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Around India in 15 Dishes


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Hi, I'm Margot!

Margot Bigg is a journalist who has lived in the UK, the US, France, and India. She’s the author of Moon Living Abroad in India and Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur and a co-author of Fodor's Essential India and Fodor's Pacific Northwest. Her stories have appeared in Rolling Stone India, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, and VICE.

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Hi, I'm Margot!

Margot Bigg is a journalist who has lived in the UK, the US, France, and India. She’s the author of Moon Living Abroad in India and Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur and a co-author of Fodor's Essential India and Fodor's Pacific Northwest. Her stories have appeared in Rolling Stone India, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, and VICE.

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While food fans around the world are often familiar with popular Indian restaurant mainstays such as tandoori chicken, palak paneer, and naan, it takes a trip to India to really begin to uncover the vast array of regional specialties available. After all, India is among the world’s most culturally diverse countries, which is reflected in everything from its many languages to its huge range of distinct culinary traditions. Here are a few options to get you started on your Indian culinary journey.

Dum aloo

Dum aloo is a simple but beloved dish. | Photo Credit: Indian Food Images / Shutterstock

Kashmir

It's hard to go wrong with potatoes, so it's no surprise that dum aloo (potato in gravy) is one of Kashmir’s most popular dishes. The recipe is simple, involving small, deep-fried potatoes served in a thick yogurt or milk base and spiced up with chilies, garlic, and a variety of fragrant spices.

Momos

Momos are also popular in parts of India. | Photo Credit: Oscar Espinosa / Shutterstock

Dharmasala, Sikkim, and Northern India

Originating in Tibet, momos—dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables and then steamed or fried—have grown to become one of the most beloved snacks available on the subcontinent. You'll find the best variety in the Dharmasala area in northern India, home to the Tibetan Government in Exile and a large Tibetan population (including the Dalai Lama himself).

Aloo paratha

Aloo parathas are found across India. | Photo Credit: PradeepGaurs / Shutterstock

Delhi and Punjab

Although aloo parathas (flatbread stuffed with spiced potatoes) are popular across India, they’re particularly loved in Punjab and New Delhi, where there’s a substantial Punjabi population. Parathas are most commonly eaten at breakfast and are usually slathered with butter and served with yogurt and aachar (pickle). Sample one on a street food tour in Old Delhi or learn how to make parathas at home with an online cooking class.

Dal-bati-churma

This trio of treats is especially common in Rajasthan. | Photo Credit: StockImageFactory.com / Shutterstock

Rajasthan

Rajasthan’s quintessential dish is a trio of treats: dal (lentils), bati (a hard wheat roll), and churma (a mix of wheat, ghee, and sugar or jaggery). While you’re most likely to find this dish in local homes, you can easily get your fill of this and other Rajasthani specialties by taking a dinner tour to Chokhi Dhani, a recreated village featuring entertainment and gargantuan spreads of quintessentially Rajasthani fare.

Mochar ghonto

West Bengal cuisine uses banana in abundance. | Photo Credit: Talukdar David / Shutterstock

West Bengal

Although West Bengal is best known for its milk-based sweets and variety of fish-based dishes, one of the most delectable dishes from the region, mochar ghonto, is neither a dessert nor a fish dish. This vegetarian delicacy actually consists of banana flowers curried with potatoes and cooked with a huge range of fragrant spices. It’s usually eaten with rice and sometimes topped with grated coconut.

Omita khar

Khar is regularly used in Assam cuisine. | Photo Credit: Fanfo / Shutterstock

Assam

The northeastern state of Assam has a cuisine all its own, relying on ingredients and preparation methods more often found in Southeast Asia than elsewhere on the subcontinent. Perhaps the best-known regional dish is omita khar, a dish of green papaya prepared with khar, an astringent local preparation made of the charred peels of a local variety of banana.

Chhena poda

Don't miss this sweet treat in Odisha. | Photo Credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock

Odisha

Odia for "baked cheese," chhena poda is a popular, cheesecake-like dessert from the east Indian state of Odisha and is easy to find at roadside sweet shops. This sweet treat is made by mixing a local style of cheese curds with sugar or jaggery along with a bit of cardamom and semolina and then baking the concoction until it caramelizes and congeals.

Poha

Indulge in poha for breakfast when in India. | Photo Credit: Rainbow_dazzle

Madhya Pradesh

Although there’s some debate as to whether poha is actually from Maharashtra, it’s most often associated with Madhya Pradesh, where it's a breakfast staple (though it is widely consumed across the country). Poha consists of flattened rice that's cooked with spices such as turmeric and curry leaves, oftentimes with peanuts and raisins for added flavor and texture.

Dhokla

Dhokla is a super-sweet Gujarati treat. | Photo Credit: Photography_likhwarnegiji / Shutterstock

Gujarat

Gandhi’s home state is known for having a culinary style unlike anywhere else in India and there’s certainly some truth to that reputation. Gujarati food is stereotypically sweet and while there are plenty of exceptions, dhokla is not one of them. This spongy treat is made of fermented rice and chickpea batter that's steamed and spiced, and often comes served drenched in lemon sugar water with fresh green chilis on the side to balance out the saccharine flavors.

Pav bhaji

Pav bhaji is a popular Mumbai street food. | Photo Credit: Glen Berlin / Shutterstock

Mumbai

One of the most popular street foods in Mumbai, pav bhaji was originally developed as a fast food treat for urban mill workers. This quick dish consists of a simple tomato and potato gravy garnished with chopped red onion and served with pav, butter dinner rolls that were originally introduced to India by the Portuguese. Pav bhaji is sold by vendors all over town and is a standard fixture on most Mumbai street food tours.

Prawn balchão

This prawn dish is a Goan specialty. | Photo Credit: Santhosh Varghese / Shutterstock

Goa

Goa has a cuisine all its own—largely owing to the state’s coastal location and long history as a Portuguese colony—and seafood features heavily in the dishes from this region. For a quintessentially Goan dish, try shrimp balchão, a dish of shrimps cooked in a sauce of tomatoes or tamarind in a heavy vinegar base, which creates an almost pickled effect.

Biriyani

Biriyani can't be missed when in India. | Photo Credit: Santhosh Varghese / Shutterstock

Hyderabad

While this fragrant rice dish can be found across India, the style originating from Hyderabad is by far the most lauded. This fragrant rice dish is characterized by basmati rice that’s slow-cooked with spices and goat meat, chicken, or vegetables. It’s available at restaurants across Hyderabad—join a street food crawl to try some.

Idiyappam

Idiyappam is a classic of South Indian cuisine. | Photo Credit: Varshith M K / Shutterstock

Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka

While idlis and dosas are South India’s best-known bites in other parts of India, head down to the south and you’ll find idiyappam, sometimes called “string hoppers” in English, on menus across the region. These patties of thin noodles are made of rice flour and are often served with coconut-based gravy—sample some on a street food tour.

Aviyal

This veggie-filled curry is a staple in South India. | Photo Credit: vm2002 / Shutterstock

Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu

South India's take on mixed vegetable curry, aviyal is a hearty preparation of rough-cut veggies cooked with yogurt, coconut, and curry leaves that's traditionally served with rice on a plantain leaf. This dish generally relies on a large variety of vegetables, including different types of local gourds and marrows, along with carrots and, sometimes, beans. You can learn how to make aviyal yourself by signing up for a home cooking class.

Pani puri

Pani puri is a delicious Indian street food. | Photo Credit: WESTOCK PRODUCTIONS / Shutterstock

Nationwide

Also known as gol gappa, gupchup, and phucka, this snack of many names is popular across India. It's made by filling deep-fried, thin crispy balls (puris) with a mixture of spiced potatoes and chickpeas. The puris are then dunked into a vat of water infused with mint, coriander, and green chilis—usually with a bit of tamarind chutney for good measure—and eaten immediately, in one bite.

Insider tip: Pani puri is sometimes made with questionable water, so it’s safest to enjoy this beloved snack on a street food tour to ensure you’re getting it from a place that uses filtered or bottled water.

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