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Best Food In India: Top Dishes You Need To Try On Your First Visit

Indian Thali dish

From chilli-infused curries to cinnamon-infused desserts, Indian cuisine is a dance between flavour and spice. Much like the country itself, the cuisine is a funfair for your senses too. Whether it’s a steaming hot cup of chai from a street stall or a wholesome home-cooked meal – every bite is packed with love, passion, and flavour. But that’s not all.

One of the best things about Indian cuisine is the fact that no matter what your dietary requirements are – whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan or a meat-lover, you’ll have plenty of options to satisfy your cravings. Now that’s a quality you don’t find in most other cuisines!

So, join me in exploring the best food of India (in no particular order) that you need to try on your travels to this diverse country. 

1. Pani Puri

This crunchy, refreshing dish is the G.O.A.T. of Indian street food. No matter where you go in India, you’ll find street vendors with their mountain of Puris. We love it so much, we’ve given it nicknames: Golgappa & Puchka. These spheres of delight are hollow balls of fried dough, cracked open from the top, and filled with a warm stuffing of potatoes and chickpeas.

But that’s not it. They’re then filled with spiced ‘Pani’ (spiced water). Spicy, tangy, sweet, zesty – it’s a flavour explosion. And if you’re a bit doubtful about the spice level, don’t worry. You’ll be greeted at every Pani Puri stall with the question “Sweet, medium, spicy?”.

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2. Kathi Roll

The streets of Kolkata awaken your senses in a lot of ways. And biting into a warm, flavour-packed Kathi roll is one of them. Traditionally, it’s a skewer-roasted kebab wrapped tightly in a Paratha (flaky flatbread).

But over the years, many variations of this classic dish came to be, like paneer, chicken, and vegetable Kathi Rolls, each flavoured with a unique spice blend of its own. Perfect for a grab ‘n’ go meal or if you just want a luscious, savoury hug.

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3. Masala Dosa

South India’s superstar dish is this wonderful savoury crepe made from a fermented batter of ground white gram and rice, and filled with a curry made with potatoes, onions, and curry leaves. A good bite of dosa is best paired with coconut chutney and some sweet, spicy, and tangy sambar. You’ll find over 100 varieties of dosas in India, because that’s how versatile it is.

But if it’s going to be your first-ever encounter with this dish (which happens to be one of the best foods in India), then it’s best to stick to the classic version – Masala Dosa.

4. Kulfi

This dessert is India’s answer to ice cream. Unlike ice cream, it isn’t churned. That means it’s denser and doesn’t melt easily (which is a godsend during the Indian summer). Pistachio, rose, mango, and saffron are popular traditional flavours. But the most epic (and basic) of them all is ‘Malai’ – which is the distinct flavour of cream. If you’re craving something sweet and cold in India, just hop into any local restaurant and treat yourself to a cool and refreshing Kulfi.

5. Vada Pav

It’s not just the summer that’s intense in India, the monsoons are heavy too. No wonder this spicy, fluffy, crunchy dish is one of the best foods in India to try when it’s raining. Let’s just say – it’s an Indian burger. The patty is made with spiced potatoes, then coated in a batter made with chickpea flour and deep fried. And for the bun, you’ve got a bread roll, popularly called ‘Pav’ (similar to the Portuguese word for bread ‘Pao’, because they’re the ones who first brought bread to India!).

To spice things up (of course), the patty is sprinkled with a dry chutney made with red chillies. Nothing like a good bite of fresh vada pav, paired with some aromatic chai on a rainy evening. It hits you in the feels.

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6. Chole Bhature

The best way to eat a spicy chickpea curry? Scooping it up with a warm and puffy fried bread. And that’s exactly what makes Chole Bhature one of India’s best foods. It might not be light on your stomach, but that’s exactly why it’s always paired with a Lassi that’s packed with probiotics (and is absolutely delicious too). This breakfast dish is what you’ll find the locals in Delhi helping themselves to on a busy day, right before heading to work. It’s filling, and phenomenal.

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7. Korma

From the north to the south, every region in India has a version of Korma. Typically, it’s made with a variety of spices (I think I’m seeing a pattern here), coconuts, and dried fruits. Braised chicken, mutton, veggies – you can add whatever you like to this creamy curry. It’s usually made with yoghurt for a tangy taste and cashews for a  smooth texture. Best served with a warm bowl of rice, or even just Naan, this dish is one of the milder forms of curry you can find in India. You can’t go wrong. 

butter chicken, India

Image source:Raman / unsplash

8. Palak Paneer

While it directly translates to just “Spinach and Cottage cheese”, there’s so much that makes this dish one of the best foods in India. For starters (pun intended), this dish is a veggie-lovers paradise. It’s pan-fried Paneer cubes, cooked in a gravy made with tomatoes and leafy greens, flavoured with the classic Indian spice blend: Garam masala. Scoop up this delicious curry with your garlic Naan, and savour this popular North Indian delicacy that has now become one of the best foods in India.

9. Pav Bhaji

If you’re roaming the streets of Mumbai and the aroma of spicy goodness hits you, it can only mean one thing: you’re near a Pav Bhaji stall. Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, an evening snack, or a midnight munch – this dish will satisfy your cravings. In essence, it’s just mashed potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, and a bunch of spices, served with raw onion, coriander, and a lemon wedge and topped with a generous dollop of butter.

The Pav is just your vessel to enjoy this spicy mix of veggies (and is pan-fried with butter too). Often served in plates with pre-made compartments, Pav Bhaji is definitely one of the best foods in India. 

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10. Murgh Makhni

Known worldwide as “Butter Chicken”, this popular Indian food is an introduction to Indian cuisine for a lot of people. So, really, there’s no need for an explanation. Tender chunks of chicken are cooked with a buttery, tomato gravy and flavoured with a spice blend. You can eat it with Naan, Chapati, or any kind of rice – it doesn’t discriminate. No wonder it’s one of the best foods in India. 

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11. Dum Biryani

Any discussion about Indian cuisine without the mention of Biryani would be considered a crime. In fact, this rice dish is so popular that many would argue that it’s THE best food in India. It’s simple. Just rice and meat coated with aromatics and spices, then slow-cooked in an earthen pot, usually served with a cooling Raita made with yoghurt and cucumbers.

If you really want to enjoy Biryani like an Indian – head to a local Biryani house (there are plenty, everywhere), grab a plateful of Biryani and Raita on the side. Grab a drink. Take a seat on a rickety plastic chair. Watch the ongoing cricket match on the TV. And celebrate. 

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Top tips from a local

1. Order a ‘Thali’ to sample all dishes

There’s a lot going on with Indian cuisine. And everyone has different opinions about what the best food in India is. So if you’re confused about where to start, you’re in luck! Just order a ‘Thali’ at any local spot. You’ll be served with a small sample of (at least) 5-10 dishes on a single plate, or a banana leaf. Plus, it’s often unlimited too. That’s the best way to try out multiple dishes in a single go without making your tummy explode. 

2. Steer clear of the streets

There’s no doubt that the street food in India is where the real deal is. But no matter how inviting the scent of freshly made food is, it’s probably best to proceed with caution. There are some exceptions to this rule, though. So don’t stop yourself from getting a boiling hot cup of chai, or some deep-fried bhajis from a street stall. 

3. Eat with your hands

Just like how Japanese food tastes better when eaten with chopsticks, Indian food tastes better when eaten with your hands (it’s scientific, trust me). It might seem daunting at first but don’t worry. There are no rules! Just imitate the locals, or ask them. They’ll be happy to help and appreciate it too. Just remember to wash your hands before and after!

4. Ask for ‘no spicy’

While I obviously recommend that you try Indian food in its authentic form – not everyone wants to spend a good few days feeling like their lower end is being fired up like a rocket. So, if you ever just want some good ol’ non-spicy food – just ask them to make it ‘No spicy’. This phrase is universally understood in India and will save you from a few urgent trips to the toilet. 

indian food

Image source:Andy Hay / unsplash

Which city has the best food in India?

This question is a fiery topic of debate throughout India. But if you really wanted an answer, I’d have to say Mumbai has the best food in India. Pav bhaji, vada pav, chaat – these are just a few of the popular foods in Mumbai. But what makes this city popular for its food scene is the fact that it’s a melting pot of all cuisines across India. Want a good South Indian dosa? You’ll find it here. Craving some Delhi-style Chole Bhature? You got it. 

India on your mind?

Indian cuisine is one of the most popular ones in the world. Sweet, savoury, spicy, tangy – it’s an explosion for your senses. So why not skip the trip to your local curry house tonight, and head instead on our Eternal India trip to taste the best food in India? From touring the streets of Mumbai to even cooking with a local family – we’ll show you the ins and outs of this flavour-packed wonderland. 

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