Where to get the best food in India?
Where to get the best food in India? Now there is an important question if ever I heard one. After all, who does not want to travel their taste buds? Well look no further as here is my in-depth post to help you answer that question for you.
Why should I listen to you I hear you cry! Well, I have travelled on the Indian subcontinent for almost half a decade. During that time I sampled a lot of different dishes and I have found some dishes most certainly stand out more than others. I am also a professional chef in the UK and I have spent the vast portion of my working life in some of the countries best restaurants so I know what good food is. Now I want to share with you what I have found on my travels to this incredible country so you too can sample these delights for yourself.
India is such a massive country with so many dishes on offer it is very hard to even define what Indian food is. It also depends on the person eating it and their palate but it is fair to say few people will leave disappointed.
So where did all this wonderful food come from? Well, firstly 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. It also took the bountiful nature of the land and the resourcefulness of its people that made the most of whatever is on offer to give rise to a plethora of dishes on offer today.
Research shows that Indian food is our favourite takeaway in the UK and it is not only here. The countries cuisine has become synonymous with good food across the planet and for a very good reason. But what’s it like on the road?
Well, you can have faith when I say that eating your way across the Indian subcontinent is one of the true joys of visiting. With all the delicious choices on offer, you would be best advised to remember your stretchy trousers because you will need them. I have often found the biggest problem of travel to India is that you can only eat so much!
Good food starts with the ingredients it is made from. Fresh seasonal produce is not a treat for much of India as it is simply a way of life. This seems contradictory considering the vast population, but it is also a fact. With a complete lack of big brands like Tesco or Walmart, many Indians have to make do with whatever the land can provide for them.
My guide to Indian cuisine
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, 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.
India has to be one of the only countries that you are unlikely to leave disappointed no matter what your preference is for food. In fact, there is no better place to be vegetarian as many of the people’s faiths forbid the consumption of meat. Indeed most restaurants are divided into strict non-veg and Pure veg varieties.
It is better to keep things veggie sometimes as there is a much lower risk of food poisoning than say shellfish. You will want to try and avoid getting sick if you can as it can get you in a mess fast! So do check out my post on how to avoid the infamous Delhi belly when you get the chance. I have been sick a whole lot of times so you are sure to find it of some value. After all, it is better to learn from someone else’s mistakes surely?
Despite India having more vegetarians than the rest of the planet combined, Meat eaters can still fill their boots with all the grilled meats, Kebabs and numerous carnivorous curries on offer. There are also thousands of kilometres of coastline making seafood widely available. India is truly an omnivores paradise. 😁 With the ingenious use of spices and a passion for good food, Indian cuisine is a pleasure to experience.
I will now run through the parts of India that I think you can get the very best food from. When it comes to good Indian food, not all states are created equal. Far from it in fact! It takes a special someone to truly appreciate the food in say Ladakh where ingredients are few and far between outside of the main towns. So let me answer directly where to get the best food in India and you can see a taste of what’s in store for you.
South Indian food
Despite the south of India being vastly Hindu, there are also plenty of Muslims who call this place home. Their influence has left its own mark on the food here. You can clearly see this in such dishes 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 also sizable pockets of Christians who live here as well. They are the creators of such classic dishes as Fish Moilee. This dish can trace its roots back to the days of Portuguese traders and it has become so iconic to Indian menus everywhere. This well-flavoured and distinctive fish stew is another must eat when visiting the South of India. I have found Cochin to serve the best mouth-watering versions of this dish. If you happen to be heading here it is an absolute must for any food lover.
For breakfast, you can look forward to such delights as dosa (a paper-thin batter served with coconut chutney, tomato chutney and sambar.) Idli is a kind of rice cake that the local people simply adore. Try washing it down with a cup of hot masala chai for the full local experience.
Another way to wake up in the morning is to have a breakfast of lachha paratha. It is a flakey, crispy yet soft layered bread that is lip-smacking and generally served with vegetable curry. All these breakfasts are super heavy and will keep your hunger locked up till dinner time so they are also fantastic value for money.
In Tamil Nadu, I have found the badam milk to be the best around. 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 brew of your life. Feel free to leave me your verdict once you have tried it as I would love to hear it. Trust me when I say that one cup is never enough.
These four states all have vast coastlines and offer excellent seafood dishes. In fact, 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. The tang that follows comes from the fresh 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 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.
Another of my personal favourites is good old Prawn Masala. It is a subtly spiced tomato-based curry that is typical of south Indian cuisine. For me, it would be a crime to visit the southern states and not indulge in this dish at least once.
I would also 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 sink their teeth into. The food in the south tends to be healthier than that you find in the north, as many of the classics here are steamed. That means your culinary voyage gets to be guilt-free! What more could you ask for?
Mughlai cuisine deserves to be next on my Intrepid travel food tour as this is where some of the most iconic dishes we associate with Indian food came from. Mughlai cuisine can its origins back to the rise of the mogul empire and today has an Indo-Persian feel to it.
Many 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.
This part of India is a carnivores paradise. As a chef myself it is hard to know what to recommend first as it’s all so tasty.I guess you would start with such classics as chicken Korma, Tandori chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is where you get to try the real deal. I must warn you that when you get your Indian takeaways in your own country they will never be viewed at the same again after this. These incredible dishes can be found strewn all across the menus in this part of the world.
Some of the dishes you might not have heard of, such as Haleem or Aloo Gosht (mutton and potato.) I can confirm they are no less worth sinking your teeth into than their more famous counterparts. When it comes to Mughlai cuisine I have a whole blog on my absolute favourites to watch out for. If you would like to find out more simply click on the link provided.
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. Who would have known there were so many ways to prepare meats on a stick? The top three I strongly recommend you order are the Sheekh, Galawati and Tunde Ke Kebabs. Oh, just order them all!
Vegetarians won’t be disappointed either. Don’t worry I have not forgotten about you. These states produce some of the softest silkiest panner cheese to be found anywhere in the land and that is saying something! Dishes such as shahi panner and paneer Tikka masala are incredible. Believe me when I say they are not to be missed.
These chefs are also masters of the tandoor oven and produce pieces of bread that are simply heavenly but don’t expect them before seven at the earliest. It’s just not custom to fire up the oven before then? Don’t ask me why?
I will now cover the unique cuisine 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. This one city most certainly deserves a whole section all of its own. The food here is just that good guys. 😋
Indeed, my favourite dish was invented here. Chole Bhature is a must for anyone passing through Delhi. 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 that will keep you full for hours on end.
Another claim to fame for this ancient city is Butter Chicken. This iconic dish is said to be invented in a restaurant called the Moti Mahal in Old Dehli way back in the 1950s. I would check this place out! Even if you don’t want the butter chicken, the food 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. The restaurant was established in 1913. Since then it has built quite a name for itself with locals and tourists alike. After all, they have had a lot of time to perfect their meaty fare.
Last but not least 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 of flavours to choose from. Unfortunately, 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 because it is all so damn yummy! 😍
Rajasthani cuisine might just be my favourite so it is with great joy I write this post. In this extraordinary state, 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 nonetheless 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, there is plenty to sink your teeth into. You can start by trying the sumptuous yet fiery Lal mass. Once it was only cooked for special occasions. Today this mouth-watering dish is served everywhere. I found the Old takeaway in Jaipur to serve my favourite version. If you dont like this one there are plenty more meat orientated restaurants all lend up along the M1 road.
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 of this world and, quite frankly, the best I have tried in the whole country. Unfortunately, I am not sure about the hotel, though as it looks a little rough around the edges, to say the least.
Calcutta and West Bengal
The cuisine of Calcutta and West Bengal is often wholly underrated and that is a great injustice. In all reality, it is hard to define west Bengali food actually is as this long thin state borders Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and is the gateway to the northeast of the country. It starts in the steamy mangroves of the Sundarbans and ends in the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. Understandably this has all affected the cuisine and it is no less delicious for it.
It is the home of the Kathi roll and what an utterly fantastic idea that is, albeit so very bad for you. A Kathi roll is essentially a piece of bread that is stuffed and rolled with mutton, chicken or paneer. I know that does not sound like much but trust me when I tell you this is something truly special. You will find that one is never enough! I found Hot Khati Rolls on Park street in central Kolkata to serve some of the best.
The Hooghly river runs right through the whole state and into the Sunderbans. This massive stretch of wetlands makes up the bottom portion of the whole state. So it is hardly surprising that fish makes up a good portion of the local people’s diet. The state produces some genuinely delectable dishes, such as Daab Changri. That is a delicate Prawn curry served in a coconut sauce. Oh yes please! 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 to the famous Bhuna. Bhuna refers to the cooking process where the meat is added to the spices and cooked slowly. This will give the dish its 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 their home. It is very different from the south of the state. Indeed, many of its people are trying to convince the Indian government to make it a separate state that would be called Gorkaland. As a visitor to these parts, you will instantly see a difference in the food that is on offer.
By far the most famous and arguably the most delicious is the humble momo. These are little dumplings that are packed full of flavour. It is one of those foods that nobody dislikes. It is often not associated with Indian food but it is fair to say that West Bengal serves some of the best around. A momo is essentially pieces of pastry stuffed with pork, vegetables, or chicken served with usually some kind of tomato sauce.
There are momo cafes all over this part of the country. They tend to be separated into alcoves where you pull the curtain across and fill up in private. All I can say is whoever came up with this idea was an absolute genius! I consider myself a momo enthusiast and will eat two bowls in a single sitting. Be warned unchecked they will make you fat quickly!
As a former Portuguese colony and a Christian community, Goan food has evolved independently 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.
Vindaloo must be the epitome of good Indian food in the west as so many of us love it. In the UK we love it so much it has become a song? However, the truth is I have never seen authentic vindaloo on sale outside of Goa. It is a fiery dish that’s vinegar laced and usually served with pork. Garlic, ginger and cumin are also vital ingredients in the creamy masala gravy. To me, it is certainly one of the most memorable things to eat in India, and I know that’s a massive statement, but it is true nonetheless.
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, it was served with a bread roll both times. What is even more strange is they went together perfectly.
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 liberal 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 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 judge that. After all, when in Rome, as they say.
There are plenty of tourist restaurants you can get pizza or pasta, but why would you want to ignore this state’s awesome culinary heritage. The food is both unique and incredibly tasty. To find out more about Goan cuisine and what to watch out for simply click the link provided.
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. It is a melting pot of landscapes and culture. That diversity is reflected in the food. Some of it is amazing and very underrated.
Some of it is more an acquired taste. For example, rats are consumed heavily by the Aptani people in the Ziro valley and the Naga people seem to have a love of anything that moves. In fact, all creatures great and small seem to be on the menu here.
I once terribly upset my young guide while helping on his farm in Nagaland. He handed me a couple of tadpoles and I had set them free. I honestly had no idea they were for lunch. He looked at me broken-hearted when he asked where they were. In all fairness, they did not look like anyone’s food 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 and sour tomato-based fish curry. It is a particularly mouth-watering dish I definitely recommend trying.
Or for those with a sweet tooth you should grab some Komolar Kheer if you get the chance. It is simply made with coconut sugar and milk. It is divine and there is no better way to word it in my humble opinion.
In the state of Meghalaya, the Kasi people have some good food that not really anyone knows about. You really get the feeling you are approaching southeast Asia on arrival in this state. You can find aromatics like lemongrass and galangal that are not used in the central part of India strewn all across menus here. Pork is on the menu a fair bit here as well, so for those who need a good pork fix, this is the place to come.
They also have their very own alcoholic Beveridge in Meghalaya that is made from fermented rice. It is called kiad um. and although I have not tried it myself, many people say it is just fantastic. If you are heading that way and fancy a little tipple then, 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. Many of these places can seem medieval in their health and safety ideals and many people may find it counterintuitive to entertain the idea of ordering food. There are, however, several things you can do to minimise the chances of your dinner resulting in a hospital trip.
Check if it is popular as this is a good indication of how good it is and ensures a high turnover of food. Also, If the staff wash their hands and if the work surfaces are clean. That is an excellent indicator of 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 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 country meaty delights.
I may be a little over conscientious who knows? However, I have been to the hospital many 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 myself when temptation gets the better of me.
In summary of Where to get the best food in India?
I hope you enjoyed my blog on where to get the best food in India. It has been a long long read, but I am sure you will find it worthwhile. If you have any questions then please feel free to ask me anything you wish. Simply leave your thoughts in the section below. 😁😁
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.
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