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Indian Food: 11 Popular Dishes + 7 Secret Recipe Tips

Indian food, with all its roasted spices and chutneys, is a kaleidoscope of flavors. We’re not just talking about tandoori or curry. Even the roadside vendors sell complex and layered platters. Read on to learn everything you need to know about Indian food, plus easy recipe tips.

Yet, as nuanced as it is, Indian cuisine isn’t out of reach. If you know the basics, you can whip up a meal whenever the sudden craving for spicy food hits home.

But maybe you’re not one to temper or steam food and would rather order food to go. Either way, this guide will help you better understand the cuisine.

Traditional Indian Cuisine – More Than Tandoori & Tikka Masala

Traditional Indian Cuisine – More Than Tandoori & Tikka Masala

Some Indian dishes have gotten so popularized in the West that they’re as widely available as pizza and burgers. Others? Not so much. That’s not to say that they’re not as good. We urge you to check out seemingly simple roadside food and the different adaptations.

Most Popular Street Food in India

Most Popular Street Food in India

Nearly everywhere you go in India, there’s a stall waiting for you. From the North to the South, people in different regions swear up and down that their district has the best street food ever. The thing is that none of them is outright wrong. Indian street food is really that good.

Naturally, we couldn’t round up all the meals we liked. So, instead, we went ahead and hand-picked a few favorites. Each explores a flavor profile that can easily immerse you into the day-to-day life of locals in India.

Samosas

Samosas

You might have tasted samosas in other parts of the world. In fact, you might even know it as “sambusak” or “sanbusak.” Yet, Indian deep-fried samosas are a must-try, but you need to understand samosas are slightly different between Indian regions.

For instance, the flaky Hyderabadi lukhmi is almost always non-vegetarian. Interestingly, it’s sometimes square-shaped rather than the typical folded triangles. Locals love snacking on these baddies with a cup of tea all the same.

In other places, you could find maida samosas stuffed with potatoes and green peas. These are the traditional Punjabi samosas. Give them a go, but brace yourself: they’re larger than you might expect.

Dosa and Paddu

Dosa and Paddu

We can’t imagine visiting South India and not getting a taste of dosa. Yes, this is the pancake-looking savory dish you’ve seen in trendy videos. It’s the one where street vendors cook the batter and roll it up with sauce and various toppings.

If you like dosa, odds are, you’ll fall in love with rice paddu balls as well. Some people call it paniyaram or ponganalu. Either way, it’s bite-sized and great with chutney for breakfast or brunch.

Momos

Momos

Edging closer to North India, we’ll come across the best momos vendors in the country. In case you’ve never had them, momos are hot veggie dumplings that are typically steamed and served with chili sauce. People go crazy for those treats.

Puchka (Pani Puri or Golgappa)

Puchka (Pani Puri or Golgappa)

Believe it or not, some roadside vendors sell chips filled with potatoes and dipped into water. That’s what the locals call puchkas or pani puri. But these wetted chips actually taste great.

You’ll see the vendors pilling up hollow, thin chips (almost the size of golf balls) in a heap over their stands.

Stop one of them and ask for a puchka, and he’ll soak it with flavored water before handing it out to you in a leaf bowl. Tamarind is also likely involved in the process, which gives the chip a flavor kick.

Chaat

Chaat

There are so many Indian street foods that are called chaat. Some are intensely savory (like the ghugni and aloo chaat), while others are more of a dessert (like the daulat ki chaat). The one thing all these popular dishes have in common is that they’re incredibly irresistible.

Pav Bhaji

Pav Bhaji

Bhaji is a flavorful vegetable gravy. Meanwhile, pav is a square-shaped loaf of soft, buttery bread. Put them together in a sizable platter with some onions and lemons, and you get a serving of one of India’s most iconic street foods.

The same vendor might also have vada pav. Yes, it’s made with the same buttery bun. The difference? This time, it’s stuffed with deep-fried potato filling. If you’re out with friends, you can each order one and share the meals.

Indian Food in the World

Indian Food in the World

Thankfully, you don’t have to roam India’s streets to get a taste. An Indian restaurant that serves authentic flavors is likely only a quick search away from you. Even if you want to go the homemade route, you won’t have a hard time picking up a pack of garam masala.

Online cooking classes have also made things easier. Yet, Indian food started its spread way before the internet took over. Everywhere Indian immigrants went, they got the locals hooked on their flavorful cuisine, from America to the Middle East.

It’s worth noting that the rising appeal of plant-based diets gave India’s cuisine an edge. Plus, there’s no denying that the dish and ingredient diversity make it much easier for people to find something that suits their tastes and preferences.

Restaurants even cater to those who can’t handle their species by offering tame versions.

In the UK, the introduction of the cuisine started with what some people refer to as “British Curry.” It’s inspired by Indian recipes but not the same at all. Over time, a new breed of Indian street food rose to the scene with more authentic flavors.

With all that being said, the number of Indian restaurants in the UK is around 8,000. Some of them are Bangladeshi-owned, though. How does the US compare? Well, it depends on the region. A vibrant and diverse city like New York has a particularly high concentration of Indian eateries.

How Healthy Indian Food Is

How Healthy Indian Food Is

Some people might associate Indian food with high carb and cholesterol intake, but that’s not necessarily true. Sure, some meals are less than ideal, healthwise. Yet, Indian cuisine can be well-rounded and healthy, provided that you control your portions and meal choices. Here’s why:

  • Indian food is incredibly diverse. Meals typically contain carbs, oils, protein, and an array of vegetables and herbs. You’ll be eating a variety of amino-acid-rich grains, too.

Curry Leaves are Good for You

  • Curry leaves are good for you. Research shows that the leaves have potential anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. They could help control blood sugar levels, as well.
  • Thalis help you control portion sizes. The traditional Indian thali means you’ll get smaller servings of a variety of items. Just make sure you don’t use a restaurant thali (often larger) as a reference point.

So, with that in mind, you could go for stuff like tandoori proteins, chana masalas, aloo gobi, and kebabs. Dishes with dal are generally healthy, too. On the other hand, you might want to go easy on the fluffy naan, saag paneer, and fried samosas.

Famous Indian Dishes You Have to Try

Famous Indian Dishes You Have to Try

From the tender murgh makhani to the starchy goodness of aloo gobi, a lot of Indian delicacies balance textures and flavors you never thought would work well together. Which should you try first? Let’s check out 11 dishes that will rock your taste buds.

Chicken Vindaloo

Chicken Vindaloo

Let’s kick off the list with one of the spiciest dishes ever: vindaloo. While vindaloo curries are a staple on many Indian restaurants’ menus today, the recipe might have been inspired by Portuguese cuisine. It’s believed that explorers brought the dish to Goa in the early 15th century.

From there, the people adapted it to their tastes and ingredients. Later, the dish made its way to the UK, where it got a reputation for being quite the fiery meal. Some restaurants make vegetarian variations of vindaloo as well.

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

One of the most mouth-watering Indian dishes is, hands down, the murgh makhani. You might better know it as “butter chicken,” though. Regardless of the name, the gravy-like sauce is a perfect match for the marinated, tandoori-cooked thighs.

Don’t let the silky texture intimidate you, though. The sauce is mainly butter and spiced tomato. Overall, we think it’s easier to prepare compared to other complex curry-based dishes.

This sauce tastes great with a nice dose of cayenne, but you can always adjust the spiciness to make it more tame. Keep in mind that the chicken is traditionally served over steamed rice and next to some warm naan. Both of which work to balance the silky texture and spicy flavors.

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

By now, you’ve probably guessed that “makhani” means “butter.” You’d be right in your guess, too. Makhani sauces also happen to be popular in Punjabi and North Indian cuisine, and it’s not limited to chicken. There’s also the dal makhani.

Urad dal is split lentils, but that’s not the only ingredient. This makhani dish combines slow-cooked black lentils and red kidney beans with a velvety tomato-based sauce. Doesn’t that sound like a well-rounded vegetarian dish?

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

The origin of the iconic tikka masala is debatable, but we can’t deny the heavy Indian influence in the dish. In fact, it’s not all that dissimilar to the buttery murgh makhani. Think about it: both feature tender chicken served with a creamy, tomato-based sauce.

However, the onion is somewhat of a star in the tikka masala, which isn’t really the case with butter chicken. Plus, some folks find tikka to be slightly sweeter. There’s also a hint of smokiness since the boneless chicken pieces are typically cooked on the grill first.

It’s a very subtle difference in taste. Still, we’d recommend giving both Indian dishes a go to see which is going to be your favorite. Odds are, you’ll find them both on the menu of your local Indian restaurant.

Tandoori Chicken/Murgh

Tandoori Chicken/Murgh

Unlike tikka masala, tandoori chicken is served with its bones and without thick sauce. It’s still super tender, though. After all, the high temperature of a clay tandoor oven, along with the yogurt marinate, works to soften the chunks up.

Now, you might be wondering how the yogurt-based marinade gives the chicken such a fiery red hue. Well, the secret is in the Kashmiri chili powder. Its heat level is mild, but its color pop is intense, especially when the chicken is served next to basmati rice.

Chicken Madras Curry

Chicken Madras Curry

In Indian cuisine, madras is a spice-loaded, red-hot curry. It’s not as hot as the average vindaloo, but you can tweak the heat level by reducing the chili powder in the blend. You could also pair it with a side of cucumber raita to dial down the heat a notch.

Many people believe that the madras curry originated in Britain and was named after the city of Madras in South India. So, now you understand where the parts of the name come from. But there’s also beef variation if you want more options.

Korma

Korma

Maybe you don’t want intense Indian curries like madras, and that’s okay. In this case, the Mughlai korma might be the way to go. When we say “Mughlai,” we mean that it has historical ties to the cooking style popularized in India during the Mughal rule.

That’s not really a surprise, especially when you consider the similarities between korma and the Persian khoresh ghee-based dish. Both are incredibly fragrant and hearty protein meals. What we like most about korma is the creamy texture of the stew itself.

Korma is traditionally made with braised meat with yogurt thickening. That said, you can find variations that use chicken, paneer, or vegetable curries. Some recipes also use coconut milk or cream to replace the yogurt in the sauce.

Rogan Josh

Rogan Josh

Have you ever seen the Kashmiri Wazwan served at a wedding? We’ll go over the Indian meal structures later, but for now, all you need to know is that Wazwan is a popular multi-course meal from Kashmiri cuisine. Rogan josh is an integral part of the meal.

What about the dish makes it fit for special occasions? Well, it’s as hearty as can be with braised meat, cooked low and slow. The sauce can change a bit from one recipe to the other, but the Kashmir chilies are almost always there.

Fun fact: The recipe has nothing to do with “rogan” or “josh” as men’s names. Instead, the parts of the recipe’s name have Persian origins as “roughan” and “juš.” They roughly refer to butter/ghee and heat.

Khichdi

Khichdi

Next up, we have a dish that isn’t just famous in India. Khichdi (sometimes called khichuri or khichari) is a popular comfort food in many parts of South Asia. Think Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Even within India itself, different states add a twist to the rice dish. For instance, in Gujarat, you’ll see khichdi and a lightly spiced curry going hand in hand. Meanwhile, the bhoger khichuri is a staple food in West Bengal.

At its core, khichdi is a potpourri of a plus (like lentils), rice, and spices (turmeric and salt). The result is a fragrant, soft, and nourishing blend. As if all that isn’t appealing enough, khichdi can also be made as a one-pot meal.

Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi

Yet another one-pot comfort food from the Indian cuisine that had to make it to the list is the aloo gobi. The good news is that this one is a full-on vegetarian meal. The recipes vary slightly between households, but you’ll always find potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi).

All in all, you gave a perfect balance between veggie goodness and starchiness. Of course, the dish has no shortage of spices, onions, and curry leaves. Turmeric is used to add a dash of color, as well.

Some people choose to serve aloo gobi as a side dish. However, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t pop it over rice and call it a main dish. You could even go for a variation with creamy tomato gravy to make the meal more filling.

Biryani

Biryani

Finally, we have the iconic biryani. It’s fair to say that biryani isn’t the most beginner-friendly Indian dish out there. It takes a bit of time to cook the rice with the protein component, too. However, the fragrant, long-grained rice is well worth the effort and time.

Now, from a Historical view, Biryani might actually have ties to Persia, and the name itself has Persian origins. Yet, the dish made its way to India and evolved over the years. Today, it’s an integral part of Indian cuisine with tons of local variations.

For one, you have the Hyderabadi variety from Telangana in south-central India. There’s also the Malabar biryani with khyma rice and ghee from Kerala in the southwest. If you prefer the texture of jeera samba rice, consider making the ambur biryani instead.

Soups & Salads

Soups & Salads

Indian soups are often medium-thick and chock-full of warming spices. The buttery flavor isn’t a stranger to the dishes, either. As a bonus, most soups tend to be colorful. In a nutshell, they’re fantastic comfort foods.

Take, for instance, the chicken mulligatawny soup. The base is a brilliant blend of sauteed carrots, apples, cream, and curry. It sounds like an odd mix until you get a taste of the perfectly balanced sweet-spicy flavor profile.

Another authentic, rich soup is the makai shorba. Using roasted corn, chefs whip up a fine paste sauteed with garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander seeds, and whatnot. The result is divine. We’d recommend pairing it with some breadsticks or roasted veggies to offset the texture, though.

Dal Shorva

There are more traditional options, like tomato soup and lentil soup (dal shorva). For vegans, paneer soup is a great pick. It delivers a strong kick without compromising on the rich, creamy texture.

Interestingly, even the salads in India are lively. For one, the cucumber salad (kachumber) tends to be on the spicy side, thanks to the cumin, cayenne, and citrus. So, it definitely isn’t your usual cucumber salad.

To keep up with the spicy and colorful theme, we have the lentil salad featuring cumin-roasted carrots. This recipe would be a great pick for those who want a side dish that’s protein-rich. Where’s the spiciness? Well, the dressing is made from garam masala.

Starters, Sandwiches, Sides

Starters, Sandwiches, Sides

It’s hard to mention Indian appetizers and not think of chicken 65 right away. This sauce-coated starter makes an appearance on all occasions, from birthdays to fancy anniversaries, and it’s all for good reason: it takes less than an hour to make and only calls for basic pantry ingredients.

As common as it is, many people don’t know why it’s called chicken 65. There’s a common misconception that you need to marinate the chicken pieces for 65 days, but thankfully, that’s not true. The more likely explanation is that the recipe was first made in Chennai in 1965.

But chicken 65 isn’t the only stellar (yet easy to prepare) appetizer that India gave us. Pakora is a dish of deep-fried fritters that make incredible snacks, much like the masala vada (lentil fritters). Homemade momos and samosas are often served as starters and sides, too.

Chicken 65

For an even simpler snack, you could top some bread with mango chutney and munch on it. It’s true that chutneys take a while to cook. However, many people make a large amount and store the rest in the fridge to snack on later or use for sandwiches.

Speaking of which, the Mumbai sandwich is a trendy pick. It’s made of soft white bread, cucumber, tomato, onion, and gooey cheese, but there’s also a decent dose of herb chutney in the mix. To boost the texture, the bread is toasted until it’s nice and brown.

Aloo Toast Sandwich

Aside from the signature Mumbai treat, the aloo toast sandwich is a must-try. As we’ve covered earlier, “aloo” is potato. Yes, this is a sandwich filled with mashed potato. So, this snack is easily a carb-lover’s dream.

We also recommend the moong dal toast for breakfast. The dry moong dal itself can make a simple side dish. The key here is to avoid overcooking the dal. Ideally, it needs to be tender but not mushy.

Now, before we jump to the main courses, we’d like to throwback to a refreshing side dish that we mentioned earlier: the raita. Raita is basically just a yogurt sauce with some cucumber and mint thrown into the mix. It’s super simple and ideal for balancing hot, spicy mains.

Mains

Mains

As you might have guessed, the most popular mains in the cuisine are curries. That’s not surprising when you consider how fulfilling a bowl of curry can be. Yet, some rice-based dishes, like biryani, can do the trick since they bring a nice protein kick to the party.

In some cases, vegetable dishes can be the star of the show. Think Mughlai korma and saag. Classics like those can be made with meat/chicken components or tweaked to suit vegetarian diets. The simple aloo gobi could work as a main course, after all.

That said, Indian meals are all about balance. So, you’ll likely find pickles, salads, yogurt sides, and warm flatbreads supporting the main dish. They never steal the spotlight away, though.

Bread, Pastries, Dessert

Bread, Pastries, Dessert

Naan is a perfect pairing for many saucy main courses since it helps you mop up the sauce. It’s also widely available outside India and can easily be made from all-purpose flour. However, it’s not the only option. There are around 30 bread types to explore.

Chapati has a mild, nutty flavor and can be used as an everyday flatbread next to stews and vegetable curries. For a dense and flaky alternative, consider the paratha flatbread from North India. To make this layered bread, you need a lot of folding, much like puff pastry.

Just don’t confuse paratha with the similar-sounding parotta bread. Parotta is more common in households in South India and is baked with maida flour, which is loaded with gluten. It’s also layered and fits like a charm next to a bowl of korma.

Indian Papadums

Other popular picks include the deep-fried poori/puri puffs, the wafer-like papadum, and the griddle-friendly kulcha. Keep in mind that there are unleavened and leavened recipes to try. Some bread types, like the appam, also have savory and sweet variations.

To satisfy your sweet tooth cravings, we’d recommend giving gulab jamun a shot. It’s a bowl of soft, deep-fried dough balls soaked in sugar syrup. These balls end up so tender that they melt in your mouth right away.

North Indians also love the traditional, carrot-based gajar ka halwa bowls. But if you’d rather have something on the cool side, a cardamom-pistachio kulfi (ice cream) might be the right pick. The milky ras malai discs and kheer pudding are also great options to try.

Secret Recipe Tips

Secret Recipe Tips

Your local Indian restaurant might be reliable, but nothing beats preparing a meal from scratch in your own kitchen. We know this is often easier said than done, and we won’t leave you hanging. Here are seven handy cooking tips to get you started.

Know Your Cooking Techniques

Know Your Cooking Techniques

Indian food is nuanced, and we’re not just talking about the spice blends. You have to master some basics before you can whip up full meals. Whether you’re signing up for a class or going to learn online, here are the top techniques you need to nail down:

  • Tadka/Baghar: A method of tempering your oil or ghee with spices like curry leaves, cumin seeds, garlic, and red chilies. You’ll need no less than two ingredients, and this step could come early or as a final step, depending on the recipe.
  • Bhunao: To saute and stir-fry your base ingredients. The trick for a perfect caramelization? Stir all the way through to avoid burning or sticking at the bottom.
  • Bhapa: Steaming items, either in a perforated pot, bamboo tubes, or even banana leaves. This method works wonders for the southern idli savory rice cake.
  • Dum: Simmering food with its own steam rather than adding water under it. This way, you end up with complex and aromatic dishes like dum biryani.
  • Tandoori: Using a wood-fired clay oven for your cooking. It’s used for naan and the fan-favorite tandoori chicken.
  • Dhungar: Smoking meals by pouring oil or ghee over charcoal. You need to put the food in a handi first, though.
  • Talna: Deep-frying your food, usually in a kadhai. Remember the samosas? They’re never as good without talna.

Be Smart With Your Spice Purchases

Be Smart With Your Spice Purchases

We know you’re probably excited to begin cooking great Indian recipes. So, you might head to the store and get the largest packs of powdered spices you can find. But this could backfire.

Opened powder packs tend to lose their punch over time. Ideally, you’ll want to buy small quantities at a time. Either that or grind your own spices as needed, which can be a hassle for beginners.

Drop Some Sugar in Your Oil

Drop Some Sugar in Your Oil

To deepen the color of your curries, consider dropping a pinch of sugar to the heat and letting it heat up. This can add a slight red hue to the dish. Of course, some red peppers will take things to the next level.

Use Milk or Malai to Tame Saltiness in Your Curries

Use Milk or Malai to Tame Saltiness in Your Curries

Maybe your measurements were off. Perhaps the lid broke, allowing a large heap of salt to fall into your pot. In this case, two nifty ingredients popular in Indian cooking can save the day: milk and malai.

Both can neutralize the saltiness and rebalance the flavor profile. Some experts theorize that this happens because milk (dairy, in general) coats the insides of your mouth, creating a sort of barrier. Plus, it can richen your sauces.

Heat Milk in a Heavy-Bottomed Pot

Heat Milk in a Heavy-Bottomed Pot – Kheer

For recipes like kheer, you need to heat milk and rice on low to medium-low heat. The result is an incredibly soft pudding. The catch? There’s a risk that you’ll scorch the bottom of your pan.

To avoid this mishap, we’d recommend using a heavy-bottomed vessel. Stirring the milk at regular intervals can help as well. Remember that you don’t need to cover the pan as the rice cooks.

Try Healthier Cream Alternatives

Try Healthier Cream Alternatives – Cashew Nut Cream

Cream can do wonders for your gravies. The richer they are, the better. That doesn’t mean that you have to rely on store-bought cream each and every time. Sure, it’s convenient, but it isn’t the healthiest option out there.

If you want to switch, milk and malai are great alternatives. Some folks prefer full-fat Greek yogurt for their curries since its texture is spot on. Others rely on cashew nut paste food for a nutrient boost.

Steer Clear of Fried Onions Bases if You’re in a Rush

Steer Clear of Fried Onions Bases if You’re in a Rush

You might be under the impression that frying is a relatively quick cooking method. However, that’s not always the case with Indian recipes and fried onions. Many recipes require cooking the onions first, which can be time-consuming.

We’re not just talking about turning them translucent. Instead, you’ll want to cook them until they’re caramelized and nearly void of their pungent scent. You can’t rush the process at all. So, if time isn’t on your side, avoid recipes that call for fried onion bases.

Beverages

Beverages

Some people believe that no meal is complete without a drink to go with it. While we find the flavors in the typical Indian dish enough on their own, there are a few popular beverages worth mentioning. Yes, even if they’re not part of a meal. Lassi and masala chai come to mind right away.

Lassi is the epitome of traditional Indian beverages. Before fridges were a thing, Punjabi farmers used yogurt with a pinch of salt (for a flavor kick, of course). Then, they would store the blend in pots and earthen them to keep the drink cool.

Today, lassi is still a great way to beat the heat. Yet, it’s much more accessible, thanks to blenders, fridges, and packed yogurt. Think of it as something between a milkshake and a smoothie. You can get in sweet flavors like mango or a savory blend with cilantro.

Lassi

If hot drinks are what you’re looking for, then the masala chai is the way to go. What’s that? Well, “chai” is just tea, and “masala” is a spice blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, and ginger. So, this is a spiced black tea with warm milk, perfect for early mornings.

Aside from the two popular picks, there’s also the aam panna that turns unripe mangoes into the most refreshing drink you’ve ever seen.

For those who feel particularly adventurous, we’d recommend the energizing jaljeera. The name translates to “cumin water,” so you can imagine the earthy, spicy taste.

Ingredients

Ingredients

We keep saying that Indian food is diverse and complicated, and it’s true even on a molecular level. Don’t just take our word for it. Scientists at Jodhpur’s Institute of Technology found that the ingredients in most Indian recipes rarely overlap in flavor compounds.

This means that you have a whole lot of ingredients in any given meal. Each one shines through and hits your taste buds to create a unique flavor profile. That’s not what happens in some Western cultures, where chefs use close matches in their recipes.

Naan Breads

Anyway, you’ll be working with a wide range of ingredients. So, make sure you have adequate pantry space. The staples you need include lentils (red and black), peas, breads, basmati rice, paneer curd cheese, yogurt, ghee, coconut milk, mustard oil, moong, and oodles of chickpeas.

It doesn’t hurt to have some chutney on hand, too. For veggies, our top picks would be potatoes (yes, aloo), spinach, onions, carrots, and cauliflower. Note that southern cooking styles might also call for plantains, tamarind, and green chilis.

Herbs and Spices

Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spice blends take center stage in Indian cuisine. They’re the heart and soul of almost every meal—so much so that the cuisine is known for its irresistible aromas and vivid colors.

We have to admit, though, that it’s hard to round up all the spices you’d need in your pantry in a short and simple list.

But, as a general rule, cumin, turmeric, dried chilis, mustard seeds, fennel, and fenugreek are essential. Don’t forget that cumin is a star ingredient in many North Indian dishes. Naturally, black pepper is native to Malabar, so it’s extensively used in several recipes.

Cardamom Can Be a Little Tricky

Things get a little tricky when it comes to cardamom, though. Both the green (light and sweet) and the black (smokey and intense) types come in handy. Yet, you have to be extra careful when using the black one in lieu of the green one since it can overpower the dish in a blink.

Note that spices like clove can be used whole or ground. In some cases, Indians dry roast their spices before grinding them. Traditionally, a mortar and pestle would be used for the job. However, spice grinders are much more convenient.

While you need standalone spices, the mixes are vital as well. Coriander is a popular base for such spice mixes, but the exact blends change from one region (and sometimes one chef) to another. Yes, we’re looking your way, garam masala.

Indian Food Culture

Indian Food Culture

Indian food is more than just a few wisely picked ingredients and spices. It reflects the local culture and lively nature. This all becomes as clear as day once you take a look at the social eating habits, the structured family-style servings, and the etiquette.

Eating Habits

Eating Habits

Indian meals are best enjoyed in a group. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hold some sort of entertainment before the meal itself. This warm and inviting energy doesn’t stop just because the meal has started. You can expect your host to keep coaxing and urging you to eat more.

Families might gather around on a floor mat. In urban settings, however, you can see a lot of the dining tables and layouts you’re used to. The vibe and serving style are not all that different in both cases, and it’s mostly family-style.

Before we let you dig into the meal structure and proper dining etiquette, we need to point out that eating habits aren’t set in stone. Aside from the generational differences, there’s also a lot of variation between the regions. North and South Indian cuisines are slightly different.

The North is rich in breads and curries. The popular garam masala blend is your best friend for this style of Indian cooking. Meanwhile, rice, stews, and lentils are focal points in many South Indian houses.

Meal Structure

Meal Structure – Thali

More often than not, you won’t find distinct courses in an Indian meal. Nearly everything is served at once on a thali. We’ve mentioned the concept of thali earlier in the article but didn’t give its due. So, let’s expand a bit on what it is and how it’s used to structure meals.

The word “thali” itself is Hindi for plate or a large round platter. On top, Indians arrange smaller and deeper dishes called katoris. Picture a rounded version of a bento box for reference.

Years ago, thali and katoris were mostly made from banana leaves, but they’re usually metallic nowadays. That said, on special occasions in Kerala, the meal is still served on banana leaves with around 20 dishes.

Indian Wazwan

Do you think that’s too much? The Wazwan is a gastronomic experience of 36 separate dishes (including rogan josh).

Anyhow, the everyday thali groups a serving of grain-based components (rice or flatbread), lentils, vegetables, chutney, raita, pickles, and papadum. We can only say that this is quite a wholesome meal structure. Don’t you agree?

Etiquette

Etiquette

Indian dining is often a pleasant experience, and you don’t have to worry too much about a potential faux pas. However, there are a few cultural differences that you might not know about. Here are a few etiquette tips to keep in mind for your upcoming dinner:

  1. Using Your Fingers: It’s perfectly fine to ditch the cutlery and use your (right-hand) fingers. Just wash your hands before and after the meal.
  2. Getting the Timing Right: Aim to arrive 15 to 20 minutes after the scheduled dinner time. Your host might still be preparing the meal, and you want to get out of their hair.
  3. Cleaning Up Your Platter: It’s polite to finish up your thali. We don’t think you’ll have a hard time with this tip, considering how finger-licking good Indian food is.
  4. Leaving the Table: Done eating? Don’t jump off your chair until the host (or the eldest person) is done.
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