From street food to Dhal to a few good eats in between, here are 15 essential foods that would be blasphemous to pass up when you’re in India.
To say you’re going out for Indian food would be like Italians saying they’re going out for Italian food. Just like Italy, India’s incredibly diverse cuisine can’t just be summed up to “Indian”. That being said, if there’s one thing for sure, it’s how awesomely well you’ll eat there. Whether you’re traveling in India aloen or with a group and you find yourself in and around the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur), keep an eye out for these palate-pleasing delights. Some are actually popular breakfast foods that you can enjoy at any time of day.
1. Chole bhature
Typical of Uttar Pradesh, chole bhature can be found around the continent. The bhature, or bread, is fried so that it puffs out like a balloon — the iteration I enjoyed had a dreamy inner coating of salty paneer cheese — and is accompanied by chole, a spicy chickpea concoction. Dip and enjoy!
Even if you’ve never been to India, you’ve probably heard of a samosa. This deep-fried street food is often filled with potatoes or meat, and other accompaniments such as peas and served with, usually, a chutney dipping sauce.
The name of a round platter, thali also refers to a meal that contains plenty bits of deliciousness, each contained in their own little bowl and served at once on its namesake platter. You get a little bit of everything, so it helps spare you from the onus of decision-making, and it’s always complete with bread. Expect to find thali in Jaipur.
4. Garlic naan
While naan, typical India flatbread, is brilliant in all its forms, garlic naan is the most glorious. This hot bread is slathered with an alluring garlic coating and minced bits of that beloved allium. You won’t be able to have just one piece.
Another outstanding flatbread, parantha is pan-fried and may be laced with spices or stuffed with deliciousness, such as potatoes, and often accompanied by flavorful dips.
This yogurt-based drink comes in an array of flavors from rosewater to mango to saffron — my personal favorite is banana.
The various textures of this salad-like snack comprised of crispy rice grains, peanuts, spices, veggies and pomegranate seeds topped with a tart tamarind sauce taste ever so gratifying.
This consists of a hollowed-out puri, deep-fried bread, filled with, in this case, a sweet chutney with delicious little touches like puffed rice and pomegranate seeds. It’s best to devour it in one bite.
The Indian version of ice cream, kulfi is a dense frozen dairy dessert in popsicle form available in a few flavors, with saffron, rose and mango among the most popular.
10. Masala dosa
This ever-so-glorious delight looks like a burrito…but it tastes much more thrilling! The bread batter is made from lentils and rice that have been soaked overnight, and it’s stuffed with spiced boiled potatoes and accompanied by some chutneys and other sauces. Typical of Southern India, you can find dosas all around.
This deep-fried pretzel-shaped street food is coated in a sugary syrup and is dreamily sticky and sweet.
12. Butter chicken
It’s impossible to visit India without tasting butter chicken at least once. Despite its name, it’s not full-on chicken and butter — butter is a main ingredient of the flavorful spiced tomato-based sauce. Butter chicken is so emblematic, you can even find it as a pizza topping.
I’m a dumpling enthusiast, so, naturally, I gravitated towards these filled treats any chance I could get. These lovelies are native to the region of India near the South Asian countries of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, and are typical of Northern Indian regions like Darjeeling and Assam. They’re typically filled with chicken or vegetables, though they occasionally contain other meats.
14. Bedmi puri
Lentil-stuffed fried bread accompanied by a spicy aloo potato curry that is satiating any time of the day.
15. Masala chai tea
While not exactly a food, masala chai tea warrants a mention as no day in India is complete without a cup or three of this spiced milk black tea.