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In India, food is so much more than simple sustenance. In fact, all life seems to revolve around it and it’s the centre of most social interactions, whether it is a morning catch-up over a Vada Pav on a street corner of Mumbai, or a lavish banquet to celebrate a marriage. At most family get-togethers, food will be the main social lubricant and the guest is God, so the host will do their utmost to impress their visitors with a wide array of delicious dishes.
This means that over its ancient history, India has created some of the most well-known and diverse dishes on the planet. This history, coupled with the high quality and variety of its spices and local produce, makes for the perfect recipe (pardon the pun!) for a host of mouth-watering delights.
In short, India is a food lover’s heaven. Eating your way around the whole country would take a lifetime, as the dishes vary widely depending on what state you are in and local produce normally dictates what you find on your plate. For example, if you find yourself in the desert state of Rajasthan, then you can expect a host of different dishes to the southern state of Kerala. Take a look at our foodie tips and inspiration below to whet your appetite…
Our favourite Indian dishes
A staple part of Indian menus since as early as 300 BC, the humble dahl is often used as an accompaniment to other curries but is also just as popular as the main event. In essence, it consists of any curried lentil or pulse. You’ll find hundreds of different varieties throughout the country, from the simpler deep yellow Takha Dahl to the darker and more decadent smoky Dal Makhni. All of them are a master of cuisine and will have been enjoyed by the full scope of the caste system over the years from maharajas all the way down to the Untouchables.
2. Street food
Indian Street Food is almost a cuisine in its own right, with restaurants all over the world now differentiating themselves from the traditional ‘curry house.’ When travelling from city to city (or even village to village) you’ll soon understand why, as you follow your nose towards the smorgasbord of tasty offerings on every street corner. Whether it’s grabbing a quick Pani Puri on the go (AKA crispy fried hollow bread balls, filled with puffed rice, vegetables and pulses, and covered with a gravy) or treating yourself to a full kebab dinner (introduced by the Mughals in the 16th century and adored to this day by all meat-eaters throughout the country), India’s street food caters for all occasions.
You’ll traditionally see Thalis available at lunch time, but they’ll also be on offer for dinner too, and they’re a fantastic choice if you struggle choosing from a menu. Thali is the Hindu word for plate and this plate will include your entire meal, ranging from different curries, as well as rice, bread, chutneys and normally a curd-based dessert. They’re normally unlimited so don’t be alarmed by the well-dressed waiter walking around with large metal bowls of each curry and rice, topping up the plates of anyone who signals to them.
Whether you’re trying to recover from the heat of the midday sun or the spiciness of the food, a cold glass of lassi will always come to the rescue. A cooling blend of yoghurt, water, spices and normally some type of fruit, lassi is always a welcome refreshment. They come in savoury, sweet and fruit (often mango) varieties and can be found throughout the sub-continent. If you happen to be wandering the market of Jodhpur, near the clocktower and are in need of a refreshment, then the Makhania Lassi – a thick saffron flavoured version – from Shri Mishrilai Hotel is arguably the best in all of India (and probably the world).
Our favourite Indian restaurant
From its humble beginnings as a tiny late-night street stall (which is still popular every evening) Bademiya has evolved into a larger restaurant which now sits on Mumbai’s prodigious Horniman Circle. The good news is that, despite its growth, it’s every bit as good as it first was. Choose from biriyanis, tikka masalas, dhals, alongside the classic rolls and tandoori rotis that made it famous in the first place. Try and leave room for a second Paneer Tikka Roll as it would be a shame to restrict yourself to only the one!
Vegetarian & vegan advice
If you’re vegetarian, you’ll be right at home in India. The country is the second-lowest per capita meat consuming country in the world and meat is not considered part of a staple diet. This means that some of the best food is vegetarian and with the unique blend of spices that this country is so blessed with, meat is not necessary to flavour a delicious curry.
Gluten-free & coeliac advice
Rice is available and popular throughout the entire country, so you’ll always have a gluten-free alternative to the bread on offer. You’ll find that the locals are more likely to eat their dishes with rice in the South, whereas in the North they favour bread (but rice will still be available).
How much can I expect to pay for food & drinks?
You can expect to pay between £2-5 for lunch or dinner per person.
Depending on your preferences, you can expect to spend in the region of about £10-20 per day on food, drinks and tips (per person).
Breakfast is often included at your hotel, and on average you should expect to pay £2-5 for lunch, £5-10 for dinner and a nice cold beer are usually around £3-5.
For even more India travel tips, head to our travel guide below.