Traditional Indian foods are represented in restaurants all around the world. They typically serve cuisine from either the North or South Indian regions, and sometimes a mix of both. The distinction between north and south dictates the flavor of a dish based on regional spices and ingredients.
Nonetheless, regardless of which region of India you find yourself dining from, you are sure to find similar items on the menu. Read on to learn about some of the best traditional Indian foods you must try.
Chicken Tikka Masala
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Chicken tikka masala is a variant on the popular Indian dish chicken tikka. The chicken, which is baked in a tandoor oven, is served in a creamy orange curry and often eaten over long-grain rice. Usually, tomato serves as the base of the sauce, but a number of different spice combinations can be used to create the curry. If you order chicken tikka masala at more than one restaurant, it is likely you will never find an entirely uniform flavor for the curry, but it will always be equally as delicious.
The meal is as popular internationally as it is in India. You will likely find this item on every Indian restaurant menu. Tikka masala yields a lot of sauce compared to the amount of chicken provided, so a side of garlic naan is a must-have alongside this meal.
TAKEAWAY: The popularity of the dish has risen to such great heights that a former Foreign Secretary of Britain once declared it to be the “true national dish.”
Biryani is a good example of an Indian dish that varies upon the region you are in. These variations include whether it is served with meat, how the dish is cooked, and what spices are used. A combination of rice, spices, and meat (usually chicken) is what makes a basic biryani.
Regional and cultural takes on biryani extends from India to surrounding countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. Possibly the most famous of all variations comes from Hyderabad, called Hyderabadi biryani. This version uses basmati rice and goat, although often substituted for chicken, cooked in a way that creates a lot of flavor.
Nothing pairs better with Indian food than a refreshing lassi. Lassi is a beverage with a yogurt base that is served savory or sweet. Traditionally, lassi requires a blend of water and yogurt mixed with salt and spices. This version is popular in Northern India.
In place of salt, sugar can be added to create a sweet yogurt drink. Sometimes it is blended with fruit for added flavor. The drink is served cold with a thin layer of foam on top, and is the perfect solution for a warm day. Additional ingredients like butter or cream are occasionally used to make a lassi for a creamier texture.
Idli is a common breakfast choice for many people residing in South India. These small round cakes consist of rice and fermented black lentils. The ingredients are combined at a three-to-one ratio to create a patty similar to a rice cake in texture and appearance. The final process of cooking an idli is to steam it to create an airy, fluffy cake.
The taste of an idli is not very flavorful on its own. Assorted chutneys nearly always come alongside the food for dipping. The condiments paired with this meal can be savory or sweet, thus solving the age-old conflict of having to choose between the two morning cravings. Coconut or tomato chutney are two standard companions to this meal.
Perfect as a snack or entrée, samosas are triangular pockets of fried dough that contain savory fillings. The filling is primarily vegetarian. Throughout different regions of India, it may also contain ingredients like minced meat.
Seasoned potatoes, peas, and onions are common ingredients for a samosa filling. Alternative forms of this snack appear from Central Asia to the Horn of Africa, often under different names. This savory treat has even made a lasting impact on the west, where you can buy prepackaged samosas in the frozen section of the grocery store. You can eat it alone or dipped in mint chutney.
Pakora is a fried snack that is ideal for sharing. They make these small fritters by battering and deep-frying bits of vegetable. The batter uses a ground chickpea ingredient called gram flour that is common in Indian cooking.
You will likely find onions, eggplant, and potato in the center of one of these crispy bites, but occasionally meat or soft cheese is used. Pakora makes a great appetizer or light lunch and pairs well with a warm chai drink.
Rogan Josh is a hearty meal known to be one of the favored dishes in the Indian region of Kashmir. Originally of Persian origin, this stew cooks the meat by braising it in clarified butter. Although lamb was once the primary meat component, goat serves as a more attainable alternative in many regions of India.
The course contains braised lamb or goat soak in deep red curry made from an onion and yogurt base with added spices, and in some cases, tomato. In comparison to many other Indian curries, the sauce is actually on the milder side. Depending on location, regional differences will dictate how spicy the curry actually is. For the most part, the aromatics of the sauce carry more of a punch than the actual flavor does.
Indian food has found its way to restaurants everywhere, making it incredibly accessible for foodies around the world. The different regions of India each have their own take on some of the country’s most popular dishes, meaning your dining experience may differ every time.
Spicy curries, tender meat, and vegetarian-friendly options are just a few of the ways Indian food has created such a craze internationally. Next time you find yourself trying to decide what to eat, take a gamble with one of these traditional Indian dishes.