The consensus by travelers in India is that Indian food is better at home. My expectations may have been high, but I was hoping for fresh, spicy and flavorful meals. Admittedly we were dining at budget restaurants and street stalls, which I know are not the best places to judge a countries cuisine. However, we definitely ate more similar to a local than a tourist, which meant little protein and lots of unidentifiable bean, rice and vegetable dishes. Below is a short, and by no means comprehensive, photo tour of Indian food:
A vendor in Jaisalmer showing off his chai, which many say is the best in town.
Your first introduction to the flavors of India will undoubtedly be via a steaming hot cup of chai. Vendors on every street corner beckon people to their stalls yelling chai, chai, chai. The sweet, milky tea accented with cardamom is the perfect beverage any time and it’s available everywhere.
Thali is eaten with your hands, which can make for a messy experience as you can see. Two thalis above, each very different in taste and presentation.
Thali, which is a refillable plate of dal, rice or flatbread and another vegetable dish, is the most common fare throughout India. This dish varies depending on where you are, for example in the north it is spicier and in the south it is sweeter with coconut. Eating a thali is not only an experience, because it’s often served in a crowded restaurant and eaten with the hands, but it is one of the best value for money dishes around with it’s free refills.
Snacks being packaged by a street vendor to the left and samosas being prepared on the right.
Snacks are the way to fuel yourself through long bus and train journeys. Fried samosas, warmed nuts, momos and other items sold by vendors in every city will satisfy you until your next destination.
There are always plenty of colorful fruit stands near bus and train stations as well, we usually opted for fruit we could peel to avoid stomach bugs.
Kati rolls being prepared fresh at Kusum Roll in Kolkata.
One of our favorite snacks in the whole country were kati rolls in Kolkata. These delicious pita bread rolls filled with meat, fried onions and palace cheese were cheap and tasty. They are offered on almost every street corner, so you just have to choose your favorite.
India’s big cities offer much more variety and meat was more available, however the best place to get protein was McDonald’s. But, it won’t be in the form of a Big Mac. McDonald’s doesn’t serve beef or pork at all in India.
A delicious steak, perfectly prepared in Pondicherry.
We found the best place for a quality steak, which is rare in India, is Pondicherry. This small city in the south has a strong French influence and had some of the absolute best food in the whole country.
Dosas with potato and tomato being prepared as we wait.
As we moved south we were introduced to doses, which are fermented crepes or pancakes made from rice batter and black lentils. We found this street stall serving them up piping hot, filled with a spicy tomato and potato filling. A great meal for about fifty cents!
Tandoori fish in Varkala on the left and freshwater mussels presented in a banana leaf in Kochi on the right.
Another addition to our diet in the south of India was fish. We had fresh water mussels, grilled fish, fish curry and tandoori fish. It was fresh and a nice change from our regular rice and dal routine.
A selection of Indian sweets, a staple of the Indian diet.
Finally, no summation of Indian food would be complete without the mention of India’s wide range of sweets. Our favorite was gulab jamun, which is a sweet ball of dough that’s fried and then covered in a sweet syrup. However, we had our fair share of kheer (rice pudding) and lassi (sweet yogurt drink). Large confection shops are easy to find and offer a wide variety of items to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Have you been to India, is Indian food better at home or in India? Let me know your favorite Indian dish and where you ate it.