Where to get the best food in India?
Where to get the best food in India?
Mention Indian food to someone, and their mouths will probably begin to water. The smell of exotic spices and the promise of complex aromatic flavours are intoxicating to our palate. If you are passionate about food, then give yourself a pat on the back as you have come to the right place. All good curries start with the crackle of whole spices such as cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon or star anise and after a few months of travel here, you will be lucky enough for that sound to have become familiar to you.
I just had to make a post about Where to get the best food in India. Research shows it is our favourite takeaway here in England and it is not only in England. The countries cuisine has become synonymous with good food across the planet and for an excellent reason. But what’s it like on the road?
Well, the bountiful nature of the land and the resourcefulness of its people to make the most of whatever it is that is on offer has given rise to a plethora of dishes. Whatsmore, it is all just waiting for you to experience for yourself and In my Intrepid travel food tour, I will be talking about some of the best places to travel your tastebuds.
Of-cause all this diversity of flavour didn’t just magically happen overnight. It took a vast expanse of time for civilisations to rise and fall. As they did, each one of them left an impression on the countries culinary repertoire. You can trust me when I say eating your way across the Indian subcontinent is one of the joys of visiting. With all of the choices on offer, you would be best advised to remember your stretchy trousers because you will need them. I am writing this post to inspire my readers to make the most out of their time here, so read on and see what tickles your taste buds.
My guide to Indian cuisine.
India has to be one of the only countries that no matter what your preference is to food, you are unlikely to leave disappointed. In fact, there is no better place to be vegetarian as many of the people’s faiths forbid the consumption of meat. Most restaurants are divided into strict non-veg and Pure veg varieties. For my guide on how to stay healthy when eating locally, why don’t you check out my post? It is packed with tricks and tips to stay healthy when dining out.
Despite India having more vegetarians than the rest of the planet combined, Meat eaters can still fill their boots with the grilled meats, Kebabs and the numerous carnivorous curries on offer. Not to mention with thousands of kilometres of coastline seafood is widely available, making this an omnivores paradise.
With the ingenious use of spices and a passion for good food, Indian cuisine is a pleasure to experience. Every state has its unique signature dishes, and I want to tell you about some of my personal favourites to watch out for. Although this of cause a personal choice and in no way exhaustive. I feel I have travelled enough in these parts to be able to bring a little information that will be of some value to my readers.
South Indian food.
The insanely fertile western ghats produce some of the best spices in the world. The shores of Kerala and Karnataka are known as the Malabar coast, and here you will find a unique set of culinary traditions. These dishes often contain fresh coconut milk as it is in plentiful supply and tend to be very delicate in flavour.
Despite Kerala being vastly Hindu, there are also plenty of Muslims who call this state home. They have left there own mark on the food here. You can clearly see this in such dishes such as Beef Nadan or Beef Fry. Both of those dishes are an absolute must for any meat lover as they are super tasty.
There are several Syrian Christians that live here as well, and they are the creators of the classic dish Fish Molee, that has become iconic to Indian menus everywhere. This well-flavoured and distinctive fish stew is another must eat when visiting Kerala. I have found Cochin to serve the best mouth-watering versions of this dish.
For breakfast, you can look forward to such delights as dosa (a paper-thin batter served with coconut chutney, tomato chutney and sambar.) Or Uttapam. That is essentially a thicker batter and served with the same garnish. Idli is a kind of rice cake that is just wonderful, and again you can expect the same garnish. Another way to wake up in the morning is to a breakfast of Lachha paratha. That is a flakey, crispy yet soft layered bread that is lip-smacking and, served with Sabji curry (vegetable.) All these breakfasts are super heavy and will keep your hunger locked up till dinner time.
In Tamil Nadu, I have found their badam milk to be the best. That is Almonds blended with milk and flavoured with saffron and cardamom. It is very rich and high in calories, but it’s so worth it. The Coorg region of Karnataka oddly produces some of the best coffee I have ever tried. I know coffee is not something most would associate with India, but this is the exception. Stay at one of the coffee plantations for the freshest and most delicious brews of your life. Once you have tried it (and one cup is never enough,) feel free to leave me your verdict as I would love to hear it.
These three states all have vast coastlines and offer excellent seafood dishes, and it would have to be an epic-sized article to try and list all the different ones I have tried over the years. So instead, I will just talk about my three favourites.
Prawn Ghassi comes straight to mind. It is a signature dish from Mangalore in Karnataka. It is both smooth and creamy, but the tang that follows comes from the tamarind. It is truly a culinary delight to anyone’s palate.
Next, I would recommend a fish fry. The dish varies state to state, and depending on the chef and the masala they choose; you get a very different result. Masala means spice blend by the way, so there is a pretty much a never-ending variety combination of that. Even salt and pepper can be considered a masala blend. If it is possible, it is good to ask whoever is selling that fish what is in that particular blend, presuming of-cause, you like it and would like to replicate it at home.
Fish fry is marinaded pieces of fish that have been, you guessed it, Fried! So simple, but delicious it does not even need accompaniments and is often eaten as a starter.
Another of my personal favourites is good ol Prawn Masala. It is a subtly spiced tomato-based curry that is typical of south Indian cuisine. I saved the best for last as this is my favourite dish of them all. For me, it would be a crime to visit the southern states and not indulge in this dish at least once. Believe me; you won’t regret it.
The last place I would like to mention is the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. It has its very own school of thought for food. The food here is something special and tastes, unlike anything else you will find in the country. A dish I would certainly recommend is Chicken Chettinad. This hearty well-flavoured curry is one dish you are unlikely ever to forget.
South Indian food is an almost open-ended subject with a whole plethora of dishes for the intrepid traveller to get their teeth into. The food in the south tends to be healthier than that you find in the north as a lot of the classics here are steamed. So your culinary voyage gets to be guilt-free while you are at it, win-win!
Here deserves to be next in my Intrepid travel India food tour as these states are the home of Mughlai cuisine and many of the dishes we associate with India. This style of food can trace its origins back to the rise of the mogul empire and today has an Indo-Persian style. Many of the dishes are aromatic and rich in flavour due to the liberal use of spices such as saffron, cardamom cumin and coriander seeds. Not to mention lots of butter and cream to make it all taste extra naughty.
The choices of meaty dishes are plenty here. Such classics as Korma, Tandori chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala can be found strewn all across the menus of these two states. Some of the dishes you might not have heard off such as Haleem or Aloo Gosht (mutton and potato) are no less worth sinking your teeth into than the more famous counterparts.
Kebabs feature on menus a lot and the town of Lucknow serves some of the best in the land, particularly the world-famous Tunde Kebab in the town centre. It serves a mouth-watering array of dishes that will keep you coming back again and again. With so many ways to prepare skewered meats, it is hard to list them all. But my top three are Sheekh, Galawati and Tunde Ke Kebab. Oh just try them all.
Vegetarians won’t be disappointed either with the states producing fine panner cheese. Dishes such as shahi panner and paneer Tikka masala are incredible and are not to be missed. I have found these states to serve up some of the best tandoori pieces of bread in the country such as Nans or Rotis. But don’t expect them before seven as its custom not to switch on the oven before then but, don’t ask me why?
For the sweet tooth, there is plenty to feast on. Muglai cuisine can claim the fame to Barfi (a dense milk-based sweet) Kulfi ( a frozen dessert) and the ubiquitous Gulab Jamun (yet another milk-based sweet) to name a few. While these are my favourites, I can say with confidence they’re definitely not all delicious. Some are just wrong so ask to try a bit first before you commit to buying a kilo.
I will also cover the unique food of New Dehli in this part. At first thought, many people would not associate the dusty metropolis with excellent food. Much to the contrary Dehli is bursting at the seams with some of the best restaurants in the country to sample India’s culinary delights.
Indeed, my favourite dish was invented here, Chola Bhature. Chola is a type of chickpea curry and Bhature is the type of bread you dip into it. So the whole meal is a rip and dip kind of affair. Hands down the best place to sample this dish is Sita Ram Dewan Chand. They only sell one dish and have been doing it since 1955. Well worth the fifty-odd rupees you will spend on a feast.
Another claim to fame is Butter Chicken. Said to be invented in a restaurant called Moti Mahal in Old Dehli in the 1950s. I would check this place out! Even if you don’t want the butter chicken, this restaurant is exceptional. Old Dehli has many excellent eateries, especially around the Jama Masjid. It is a Muslim area, so it is a carnivores paradise. Don’t miss Karims, established in 1913 they have had a lot of time to perfect there Mughlai cuisine.
Also to note close to the spice market (definitely worth a trip for any foodie) there is a lane called Gali Paratha Wali. It is famous for the parathas, and there is a bewildering array to choose from. It is just a shame you can’t try them all as you can only fit so much in your belly at any one time! So loosen your belts when you come and check this place out.
In the state of Rajasthan, the people are about 75% vegetarian, making this one of the best places to eat your greens. The harsh environment and scarcity of water are reflected in its cuisine. It is none the less some of the tastiest food in India. The signature dish here is Dal Bhatti Churma, and that is unleaved bread famous for its long shelf life. Chefs need almost no water to prepare it. The dish is typically served with lentil curry. If this dish is not for you that is not a problem, as there are so many other dishes out there, try chana (chickpea) masala or Bhindi (okra) masala. Two of my firm vegetarian favourites.
Meat eaters need not despair, Try the fiery Lal mass. Once only cooked for special occasions this mouth-watering dish is served everywhere. I found the Old takeaway in Jaipur to serve my favourite version. There are many places along the M1 road that serve this and other meaty dishes to sink your teeth into.
One last restaurant I must recommend is Hotel Priya in jodhpur. This super busy cheap and cheerful restaurant sells vegetarian food of all descriptions, and in my opinion, it is some of the best around. You will find this place near the clock tower, and it seems to be a favourite with the Locals as well. So just ask, and someone can point you in the right direction. The Aloo paratha (potato stuffed paratha,) Puri bhaji (deep-fried bread with potato curry) and Chola Bhature is out this world and quite frankly the best I have tried in the whole country. Unfortunately, I am not sure about the hotel, though.
Calcutta and West Bengali food.
At first, these parts don’t sound like foodie hot spots, but they really are. Calcutta is the home of the Kathi roll, an utterly fantastic idea. Albeit so very, very bad for you. Thin paratha is fried and stuffed and rolled with mutton, chicken or paneer. One is never enough! I found Hot Khati Rolls on Park street to serve some of the best.
With West Bengal having the Hooghly river running through it and into the Sunderbans making up the bottom portion of the whole state, its a small wonder Fish make up a good portion of the local people’s diet. The state produces some genuinely delectable dishes, such as Daab Changri. A delicate Prawn curry served in a coconut sauce. Or Doi Maach, a fish curry served with a yoghurt based sauce that is truly amazing.
Meat eaters will not be disappointed either. West Bengal is home of the famous Bhuna. This is a process of cooking where meat is added to the spices and cooked slowly, giving it a vibrant taste and little sauce. It is quite different from what we know in the west and for me is much better than anything I have tasted back home.
The north of West Bengal is a lot more akin to Nepal, and indeed many Nepalis have made this there home. It is very different from the south of the state, and many of its people are trying to partition to the Indian government to make it a separate state called Gorkaland. You can see the difference in the food that is on offer.
There are many places where you can fill up on Dal Bhat similar to a thali. A Thali is something available in every state, and every state has there own versions and its never the same. It consists of rice, dal, sabzi (vegetables) achar (pickle) and if you pay extra, some kind of meat or fish.
These tend to eat as much as you want kind of deal, Where you pay once and the waiters keep filling your plate until you say stop and are ready to burst. You just have to remember to tell the waiter when or you will need to have a lay down while you digest it afterwards.
As a former Portuguese colony and a Christian community, Goan food has evolved differently from the rest of the country. I have found that the food is only really available in the state itself so it is a good idea to eat as much of it as possible while you can because it is incredible. So here are my favourite dishes to look out for.
The vindaloo is synonymous with Indian food in the west, but the truth is I have never seen it on sale outside of Goa. Pork vindaloo is a fiery dish that’s vinegar laced. Garlic, ginger and cumin are vital ingredients in the creamy masala gravy. Certainly one of the most memorable eats in India, and that’s a massive statement with so many to choose from.
Chicken Xacuti is another classic. It is a coconut-based curry with white poppy seeds, dried chillies, pepper, fresh chilly, turmeric, onion, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices. I ordered this from two different restaurants and curiously both times it was served with a bread roll, and they went together perfectly. It is an ancient dish and one the people of Goa have been eating it for many years. Definitely, one to watch out for.
The whole state sits along a very bountiful coast, and unsurprisingly many dishes involve seafood. My personal favourite is the Goan fish curry (albeit having a very unimaginative name.) The fish is marinated, and the gravy is not generally spicy as it is cooled with coconut milk. It is, however, tangy due to the use of tamarind. This is one of the local people’s favourites, so it would be almost rude not to dig in with everyone else now wouldn’t it?
Goa has its own alcohol that the people are incredibly proud of. This curious beverage is called Feni and It’s made from either fermented cashew fruit or palm sap (Toddy.) It is distilled to around 35% to 40% proof. So It’s potent, and I would advise mixing it. The Goan people love the stuff, so it is down to you to make your own judgements on that. After all, when in Rome as they say.
There are plenty of tourist restaurants you can get pizza or pasta but, it would be a crime to ignore this states awesome culinary heritage. The food is both quite unique and incredibly tasty.
The food of Northeast India
This is an exciting part of the world to be in. It is where India’s borders meet Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Its a melting pot of landscapes and culture and is reflected in the food. Some of it is amazing and very underrated. Some of it is more an acquired taste, such as Rats that are consumed heavily by the Aptani people in the Ziro valley.
Or the love of just about anything that moves by the Naga people. All creatures great and small seem to be on the menu here. I once offended my boy guide as he handed me a couple of tadpoles, and I set them free. I had no idea they were for lunch, and he looked at me broken-hearted when he asked where they were, and I informed him. In all fairness, they did not look like anyone’s lunch as they were tiny.
However, The state of Assam has some exquisite dishes to its name and can trace its culinary heritage back to the Ahom kingdom in the first century AD. A couple of classics to look out for are Massor Tenga. It is a rich tomato-based fish curry with lemon. It is a particularly mouth-watering dish. Or for the sweet tooth Komolar Kheer that is made with coconut sugar and milk. With the vast Brahmaputra river flowing through the middle of the whole state, you can expect river fish to feature on menus everywhere.
In the state of Meghalaya, the Kasi people have some good food that not really anyone knows about. You get the feeling you are approaching southeast Asia from the arrival of aromatics like lemongrass not really used in the central part of India. Pork is on the menu a fair bit here, and for those who need a pork fix, this is the state to come.
They also have there own alcoholic Beveridge made from fermented rice called kiad um. I have not tried it myself, so I am unable to give a first-hand opinion, but many people say it is ok but, if you are heading that way do let me know.
Tips on eating local.
I have found the typical Dhaba (the equivalent of street-side cafes) to serve some of the best food around. A lot of these places can seem medieval in there health and safety ideals and many people may find it counterintuitive to entertain the idea of ordering food. There are however a number of things you can do to minimise the chances of your dinner resulting in a hospital trip.
Check to see if it is popular as this is a good indication of how good it is and ensures a high turn over of food. Also If the staff wash there hands and if the work surfaces are clean. That is an excellent indicator if the place may make you sick or not. If the answer is yes, then you should be ok if you steer away from high-risk products. I often keep things vegetarian if I am eating in Dhabas as this presents a comparatively low risk. Pure veg restaurants do not have the same opportunities for the nasty bacteria to breed as in one that deals with shellfish.
Unless I am very close to the sea or a river I won’t bother with seafood at all. No matter how much I love a fish curry, it is just not worth the risk. Even meats like mutton or chicken can be risky. I tend to go to a little more upmarket places to get my fill of the countries meaty delights.
I may be a little over conscientious who knows? However, I have been to the hospital a lot of times for serious food poisoning while on the road. A couple of times, I almost certainly would not be here today without medical intervention. The advice I give is based on my personal experience. Then again I may have just had bad luck, but is it worth you being a daredevil? Use your common sense when eating out. If it looks dodgy, then it probably is.
The last thing I will say on this is to remember, it takes time to get used to the new diet. Don’t rush in and pace yourself as delicious as it all is. Eating curry three times a day as soon as you land will probably work out to be intolerable for your belly. Take your time and adjust to your new diet. Not doing this is a mistake I have made quite a few times my self when temptation gets the better of me.
In summary of Where to get the best food in India.
Indian cuisine is so much more diverse than most travellers could expect, so get ready to be pleasantly surprised. For further information, check out incredibleindia.org as I always find this site informative and helpful. Remember to dig in and enjoy every moment of having the privilege of trying this fantastic cuisine. No one is likely to leave disappointed and do let me know how you get on. Any further questions just leave them in the comments box provided, and I will do my best to answer until the next time my fellow intrepid travellers, happy grazing.
Follow me on social media 🙂