Traveling around India is the only way to gain an appreciation of the true variety of Indian food that actually exists. It's so much more vast than the staple Punjabi dishes that are served up at most Indian restaurants across the world. Each region has its own specialty, and there's no better way to sample Indian food than to stay at a homestay in India. You'll get fresh ghar ka khana (home cooked Indian food) and you can even learn how it's made. Discover what kind of food to expect from the most popular regions of India in this Indian food guide.
Want to learn how to make Indian food? Here are 12 Places to Take Cooking Classes in India. If you're serious about cooking, some of them offer extended programs up to a week long.
Punjab and North India
Meat and Indian bread are the main features of north Indian food. It's hearty and commonly cooked in a tandoor (clay oven fired by charcoal). North Indian curries usually have thick, moderately spicy and creamy gravies.
Popular dishes: Roti, naan, seekh kebab (minced meat on iron skewers), chicken tikka (small chunks of marinated and grilled chicken), butter chicken, tandoori chicken, aloo muttar (curry made with potatoes and peas), rajma (curry made with red kidney beans), chana masala (curry made with chickpeas), samosa, daal makhani (daal made with butter).
Many migrants from Kashmir have moved to Delhi and other north Indian cities. There you can sample their cuisine, usually consisting of hearty meat cooked in curd or milk.
South Indians can't do without rice. It's the staple in their diet. In Kerala, most dishes are coconut-based and seafood is a specialty. In Tamil Nadu, watch out for Chettinad cuisine, perhaps the most fiery of all Indian food. Cuisine from Andhra Pradesh is also hot and spicy. Hyderabad is famous for its biryani. And, the Udupi region of Karnataka is renowned for its simple but vast vegetarian fare.
Popular dishes: No South Indian meal is complete without rice in some form or other -- either boiled rice or idlis (steamed cakes made from rice batter), or dosas or uttapams (pancakes made from a batter of rice and lentil flour). Perhaps the south Indian food that's most enjoyed by travelers is the masala dosa. It's a thin crispy pancake filled with spicy potato and onion. Cheap and tasty!
The food in Goa is dominated by seafood (of course, being a coastal state) and pork. The Portuguese influence shows up more obviously at dinner in the evenings, when roast beef may even be served (most Goans are Catholic, and as a result eat beef). Goan food also features elaborate puddings and cakes. Xacutti (coconut-based curry), cafreal (marinated and fried/grilled), sorpotel (stew), recheado (stuffed), and ambot tik (sour and spicy) are common types of dishes. And of course, Goan chourico (sausages) and Goan pao (bread).
Popular dishes: Goan fish curry, pork vindaloo, pork sausages. All washed down with a chilled King's Beer. (Goans also love a drink!).
Gujarat and West India
Gujarat's cuisine is known for its slight sweet touch (at least a pinch of sugar is added to most dishes!) and is traditionally entirely vegetarian. This makes it a delight for those who don't like to eat meat. Rest assured you don't have to go to Gujarat to get lip-smacking Gujarati food. It's widely available in Mumbai.
Popular dishes: Don't miss feasting on a Gujarati thali (platter with a wide range of different food items).
Bengal and Odisha
Bengalis and Odias LOVE fish! It's fried, stewed lightly with vegetables, or made into jhol (curry with thin consistency). Hilsa (ilish) is the most savored variety of fish in Bengal. Equally adored when it comes to food are sweets, usually milk-based. The most renowned item in Odia cuisine is perhaps dalma -- a hearty stew made out of lentils and vegetables.
Popular dishes: Maacher jhol (fish curry), sorshe maacher jhol (curry with mustard paste), daab chingri (coconut prawn curry), sandesh, rasgulla.
Ladakh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh
You'll find a significant Tibetan and Nepali influence in the cuisine of the mountainous areas of northern India, due to migration and proximity to the borders of these countries.
Popular dishes: Thukpa (hearty noodle soup), momos (steamed or fried stuffed dumplings), gyakho (stew). In Sikkim, try tongba (famous Himalayan millet beer).
North East India
Also very different to typical Indian cuisine, food in North East India is largely devoid of oil and masalas. However, it is hot and spicy! Rice, vegetables and meat stew make up most meals. Pork is very popular and beef is not forbidden. You'll also come across some rather usual ingredients, such as ant eggs, dog meat and hornet larvae.
Popular dishes: Pork stew with bamboo shoots in Nagaland. Masor tenga (sour fish curry from Assam), dawlrep bai (spicy beef or pork curry from Mizoram), chamthong (vegetable stew from Manipur), pasa (spicy soup with raw fish from Arunachal Pradesh)