, and coriander sauces, besides curd, serve as accompaniments. One may even eat them with spicy chickpea curry. Though sold throughout the country, the north Indian cities of Delhi and Lucknow have the reputation of offering mouthwatering aloo tikki.
Northern India, particularly Punjab’s patent dish, it is a blend of chole, a spicy chickpea curry, and bhature, fried leavened bread. It remains incomplete without onion slices, lemon, chilies, and chutney. This flavorful dish comes with varieties like aloo bhature and paneer bhature, where potato and cottage cheese replace the chickpea curry.
A popular Gujarati flatbread, thepla is eaten mostly for breakfast or as a part of a lunch platter. Wheat flour, gram flour, fenugreek leaves, and many spices are involved in its preparation. Yogurt, red garlic sauce, and sweet mango pickle serve as dips. The fenugreek leaves give thepla a unique aroma, and the sauces make it all the more delicious.
Bihar’s (in eastern India) signature dish, litti, is a wheat flour dough ball, filled with gram flour, herbs, spices, and pulses. Traditionally it was cooked over wood or coal for the roasted effect; presently, it is prepared on an oven at a high flame. Chokha, eaten along, refers to the mashed and roasted vegetables mostly made of potato, eggplant, and tomato. While the litti has a rustic taste, chokha is a spicy fusion, making for a great combo meal.
Vindaloo is a spicy meat curry with its roots in Goa, situated on India’s western coast. A traditional vindaloo has pork as its prime component, alongside wine and plenty of spices like garlic, red chili, clove, peppercorn, and cinnamon. Its variations include chicken vindaloo, beef vindaloo, and mutton vindaloo. Its popularity has spread worldwide, with this dish finding its place in many British Asian restaurants.
Vada pav, Maharashtra’s famous fast food, comprises of fried potato dumpling (vada) sitting in between a humongous bun (pav). Fried chilies, and spicy dips of garlic, coconut, tamarind, or peanut, are mostly served along with it. The chewy, bland taste of pav complements fabulously with the tangy, crispy vada. Its resemblance to a burger earned it the name “Bombay burger.”
Pani puri is one of the noteworthy street foods that one can spot on carts in every part of the country, mostly in the evening. They are round balls, hollow at the center, stuffed with a filling of mashed potato, chickpea, onion, and coriander, dipped in flavored tamarind or mint water, and served in small leaf or steel bowls. It has several names like gol gappe in some North Indian states, gup-chup in Odisha, phuckha in West Bengal, and fulki in Madhya Pradesh, with the preparation process and ingredients also varying from one region to the other.
Palak means spinach, and paneer translates to cottage cheese. The amalgamation of both leads to this mouthwatering vegetarian dish. Pureed spinach is seasoned with garlic, ginger, chilies, and several other spices, and then cooked along with the paneer. The result is a smooth, flavorful dish, mostly eaten with different flatbread varieties or even rice. Other paneer dishes include paneer butter masala, matar paneer (with peas), and shahi paneer (a creamy preparation).
Originating in Punjab, dal makhani is a preparation of red kidney beans and whole black lentils, smoothened in butter and cream, accounting for its soft texture. It also involves a smoky, aromatic flavor due to the spices and herbs it has. Dal makhani with rice or flatbread makes for a sumptuous meal.
It is a combination of vegetable fritters soaked in yogurt, mostly eaten with flatbreads and rice. Primarily popular in northern and western parts of India, the preparation process differs. For instance, kadhi in Gujarat has a smoother texture since it is made in buttermilk. In Maharashtra, raw mango goes into its making. The overall taste of kadhi pakoda is sour, with touches of tanginess.
A rice dish, pulao, consists of many vegetables, including carrots, peas, French beans, and potatoes. Fish, prawn, chicken, lamb, or pork can also be added. There are variations like Kashmiri pulao that have a whole lot of fruits in it. In contrast, Bengali pulao has raisins and cashew. Though one can have it with yogurt, chicken dishes serve as sides when eaten at weddings or other special occasions.
Chicken Chettinad, a spicy, creamy dish, derives its name from Tamil Nadu’s Chettinad region, where it originated. Chicken is marinated in yogurt and seasoned with red chilies, coconut, poppy seeds, coriander seeds, fennels seeds, and cumin seeds. It tastes best when eaten hot with rice or flatbread.
Pakora or fritters are one of India’s classic snacks, mostly eaten in the evenings with a hot cup of tea or tasty dips. It can be made from onion, cauliflower, eggplant, potato, tomato, paneer, chili, meat, fish, and so on, dipped into a batter of chickpea flour to form a crispy, crunchy snack. Bread pakora is another unique addition to the list made by dipping bread slices into flour and deep-frying it. Its name differs according to the region, and in Maharashtra and most parts of South India, people refer to it as bhajji or bajji.
Rice and lentils cooked along with a whole lot of vegetables, like cauliflower, peas, and potato is what khichdi is all about. Its role in an Indian household is immense, from being given to babies when they start eating solids to serving as comfort food. The taste alters with the ingredients, though a dollop of ghee common in most recipes adds to its richness. In Western India, a variation made with tapioca pearls known as sabudana khichdi is famous and mostly prepared for religious festivals. It is eaten with fritters, kadhi, potato, eggplant or cauliflower fries, and papad (crispy flatbread).
Though an integral part of the Middle East cuisine, kebabs were introduced to India since the Medieval era but attained popularity during the Mughal period. Prepared through grilling and barbecuing, minced meat is the main ingredient. The addition of various spices enhances the aroma of the crispy, smoky kebabs.
Uttar Pradesh, in the northern part of the country, specializes in kebabs, though at present they are found everywhere. Kakori kebab, galouti kebab (soft-textured made from goat meat and papaya), and shammi kebab ( small-sized beef patty) are some of the many types of kebabs.
Maharashtra’s trademark breakfast food, misal pav, is a combination of misal, a spicy bean curry, and pav, bread rolls. The pav is mostly toasted and smeared with butter, whereas the misal is topped with coriander, and sev (crunchy noodles), with lemon and onion slices, arranged neatly to the side.
Though a beverage, the list of Indian food remains incomplete without mentioning about masala chai or spiced tea. Chai a sought-after beverage in every Indian home, derives from the Chinese word cha, meaning tea. It is prepared by brewing black tea and adding milk, sugar, and many aromatic spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, and cloves. Roadside stalls, selling masala chai in small glasses or bhars (clay cups) as seen in West Bengal, are common.
A donut-shaped fritter of South India, medu vada has black lentil as its primary ingredient. Medu in Tamil translates to soft, and that is how the dish’s interior is, though it appears crispy on its outer end. Mostly eaten for breakfast, it is served with hot sambar and coconut dip.
This is a traditional curry of Bengal, in East India, made with prawn or chingri, as called in Bengali, cooked in malai or coconut milk. Seasonings of ginger, garlic, onion, and several other spices intensify its richness. It is a popular dish throughout the state, mostly served at weddings or other special occasions. Steaming hot rice complements this creamy, subtly-flavored dish well.
Tikka, popular in North India, comprises of boneless meat sized into small pieces. They are marinated with spices and yogurt and baked in a tandoor or oven. Their juiciness is retained by brushing them with butter or oil. Onion rings and lemon slices serve as garnishes, while tamarind, coriander, and mint dips go as accompaniments. Tikka is mostly made of chicken though beef, mutton, and lamb varieties also exist. At present, vegetable versions like paneer and potato tikka have also become popular.
Indian cuisine does not confine to just these many dishes, but the list is huge, including pongal, khakra, khandvi, puri-bhajji, fried rice, and much more. The array of desserts, from malpua to laddu, gulab jamun to barfi that forms an integral part of Indian food cannot also be missed.
Best Indian Street Food/Fast Food: Chole bhature , Chaat, Panipuri
Best Spicy/Hot Indian Food: Chicken vindaloo, Chicken 65, Chicken Chettinad
Best Vegetarian Indian Foods: Malai kofta, Dal makhani, Palak paneer
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