Whether I am a ‘foodie’ or not could be debated but my love for food is known. I see food as one of the best ways to get to know people and their culture. I believe that if someone invites me to dine with them — especially to their home — they are opening their heart for me and letting me in. In fact, we Indians will invite a stranger for dinner even in our first meeting — something which would be very strange in Germany, according to my friend Alexandra.
After spending about six months in Nepal, I was thinking of going back to India for a while. I was in Kathmandu for a few days before that and this is when I met Alexandra aka Alex at a homestay. For a few days that we were together, we would have long discussions about our travels, experiences, life etc. We also took long walks around the city, continuing our conversation and enjoying each other’s company.
When Alex told me about her plan to visit India for the first time soon, I suggested her some foods to try in different parts, beside other suggestions. “Send me a list, Parvez!” said Alex. And when I was writing down the list of things to eat in India, I realised I had made a long list that included more than 50 different things including snacks, street food, main course, sweets, and drinks.
Looking at the list, an idea to share these suggestions with the readers hit my mind. I never knew I would write this article but here it is, my list of what to eat and drink in India. Originally for Alex, now for you, the readers.
Food to Try in India
Originating from the Indian subcontinent, Chicken Tandoori or Tandoori Chicken is a chicken dish prepared by roasting chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices. Traditionally, this chicken was roasted in a tandoor but now you see it mostly roasted on a grill.
A mixed-rice dish widely popular across Indian subcontinent, biryani is made with fine basmati rice and includes plenty of Indian spices. Different types of biryani are available — including veg and non-veg (chicken, goat, beef, lamb, prawn, or fish) options. In some places, it also includes eggs and potatoes.
Hyderabadi Zafrani Pulao
The famous vegetarian pulao from Awadhi kitchen is made from fragrant rice along with ghee, nuts, and saffron. Zafrani pulao is slightly sweet in taste.
A popular appetiser made from lamb or beef meat along with freshly ground whole spices and typically served with green chutney.
A popular dish originating from Kashmir which is also spelt roghan josh or roghan ghosht. This aromatic meat dish is traditionally made with lamb or goat meat along with handful of spices.
Originating from Punjab, chole bhture is dish made of chana (white chickpeas) and served with bhatura — a fried bread made from maida (white flour). It can be clubbed with a glass of chaas and a bit of pickle. In some parts of India, it’s called chhole kulche because kulche — also made from maida — replace bhature.
A type of stew popular in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Different recipes are popular in different places but it mainly includes wheat or barley along with lentils. It can be made with meat, too. Popular during the month of Ramadan, the Hyderabadi haleem is a must-try when in Hyderabad.
Khichra or Khichda
A variation of Haleem. Haleem is cooked until the meat blends with the lentils, while chunks of meat remains as cubes in khichra.
Paneer ~add different paneer dishes here~
Popular among the Indian subcontinent, Paneer is an unaged, non-melting farmer cheese made by curdling milk with a fruit- or vegetable-derived acid, such as lemon juice. You will find different paneer dishes all over India including paneer pasanda, paneer kadai, paneer butter masala, paneer kofta, paneer bhurji, matar paneer, palak (spinach) paneer — yes, it’s a long list. For many, paneer is a good substitute for meat-based dishes.
Another type of stew consisting of slow-cooked (mainly) shank meat of beef, lamb, or goat along with the marrow. It’s usually served with tandoori roti. I like it when these rotis are made crispy. Try it at least once in Old Delhi.
Also known as machha jhola, machher jhol is a spicy fish stew in Bengali and Odia cuisines and is served with rice. Hilsa, rohu (or rohi), and catla types of fish are mainly used. I have never had it but I suggested it because Alex was going to Kolkata.
A variation of kheer (rice pudding) made with vermicelli, milk, and dry fruits. I suggested it to her because she would be in India during Eid festival when sevaiyan is commonly made in Muslim households.
Other Popular Indian Foods to Try
Parantha: A type of Indian flatbread. Plenty of types available. Ideal for breakfast with tea.
Pav Bhaji: A mixture of mashed vegetables made in a thick gravy. Served with a soft bread roll (pav). You can also get a version called ‘khada pav bhaji’ in which the vegetables chuncks are not mashed.
Butter Chicken: Marinated chicken cooked in mildly spiced and creamy tomato gravy. One of the most popular Indian curries.
Gujarati Thali: Must-have while in Gujarat.
Dosa: Made from fermented batter, dosa is a popular South Indian food available across India.
Uttapam: Dosa made in a thick, pancake style with toppings.
Idli: A type of rice cake from South India.
Some Indian Sweets to Try
Rabri: Condensed-milk-based sweet made by boiling the milk on low heat until it becomes dense. At many place you find rabri to be too sweet. I like it when the taste is balanced.
Gulab Jamun: Combine gulab jamun with a bowl of rabri or vanilla ice cream to enhance your lustful treat!
Jalebi: Order hot and fresh jalebis with rabri.
Gajar Ka Halwa and Doodhi Ka Halwa: Sweets made from grated carrots and bottle gourd, respectively, and garnished with dry fruits,
Sheera/Sooji Ka Halwa: Semolina pudding, made with a lot of ghee, and garnished with dry fruits.
Peda: Small milk cakes prepared in thick, semi-soft round pieces. Many types are available. Kesar peda is seen in the picture below.
Rooh Afza: A refreshing concentrate syrup made for more than 100 years.
Also Try: Things We Grew Up With
As 90’s kids, Little Hearts is something we grew up with. You had to see that smile on my face when I recently spotted (and bought) a pack of these biscuits literally shaped like hearts. And although you might not find it as fascinating as I and many kids my age did, you should try it at least once. Alex, by the way, loves Little Hearts.
India’s favourite brand of biscuits. Growing up, I have seen Parle-G in the same packaging — white and yellow wrapper with an illustration of a little girl. Its price has also remained primarily unchanged — costing just 5 rupees for many years now. In the 90’s, I remember buying it for 4 rupees. Order a pack of Parle-G along with a cup of tea.
A very popular mango-flavoured drink, Frooti is one of those things we grew up with in the 90s. I remember us cousins saving money in summer vacations and buying those little tetra packs of Frooti, storing them in the freezer, and enjoying it chilled!
Paan (or pan) consists of a betel leaf (paan = leaf) filled with chopped betel nut, chuna (slaked lime), katha paste (made from the khair tree), tobacco, and some mouth-freshening items. It’s folded into a triangle or rolled when served. There are plenty of types of paans available in different parts of India.
While the paan with tobacco and beetel nuts could be addictive and pose health risks, the sweet paan is considered safer. It consists of raisins, gulkand (a sweet preserve of rose petals), cardamom, fennel seeds, dried coconut, sugar balls, dried dates etc. I rarely have meetha paan and have mixed feeling about it. Alex didn’t like it much as well. But it’s worth giving a try.
What to Eat in India: Summing Up
India is a huge country with each state proudly boasting its own food culture. There are plenty of things you can eat and drink around India, but my suggestions mostly consist of things I have tried before. Yes, it’s a long (and still incomplete) list, but for a country as huge as India with a diverse food culture, I can’t imagine a smaller list.
That’d be all folks. These were my suggestions of things to eat and drink in India as given to a German friend. I hope you found this article worth your time and I would like to thank you for reading. I would love your suggestions of other Indian food and drinks to include in this list.