Although India isn’t the largest country in the world, many people would argue that it may be the most diverse. From the cold windswept mountains of Kashmir to the golden beaches of Goa, it seems like India contains every possible ecosystem imaginable.
Indian cuisine, consequently, varies widely depending on the region, but in general, their dishes are full of intense flavors, fiery spices, and the freshest vegetables that can be found. There are plenty of Indian meat dishes, but on the whole, due to the variety of religious strictures present in the country (Hindus may not eat beef, while Muslims abstain from pork), the focus is primarily on vegetarian dishes.
This guide will give you a quick introduction to the vast world of Indian cuisine, and help you identify the signatures dishes from each region that you may be visiting.
One of the most basic dishes found in Indian cuisine, naan is a type of leavened bread served with many curry dishes. Typically, Indian cuisine is eaten without cutlery, so the bread is used to help scoop up pieces of meat, and to sop up sauce. Traditionally, naan is cooked in a tandoor (a clay oven used often in Indian cuisine), which gives the bread its characteristic charred, bubbly appearance.
Samosas are a very popular snack all over India. Depending on the region, they can be either baked or fried, but they generally contain a similar mixture of potato, onion, peas, and spices. The characteristic triangle shape makes them easy to spot. They’re an excellent snack to buy or take on the go. Many street vendors offer amazing, freshly made samosas, which are sometimes served plain, or you can opt for a spicy chutney or tamarind sauce for dipping.
If you’re traveling through India and see people tucking into a dish that seems way too gigantic to fit on their plate, you’ve probably found dosa. Dosa is a crepe-like concoction, which is made from primarily rice and black gram flour, and served with a variety of chutneys and curries for dipping.
The additions to your plate will generally vary regionally, although dosa dishes are found most often in Southern India. One popular variation is the masala dosa, where a dosa is stuffed with spiced potatoes (almost like a gigantic samosa), before being served with the usual dipping sauces.