A-Z Essential Dishes in India You Will Try

I outline the most popular dishes on every menu at every dining establishment in India. Each dish has a description and the region in which it is from.

Top 40 Indian Dishes You Must Try Whilst In India

India is home to the second biggest population in the world and is a thriving heaving mass of colour, culture and religion. Religion, being an integral and important attribute and value to every Indian’s inner core, means that it affects all areas of society, including food. The five main religions of India are; Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. This means that for many Indians, there are constraints on what certain food can be eaten, for example beef is off limit for Hindus and Pork for Muslims. Thus, it is no surprise that a large number of Indians eat mainly vegetarian dishes, to maintain a pure mind, body and soul, which enables them to connect with their chosen God, in a much truer form.

Food in India is a bizarre and delightful culinary journey that will leave your taste buds tantalised and wanting more. India is known for its vast range of spices that live in everything imaginable, however if you can’t handle your spice, surprisingly India can adjust its ways for you. Food in India is incredibly diverse, due to the sheer size of the continent, and with each area and state of India, it varies. In this list I will highlight the most popular dishes and what to expect from them, all though bear in mind this is a general record to help an unprepared traveller. Once arriving there, you will notice that adopting a “flexitarian attitude” to meat and vegetables is a wise decision, as some areas of India, meat is scarce.

  • Aloo Gobi: A popular potato and cauliflower dish that is sautéed with garam masala and a number of other spices. The reasoning behind its unusual yellow colour is the turmeric that is added into the dish. It’s famous for its vivid flavours and justly filling size.

Found: Primarily Punjab but all over India.

  • Ambot Tik: As seafood is the core ingredient to dishes from this region, it is no surprise it is one of the most popular dishes. A seafood curry that is both spicy and sour- because of the popularity with the vinegar collected made from the toddy of local coconut trees.

Found: Goa.

  • Banana Chips: Served as a remotely healthy snack (you may have noticed there are a limited number of healthy dishes in India), this snack originates from ripe and unripe bananas. The snack is fried in coconut oil and is coated with masala to create a spicy version, or covered with sugar or honey to create a sweet version.

Found: In any bus station, although primarily in Kerala.

  • Bhaji: This dish varies depending on what area you are in. In Rajasthan, I found this dish to be a hearty curry bursting with flavour whilst in Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal, the Bhaji is the traditional dish of a fritter that is made from gram flour and onions.

Found: Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal.

  • Biryani: A mixed rice dish that is served everywhere. Most popular meal to order on trains in India due to its quick and easy preparation. The spices included in a biryani are: nutmeg, mace, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, onions and garlic. It is mainly served as a vegetable dish and comes with a boiled egg although meat is an option.

Found: All over India.

  • Chevdo: Similar to the famous Bombay Mix in the UK, this snack is a mixture of flattened rice, garam masala, vegetables that are freshly cut, ground nut, and chana. I found this snack being sold on trains, where the vendors have numerous pockets and bowls attached to them and they whip up this snack in a hurried frenzy. Watch out, this dish is surprisingly spicy.

Found: Primarily West India.

  • Chicken Tikka Masala: The UK’s favourite curry. It has a similar taste to Makhani and Butter Chicken however the sauce replaces cream for butter, and includes the masala spice mix to its curry sauce.

Found: Primarily Punjab, although all over India.

  • Coconut Curry: This dish is popular in this area because the majority of Kerala’s dishes are based around the vital ingredient of coconuts. The curry’s main ingredient is coconut milk and the range of spices creates the dish to be a smooth soft flavour with a hint of spice. Some dishes are served on a banana leaf.

Found: Kerala

  • Dal: A dish that is made from the dried pulse, lentils or red bean or peas. It is an incredibly healthy and light option and the sauce differentiates according to the cook. There is little curry sauce as Dal is normally boiled in water and then added with spices. Sauces are normally stemmed from the type of Dal you order and the food colouring added, for example: Dal Mahkani.

Found: All over India.

  • Dopiaza: A curry that is appropriately named, “two onions”, where onions are added into the cooking of the dish, as well as served as a garnish. This dish is just as delicious as the popular dishes found in the UK curry houses, and should not be ignored whilst in India. The onions and chili create a ferocious tickle on your tongue.

Found: All over India.

  • Dosa’s: Normally served for breakfast, this dish is made from rice paper and lentils. The dosa texture is incredibly thin and paper like and is served with a range of sauces to dip it with. This dish wasn’t for me, but it is worth a try to taste the strange texture.

Found: South India.

  • Ghee: A clarified butter that is used in most types of cooking which creates a sweeter fuller flavour- although less healthy for you!

Found: All over India.

  • Ilish fish paturi: This is a popular styled dish, where fish is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an oven, grill or handi. The tightness of the leaves creates an enclaved package that allows the spices added to sink into the fish and create a delightful aroma. Once cooked, the fish is soft and delicate with the tanginess of spice.

Found: Bengal and Kerala.

  • Jalebi: Jalebi are swirly forms of deep fried wheat flour batter which is then dunked in sweet sugar syrup. The result? A sweet sticky and chewy concoction that is served either hot or cold and can be found on street corners or when special occasions occur like festivals or weddings.

Found: Primarily Delhi, however all over India.

  • Jalfrezi: A hot curry with green chillies, peppers, onion and tomatoes. Marinated meat is fried in oil and spices to produce a dry, thick sauce. A popular choice in any British curry house and once was famed as the favourite curry in the UK. It is much tastier in India, with some restaurants focusing more on the marinated meat filled with spices, rather than the sauce.

Found: All over India.

  • Kadai chicken: A traditional style of curry which is cooked in a certain wok where it gets the name of Kadai from. The dish is a blend of spices and seeds, and the main thick gravy is based in chickpea flour, compared to the other traditional Indian curries, this has more spice and no tomato.

Found: Primarily Punjab but all over.

  • Kati Roll: This dish is basically a kebab of chicken or lamb which has been skewered and barbecued to perfection. Once marinated in spices, the meat is then prepared with onions and spices before it is wrapped in the soft warm flatbread of paratha making a “roll”.

Found: Calcutta

  • Kebabs:  Kebabs in India are mainly skewers of meat marinated with spices and are reminiscent from the Mughal Empire. However, when visiting Amritsar I tried some delicious mushroom and pepper kebabs that had the barbecued flavour of the clay pit, which were then doused with a creamy yogurt sauce which was… delightful.

Found: North India.

  • Lassi: A popular drink that cools down any meal or any hot day. It is a blend of yogurt, water, and cumin if wanting a traditional Lassi. Sweet Lassi’s are filled with sugar or fruits instead of spices.

Found: All over India.

  • Lime juice: A refreshing popular drink that can either be served sweet or salty according to your preference. It is useful to quench your thirst with in the incredibly hot or humid temperatures and cools down the mouth with particular spicy dishes.

Found: All over India.

  • Makhani/Butter Chicken: This dish in the UK is a non-spicy tomato based curry, whilst in India, there is much more flavour and spice. The chicken is marinated for hours in a yogurt and spice infused glaze, which is then cooked in a traditional clay oven and served with a sauce which its main ingredients are tomato and butter.

Found: All over India

  • Malai Kofta: A reason I could easily turn vegetarian. The “koftas” are filling dumplings that are fried pieces of paneer/cheese and vegetables, in a rich and creamy tomato gravy that is as sweet as a Korma curry. The dish is great to be shared among friends and dipped with some sort of flatbread.

Found: Primarily Rajasthan, however all over India.

  • Masala chai: A tea that is popular in every bus station, on every train, every restaurant and every food stall. The spices of; ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, seeds, peppercorn, nutmeg and cloves come together to enrich the flavour of the tea leaves, and the creamy texture of milk and the sweetness of sugar, create a combination that is overpowering and will never make you look at an English breakfast tea again in the same way.

Found: All over India.

  • Momos: Momo’s are a type of dumpling but of the Tibetan style. It is a white dough parcel filled with vegetables, cheese or yak meat. Delicious as a snack.

Found: Mcleod Ganj

  • Naan, Chapati, Paratha: The most popular breads of India. Naan is thick and doughy, a leavened bread cooked from the oven. Chapati is thinner and much cheaper, and is first flattened by the hands, then cooked on a skillet and then finally fully cooked when put on an open flame. A Paratha is thicker than a Chapati but thinner than a piece of Naan. It has a soft and stringy texture that falls apart in the hands, and much ghee is used to cook them. Stuffed paratha, as well as stuffed naan, is popular.

Found: All over India.

  • Pakoda/Pakora: A similar style of snack to the onion Bhaji but not created with onion, but rather with any other ingredient such as eggplant, onion, cauliflower or potato. They are fried in chickpea batter and are a popular snack to any meal.

Found: All over India.

  • Paneer: translates to cottage cheese in Hindi, although the texture and flavour reminds me of mozzarella. It is a perfect substitute for dishes that would usually be cooked with meat as it has a thick texture that fills you up. The most popular dish is Palak Paneer, which is a mixture of spinach, tomato gravy and cottage cheese.

Found: All over India.

  • Papad: This is another term for the well-known poppadom. This can be served as a snack to dip in various sauces or chutneys or even eaten on its own, or as an accompaniment to a curry.

Found: All over India.

  • Pulao/Pilau/Pilav: A Persian influenced dish, the rice is cooked in a seasoned broth which creates it to have more flavour and juices rather than the standard basmati rice or steamed rice. It differs to Biryani as Biryani has more spices present in the dish, as well as the cooking procedures of pulao means that meat is in an important part of the dish.

Found: All over India.

  • Puri: Puri is prepared with wheat flour and with a small dose of salt, and chefs create small circles of the dough and deep fry it in ghee. When deep frying, these mini poppadum’s blow up to form light and airy balls. In some variations liquids are added inside the ball.

Found: All over India.

  • Raita: A creamy yogurt that is also referred to as curd, and is sometimes filled with salad and onions. It complements the palette after a spicy meal and is always served cold, and always found in a Thali.

Found: All over India.

  • Rogan Josh: A popular dish in the west for its level of spice, here in India it is no different. Typically a lamb curry, and similar to the style of Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan, thick meaty curries are derived from this region, and this dish emphasizes this. Cooked with Kashmari Chili and is served with saffron rice or naan bread.

Found: Kashmir but also all over India.

  • Saagwala: Is seen to be a traditional curry in India, and is perfect for vegetarians. Saag can be made from spinach or broccoli and is created with an array of spices that creates this dish to be one creamy green texture that is fit for a warm portion of rice.

Found: Primarily Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

  • Samosa: Samosa’s are sold at every train station and are a popular find with street vendors. Each samosa is large and enough for a snack. Samosa’s are fried or baked pastries filled with savoury fillings, the most popular are: potato, onion, peas and spices.

Found: All over India.

  • Sorptel: Due to the Portuguese influences on the state, this dish is a stew with the popular Portuguese meat of pork that is first parboiled, diced then sautéed. With large dashes of vinegar to maintain the sour flavour, it is best served with “sanna”, spongy white steamed rice or/and coconut bread.

Found: Goa

  • Tandoori Chicken: Similar to the style of cooking meat on a kebab-with the roasted chicken covered with yogurt and spices such as tandoori masala and spice powder. However when served, the chicken is taken off the skewer. This dish has been the staple creator behind popular UK dishes such as Chicken Tikka Masala.

Found: Punjab.

  • Thali: A Thali is a collection of dishes and is the perfect choice for those who find it hard to decide on one curry. Thali’s can be ordered differentiating in region and style for example meat or vegetarian. However, you will usually find when ordering a Thali: a papad, a chapati or piece of naan, rice, raita, chutney, and most commonly: Dal and Aloo Gobi. This dish is great for combining all types of dishes together. A cheap and tantalisingly tasty journey for your taste buds.

Found: All over India, varying in each region.

  • Thenthuk and Butter Tea: Similar to the Vietnamese warm broth of Pho, Thenthuk is a noodle soup that warms you right to your very core. The dish is filled with wheat flour noodles, vegetables and meat. Butter tea is the local Tibetan tea made from obviously: butter. A sickly sweet drink, alas it was not for me, but one to try all the same!

Found: Mcleod Ganj

  • Uttapam: An Uttapam is made out of rice flour and originates from the family of “dosa’s”. However instead of being thin and crispyUttapam’s are instead a soft and doughy flatbread, as if of a pizza. Toppings vary from vegetables, cheese and ham, and are served with a selection of sauces ranging in spice and flavour.

Found: South India.

  • Vindaloo: When cooked in its home location, this dish is cooked with pork because of its Portuguese influences. The dish is marinated in vinegar- popular to the Goan style, including an array of spices to aid the level of heat and spice within the dish.

Found: Goa