Last Updated on August 22, 2023
For many travelers, food is an essential part of the trip, be it from the obscure bylanes of India or the fragrant biryani hubs of Pakistan, the list of culinary delights linked to travels is endless.
One of the best ways to enjoy a new country is through its local food and nowhere it is truer than in the Indian subcontinent. If you go with trusted operators like www.transindus.co.uk and local guides, you can be assured of indulging in the best local foods.
The region has a fascinating blend of cuisines that are rich in color and flavors from countries not only India, but Pakistan,Bangladesh,Nepal,Sri Lanka and Bhutan as well.
Almost all the recipes found in the subcontinent date back to over 5000 years when the Indus valley civilization hunted animals and used wild grains, herbs and plants for food.
Many of the commonly used ingredients today originated from the Indus period. These include barley, wheat, rice, tamarind, cucumber etc.
This blog will take you on a culinary tour of some of these countries and the most popular main courses, salads and appetizers that make each dish so unique to that part of the subcontinent.
The Mughal Empire began its ruling in Pakistan (then India) from 1526 and the popular style of Mughlai cooking stemmed from there.
This form typically includes herbs, spices, almonds and raisins as the main ingredients and forms an integral part of Pakistani cuisine.
Although Pakistani food has obvious Indian roots, its recipes are influenced more by Irani,Afghani,Persian and Western cuisine to give a distinct character.
These cultures infused different kinds of flavorings which transformed the ordinary staple dishes into culinary delights.
The four most common foods to try in Pakistan are Biryani (rice with chicken or lamb), Dal (Lentil stew), Nihari mutton and Kheer (rice pudding).
Eating pork is forbidden in Pakistan, while on Tuesday and Wednesday meat and beef are not served in public places.
Due to the wide range in culture and religion, diverse climate and soil types as well as influence of other countries,India has not one but a vast range of cuisines.
Food choices vary north, south,east and west. In North India people prefer flat breads while south Indians like to eat rice and coconut for versatility.
Cities like Mumbai, in western India are more cosmopolitan and are known for their traditional spicy curries and seafood. Tea and potato bun(Vada pav) are the favorite evening snacks.
East india cuisine relies largely on vegetables. They love sweets and use milk and other dairy products in abundance to make them.
Indian dishes are made of the best produce available in the region. While lentil stew is a north Indian staple,a white fish curry by the name of meen molee is a hit with the south Indians.
Western Indians simply relish vindaloo, a dish made from pork, while east Indians love Chenna, a sweet syrup made from sugar and flour.
The cuisine of the Himalayan country of Nepal is a blend of Indian and Tibetan culinary traditions as reflected by the geographic location of the country.
Apart from fresh vegetables and meat, the Nepali staples consist of rice,lentils,corn and wheat.A typical mid-day meal will include rice,a lentil soup and pickle along with flatbread.
The most popular street food sold in the towns and cities is momos, a kind of a steamed dumpling, stuffed with meat or vegetables which is considered a traditional delicacy all over the country.
While all the commonly used spices and salts are widely used the Nepalese make use of unique Himalayan spices such as timur (szechuan pepper) and a herb jimbu found only in this region as well as Yak butter to add to the flavour.
However, the national dish of Nepal is gundruk, an assortment of pickled green vegetables which is normally consumed as a side dish along with the main course.
Gundruk is made by mixing radish, cauliflower and mustard which is then stored in a tight container for a few days till all the acidic juices are released.
Years of colonialism and trade have greatly influenced the cuisine of Sri Lanka. The food of this small island nation in the Indian Ocean has a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, Malay, English and Indian flavours apart from the indigenous local ingredients that are added to tantalize the taste buds.
The two ingredients that play a key role in the cuisine of Sri Lanka are coconut and arrack, a potent homemade spirit made by distilling the sap obtained from coconut flowers.
That said, Sri Lankan food is not for the timid hearted eaters as its powerful flavours add quite a punch in the fiery dishes they prepare. A typical meal consists of rice and curry, a thin broth with chunks of meat like fish, goat, pork or lamb.
All the food, whether it is a shrimp fritter or coconut sambal bears the mark of the country’s culture and geography.The Tamils who stay in the north use slightly different spices and other ingredients for their curries,but by and large the food is similar to the rest of the island.
Some must-try food experiences
If you want to learn about the rich and varied tastes of the subcontinent, you can opt for a structured tour,a culinary home stay or go on a food centred trip.The options are vast and varied as the cuisine.
Conquer the streets of the subcontinent with food tours in popular cities such as Lahore, Karachi,New Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Kathmandu, Colombo accompanied by a local chef.On these tours you will get to see how the various committees prepare their food and what gives that city it’s unique cuisine.
Spend a morning with the dabbawalas
Dabbawalas literally translate to box carriers and Mumbai’s 5000 strong force are a tourist attraction in themselves, with fans which include Prince Charles and Richard Branson.
Donning their own style of white caps, these men ferry homemade food for those at work and deliver it promptly on time each day by using a simple color coding system.
Following their path through the narrow and busy lanes of Mumbai with a camera in tow in suburban trains is an unmissable experience.
Enjoy a Sri Lankan lunch at a Gami Gedara
Gami Gedara are the local restaurants of Sri Lanka which serve the best rice and curry in the whole country. Dishes are typically laid out like a buffet and you can pick and eat anything you like and pay accordingly.
The menu has both white and red rice and plenty of non-veg options like shrimp, meat and pork. You can opt for an entirely vegetarian meal of multiple curried, lentils and salads.