10 Traditional Must-Try Foods to Eat in India
A foodie’s paradise, India is filled with many opportunities to taste local delicacies and tantalise the taste buds.
With so many dishes having been exported though, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between authentic dishes and watered-down versions.
To help you navigate India’s epic food scene, we’ve put together this list of 10 traditional must-try foods to eat in India. And if you're a foodie at heart, discover the best destinations for authentic dining experiences here.
1) Masala dosa
Arguably South India’s most renowned culinary export, masala dosas are famous the world over. A sort of Indian pancake, dosas are made from a thin batter consisting of rice, flour and lentils. Making dosas is no easy task, with the batter mixture having to soak in water for at least 24 hours before it can be shaped. Once ready, the batter is ladled onto a hot tava (griddle pan) and shaped in a similar way to how the French would shape a crepe. Traditionally, dosas are served folded in half and stuffed with potatoes. Accompaniments like hot sambar give the dish a spicy edge, and whatever you stuff them with, dosas are sure to provide a tasty yet satisfying meal.
Synonymous with Delhi street food vendors, chaat is one of India’s most delicious savoury snacks. The name derives from three Hindi words meaning ‘a delicacy,’ ‘licking one’s fingers’ and ‘to devour with relish’ and this dish truly does live up to its heritage. Although there’s now a plethora of different varieties, the original chaat is a wonderful combination of diced potato pieces, crispy fried bread and chickpeas garnished with fresh coriander leaves, yoghurt and dried ginger and tamarind sauce. Make like a local and seek out a local dhaba, where the city’s specialist chaat variety will be available at nearly all times of day.
3) Dal makhani
Most foodies will have heard of or tasted dal, but there’s nothing quite like tasting the original dish in the country where it originated from. Dal is the Hindi word for lentils, and this soup-like delicacy is made by stewing small black lentils for hours on end. Whilst there are many different varieties of this lentil dish, dal makhani is in a league of its own. It’s considered the best of the best, and is reserved for big events like wedding celebrations. With makhani meaning ‘buttery’ in Hindi, there’s no prizes for guessing how rich and creamy this Indian classic tastes. Head to Punjab, in India’s north, to taste the real deal.
4) Vada pav
Originating in the traditionally vegetarian state of Maharashtra, vada pav is as close as Indian cuisine gets to veggie burgers. One for carb lovers, vada pav consists of a deep fried potato dumpling placed neatly inside a small bun. The finger food delicacy is generally accompanied by a couple of chutneys and a green chilli, to appeal to the spice loving palettes of Indians up and down the country. Also called a Bombay burger, these mini potato buns can be found in street food stalls across the city of Mumbai.
5) Stuffed paratha
Punjab’s foodie heritage doesn’t stop at dal makhani. Often eaten at the start of the day, stuffed parathas are seen as the breakfast of champions in northern India. The word paratha derives from the Sanskrit word atta meaning ‘layers of cooked dough,’ and this dish lives up to its moniker. After leaving the dough (or atta) to rest overnight, parathas are made by cooking the dough on a tava before shallow frying. The most common way to eat parathas is to stuff them with a filling of your choosing. Parathas can be stuffed with any number of fillings, but some of our favourites are aloo paratha (stuffed with potatoes) and methi paratha (stuffed with fenugreek).
Hailed as the regional dish of northwest India, the Gujarati delicacy dhokla is a savoury vegetarian snack made of rice and split chickpeas. It’s tastier than it sounds – Gujaratis eat it for breakfast or lunch, and sometimes even as a snack or side dish. Another dish that takes hours of preparation, dhokla involves soaking the rice and split chickpeas in equal quantities overnight. Then, chilli, coriander, ginger and baking soda are added to add spice to the dish, and help it rise into delicious bite size morsels. Usually served alongside deep fried chilli and coriander chutney, this Gujarati delicacy is wonderfully moreish.
We’ve cheated a little bit here, as the term barfi can be used to describe any number of Indian sweets. The most traditional type though is milk barfi. Predictably, these milk-based sweets are made from milk powder, condensed milk, ghee and cardamom powder. Barfi is not going to help anyone reach their health-conscious goals, but these indulgent fragrant desserts are sure to bring a smile to the face of anyone who tries them. These sweets are traditionally gifted as good luck offerings at occasions like wedding ceremonies, but there’s nothing to say you can’t pop down to the sweet shop to buy one to accompany your afternoon chai.
8) Pani puri
Pani puri, or gol guppa, are thought to originate from the northern state of Bihar. A perfect streetside snack, pani puri are hollow deep fried balls made of semolina or wheat. They’re served alongside spicy potatoes, chickpeas and a spicy tamarind water. Eating pani puri is an experience in itself, as you traditionally crack open the top of the deep fried shell with a spoon before filling it with the delicious accompaniments. Most Indians eat each pani puri with one swift bite, to save any of the filling spilling out of the delicate case. This infamous street snack unites most of the country – everyone from local college students to city businessmen can be found devouring them.
Popular across South India, idli are often thought of as the breakfast versions of dosa. Eaten at the start of the day, idli are a type of light savoury rice cake. Made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice, these rice cakes are dangerously easy to eat. Since idli are pretty bland on their own, these mini pancake-like breakfast staples are served alongside sambar, coconut based chutneys, or spicy fish curries. Over the years, idli has evolved into many different varieties, so you’re sure to find one that satisfies your taste buds.
10) Masala chai
India’s most famous export, masala chai can be found being sold by everywhere from high end restaurants to chaiwallas at train stations. While there’s many different diluted versions of this classic Indian tea around the globe, the real deal can only be found in India. Authentic masala chai is made by brewing black tea on the stove with a mixture of aromatic spices and herbs. Traditionally, the spices used are green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ground cloves and black pepper, creating a wonderful aromatic cup of tea. There’s nothing quite like sipping a hot cup of authentic masala chai first thing in the morning!
Our Team's Favourite Culinary Trips to India
Where to stay in India
Sher BaghOwned and run by a family who have played an active part in Ranthambore’s conservation efforts for over four decades, Sher Bagh is a luxurious camp that blends pioneering sustainability with an opulent style redolent of grand British Raj-era safaris. Authentic and intimate, there are just 12 hand–stitched canvas tents pitched under a canopy of indigenous trees, each furnished with teak campaign-style furniture with en–suite stone bathrooms and wonderfully comfortable beds. The exquisite Burra Sahib suite is set in a generous private space with its own swimming pool and unobstructed views of the reserve, while the Pukka Sahib suite has a walled garden surrounding a Jacuzzi and open-air shower. Both come with a private butler attending to your every need. Thoughtfully designed menus combine Anglo–Indian and European lunches, with traditional Indian dinners cooked in outdoor clay ovens, all made with home-grown ingredients, handpicked from the organic herb and vegetable garden and the Sher Bagh farm. The culinary arts are central to life at the camp and guests are invited to participate in and learn from live cooking demonstrations. Meals can also be served in more secluded areas of the camp for those looking to spend a private evening under the stars. Wildlife experiences here include expertly guided safaris inside the national park to spot tigers, leopards, sloth bears and more. For those with specialist interests, birding walks are on offer as well as safaris accompanied by an expert photographer. There are also tours to Ranthambore Fort and visits to meet local craftswomen from Dastkar Ranthambhore, a non–profit organisation that produces a wide range of colourful handicrafts. And, of course, one can opt to indulge in a range of treatments and therapies at the Sher Bagh Jungle Spa.
The Oberoi UdaivilasOn the banks of Lake Pichola across the waters from Udaipur, The Oberoi Udaivilas stands surrounded by lush gardens and the forests of what were once royal hunting grounds. The hotel itself is a sprawling palace of ornate domes, breezy courtyards and sunlit corridors – an architectural reflection of Udaipur’s lakes and canals – with glimpses out to Pichola and verdant grounds. There are 86 rooms and suites, many of which open out onto azure private and semi-private swimming pools with views across the lake to Udaipur’s City Palace, while others look into the estate’s gardens and wildlife sanctuary – home to deer and wild boar. The style is a blend of ornate Mewar with subtle modern amenities. In addition to private pools, the suites feature their own outdoor dining pavilions. During your time here, explore Udaipur and beyond on private boat and walking tours, venture out into the Aravalli Hills to visit remote tribes and hidden temples, or relax with indulgent spa therapies and yoga sessions. Suryamahal and Chandni are all-day indoor and outdoor dining venues for multicultural cuisine, with Udaimahal the place for fine Indian dining. Unique dining experiences, such as learning to cook with the chef, lunching while cruising on the lake and intimate private dinners can also be arranged. And naturally the bar is an elegant venue for classic cocktails.
RAAS Rajmahal PalaceBuilt in 1729 as a private rural retreat for the Maharaja of Jaipur’s wife, the RAAS Rajmahal Palace has remained an opulent oasis even as the city has grown around it. Still owned by the royal family of Jaipur, in the halcyon days of the British Raj it embodied the glamour of ‘Jaipur Life’. As the preferred private residence of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, the dashing polo player, the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, The Duke of Edinburgh, Jackie Kennedy and the Shah of Iran were entertained within its great walled gardens. Today, it has been meticulously and daringly restored by designer Adil Ahmad, with grand chandeliered rooms embellished with intricate thematic wallpapers and luxurious fabrics. With an initial 14 royal apartments, suites and palace rooms, ranging from palatial to genuinely royal – one room built specifically for Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit in 1961 – service is both personal and accomplished. Down the marble staircase, choose to lounge around the art deco pool or treat yourself at the spa. There are three dining options; the relaxed Colonnade, vibrant 51 Shades of Pink, and formal traditional dining at The Orient Occident. The Polo Bar celebrates the talents of Jaipur’s sporting tradition and afternoon tea on the lawn is a must. If you can bring yourself to venture outside the Rajmahal’s walls, you’ll find Jaipur’s famed forts, palaces and local markets just minutes away, and tailor made culinary, historical and photographic walking tours can be arranged.