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Indian Food 101: Curry, Spicy & Delicious

From Hyderabadi Biryani to Fish Curry, delectable dishes to try in India.

Variety is the hallmark of Indian food. Indeed, you will never get the same culinary experience as you travel from a state to state in India. This may be partly due to the complex diversity of society here. Each state or region has unique dishes that are hard to find elsewhere, even within India.

Indian cuisine, vegetarian in essence, has been influenced by religion and the climate in the various regions. Past rulers like the Moguls, Shahis, Portuguese, and the British, also influenced the food. Indian cuisine has then absorbed Persian and Western influences. The result is the evolution of some delicious dishes like Hyderabadi Biryani, a popular biryani recipe which consists of half boiled rice layered with fried onions, cooked mutton, mint, and sealed with dough and slow cooked.

Before I list some common dishes, note that Indian cuisine is predominantly spicy. Indians love it in that way. Below are some delicious dishes and popular ones that gourmets will love.

South Indian Meals—Go the Traditional Way

South India is a bit more traditional than the north. Rice is the staple of the cuisine here. A south Indian meal may traditionally be served on a plantain leaf and consist of a bowl of rice, side dishes, curry (a combination of herbs and spices), condiments and other miscellaneous items. The meal is usually flavorful with mixed variations of spicy, sweet, and sour flavors.

If you are a first time visitor to India, you may be baffled as to how to eat something like this.

Photo: Ugadi Restaurant

Photo: Ugadi Restaurant

And, it’s supposed to be eaten with your hands (yes!). It will be faux pas if you ask for cutlery for this meal.

Idli—A Humble Indian Breakfast

With good conditions for growing rice, its available in plenty, and thus used even in breakfast dishes like Idli (steamed rice cakes) and Dosa (a thin pancake made from a fermented batter). Both Idli and Dosa go well with Chutney (a type of sauce, depending on the ingredients) and Sambaru, which is a lentil and vegetable stew.

Colorful idlis. Photo credit Flickr newmother2012.

Colorful idlis. Photo credit Flickr newmother2012.

For all walks of life, Idli is the choice of all for breakfast.

Dum-Ki-Biryani—Awesome and Aromatic

In a predominantly vegetarian culture, this non-vegetarian dish is popular. Dum-Ki-Biryani or simply Hyderabadi Biryani gained popularity when it was introduced by the Nizamis, the erstwhile rulers of the present city of Hyderabad, India. The mouthwatering dish combines marinated meat (usually mutton or chicken) and Basmati rice. Saffron and other spices add to its distinct flavor and aroma. Trust me this aromatic main course is simply irresistible.

Hyderabadi Biryani. Photo credit: the Hindu.

Hyderabadi Biryani. Photo credit: the Hindu.

Paratha—A Pan-Indian Dish

From Dhabas, roadside restaurants that serve local food, to cozy urban restuarants, a Paratha definitely finds a place on a plate. It is a layered flatbread baked with oil or clarified butter. Any gravy or vegetarian curries go well with Paratha. For this reason, you see a plethora of Paratha varieties as you travel from place to place in India. 

Stacking the paratha. Photo credit holyjalapeno.

Stacking the paratha. Photo credit holyjalapeno.

Chole Bhature—Balle, Balle!

Chole Bhature, a regular breakfast dish especially in north India and among north Indian folks, has its origins in Punjab region of India. Chole are spicy chick peas and Bhature is fried bread made of flour.

Chole Bhature

Chole Bhature. Photo by MaharajaMandy.

Balle, balle is a phrase to express happiness in Punjabi.

Rogan Josh—Relish It Royally

This dish, a signature delicacy of Kashmiri Indian cuisine, is an aromatic lamb curry. With locally sourced spices generously used in the making of it, the curry leaves you craving more. Its bright red color is due to Kashmiri Red Chili, which is mild in flavor.

Rogan Josh. Photo: gahdjun

Rogan Josh. Photo: gahdjun

Shahi Paneer—Straight from the Royal Court

Though royalty is implied in its name, Shahi Paneer is another simple dish that you can savor soulfully. It is made of cream, spices and Paneer, a type of fresh cheese common in South Asia. The delishous taste of the Paneer is a substitute for meat. Shahi Paneer and Roti make a perfect breakfast or lunch combination. Because of the availability of Paneer throughout India in all seasons, you can find as many lip smacking varieties as you wish, like Paneer Tikka Masala, Butter Punner, and Palak Paneer.

Shahi Paneer. Photo: Womenpla

Shahi Paneer. Photo: Womenpla

Hilsa Fish Curry

India has a long coastline, lending itself to many seafood options. The delectable Hilsa fish curry, a favorite of Bengalis, is one among them. Hilsa is an oily fish available in the Bengal and Oriya regions of India. When cooked with local herbs, the unique taste of the fish makes you relish it (no wonder if you lick your fingers at the end!), and it makes sense why Bengalis love it so much.

Hilsa Fish Curry. Photo: NDTV

Hilsa Fish Curry. Photo: NDTV

Pulihora—Easy to Make, Yummy to Taste

Pulihora or lemon rice is a unique dish, synonymous with most Indian festivals and rituals. Turmeric gives it a yellow color. Lemon juice, rice, green chilies, ground nut, and curry leaves are the main ingredients.

Pulihora or lemon rice. Photo: Chitra Shastry

Pulihora or lemon rice. Photo: Chitra Shastry

Seeing it, you can’t stop your mouth from watering. That’s why the people can’t wait for festivals to arrive to taste it.

When I think of India, these flavorful foods come to mind. So, when you travel in India make sure to have a bite of these exotic dishes.

About the Author: Aria John is an travel writer, freelancer, amateur photographer, and gourmet from India.

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