Indian food is some of the most popular and most widely eaten cuisines in the world. Indian cuisine consists of a diverse range of curries, rice dishes, meats, vegetables and breads, all flavored with a traditional range of spices.
Whilst delicacies vary by region and state, there are many similarities in terms of spices and flavors, regardless of the geographical region.
India shares a border with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and has a close proximity to the island of Sri Lanka. The influences of those countries are keenly felt on one another, especially when it comes to good.
Table of Contents
Most Popular Indian Dishes
Much of the northern regions of India are vegetarian, as a result many of the most inspiring vegetable dishes originate from northern states.
Staple ingredients in Indian cooking include rice, tomatoes, potatoes, lentils, chickpeas, onions and yoghurt.
The most common spices used to flavor most traditional Indian dishes include:
- Mustard seeds
- Garam masala
- Chilli powder
- Star Anise
A combination of some or all of these spices tend to make up the vast majority of typical Indian dishes. Most common Indian dishes include curries, rice dishes, fried pastries, roasted meats or breads.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try Indian dishes along with recipes for you to try for yourself.
It may almost seem like a cliché, but the truth is that biryani is one of the most popular foods in all of India. In fact, in 2019 it was voted in the most ordered dish in the country. It was estimated that around 95 biryanis were ordered each minute!
This flavorful rice dish packs quite a punch, although the exact spice mix can vary from one region or state to another. In particular, South Indian biryani tends to be spicier than their Northern counterparts.
Some of the more popular kinds of biryani were boneless chicken, chicken dum biryani, egg, mutton, vegetarian, and paneer.
This dish has a great deal to offer in terms of flavor. This is partially due to the way that it is cooked in clay ovens known as tandoor ovens. The cooking process results in succulent and smoky meat. Of course, the marinade adds quite a bit to the taste as well.
The marinade is composed of yogurt, tandoori masala, cumin, and nutmeg. Once doused in the spices, the chicken is skewered and then place in the oven until done.
It is estimated that around 837,000 tonnes of chai are consumed in India every year. More often than not, people drink the spiced version of this tea known as masala chai. The actual spices used in the tea can vary from one vendor to the next. For the most part, though, spices like ginger and cardamom are added.
It is especially common to buy the tea from chai wallahs – street vendors, particularly when traveling to and from work. The blended Camellia sinensis fannings are a relatively new addition to the drink. Before the British colonized India, it was just spices decocted together for health purposes.
This dish hails from Southern India but is a fan favorite throughout the country. Dosa refers to a thin pancake-like flatbread made from fermented soaked rice and black gram beans.
The ‘masala’ refers to the stuffing inside the pancake. This largely consists of potatoes cooked with onions and mustard seeds.
Despite getting its start in Punjab, this dish quickly became famous all over India, particularly among vegetarians. And, when you consider its ingredients, it is easy to see why.
The main components of this dish are red kidney beans and whole black lentils. They are cooked in a tomato-based sauce, seasoned with ghee, ginger, garlic, and chili. The final pièce de résistance is the butter, for which the dish is named. Sometimes, however, ghee is sprinkled on top instead.
Now, all these delicious side dishes have to be scooped up with something. While India does have a whole host of flatbreads, chapati appears to be the favorite and is a staple in households.
The unleavened bread is stretched out between the palms of the cook and prepared on a flat frying pan known as a Tava. What makes chapati stand out from many other types of bread is that it works with all kinds of curries and gravies, making it rather versatile.
Indian food isn’t just all about spices – there are plenty of sweet treats to enjoy. The one that tops the list is gulab jamun. When translated literally, this dessert is rendered as rose water plum.
This refers to the notable taste of rose water in the syrup that the gulab jamun is doused in and the fact that the sweet is the size of a plum.
This condiment can be closely described as a relish. You will be hard-pressed to find a meal in India that isn’t served with chutney. Chutney is made from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables lightly seasoned with various spices.
The goal of chutney is to add more flavor to the meal. Depending on the ingredients used, it may also have a cooling impact on the palate.
Butter chicken isn’t just a favorite in India – it is beloved all over the world. However, as far as authentic dishes go, this is a fairly modern construct. Butter chicken was only invented in the 1950s!
The dish was created on the spur of the moment for a busload of refugees. However, the mix of tomato-cream sauce infused with spices and paired with tandoori chicken was a hit and soon gained national fame.
Paneer is a soft cheese that originated in India. Due to its delicious and versatile taste, paneer is cooked in several ways. Nevertheless, there is no denying that palak paneer is one of the most requested options. Here, the paneer is cooked in a thick paste of well-seasoned, pureed spinach.
Lassi is a wonderful, yogurt-based drink. Depending on how it’s prepared, it can either be sweetened with fruit or consist of herbs and mild spices. The drink is often cooled and is the perfect accompaniment to spicier dishes. Lassi is also enjoyed during the warmer days of the year.
Aloo Paratha is a very popular Indian flatbread made with a spicy potato mix. It is primarily a breakfast dish that can be filled with different types of filling.
It is also now common to eat Aloo Paratha with different curries, dals and stews.
Korma is stewed in a tangy and flavorful combination of yogurt, saffron, and various other spices. Although there are vegetarian options, the dish is most commonly made with meat. Despite the use of spices, korma is fairly mild. This doesn’t make it any less tasty, however.
The actual components of a korma will vary depending on the region that you are visiting.
If India had a national food, khichdi would probably be it. This meal of lentils, rice or oats, and mild spices like turmeric is one of the first solid foods that Indian infants eat.
While each household has their own take on this dish, there is no denying that it is something that is consumed in one form or another across India.
Khichdi appears to be getting a second wind as it is now being ordered more than ever before. To many adults, it is viewed as the ultimate comfort food.
Idli is most commonly eaten at breakfast time. Made from fermented rice and lentils and then steamed, they look like flat, little cakes. At the same time, they are packed with protein and make for a very fulfilling meal as well as the perfect start to the day.
The staple can be eaten by itself, but it is most commonly paired with sambar or chutney. In some cases, the idli themselves are heavily spiced, making for a more savory food.
Deep-fried, crunchy, and flavorful, these pastries make the ultimate snack. They are often triangular in shape and can be filled with either a savory meat or vegetable filling. Samosas taste best when they are served hot. They are often accompanied by a chutney or cool, yogurt-based dip.
Although the savory version is most well-known, you can also find sweet ones as well. These are typically filled with fruit.
Barfi is a traditional dessert prepared using a base of condensed milk solids (such as khoa or khoya), granulated sugar and ghee. Nuts such as pistachios, cashews or peanuts are often added to the base, however, fruits, saffron, rose water, gram flour or almonds also feature in many local variations. After it is cooled, it is then cut into diamonds, circles or squares.
Barfi is consumed throughout India, but it’s particularly popular in northern India where it is consumed on special occasions.
Idiyappam (String Hoppers)
Idiyappam is a South Indian and Sri Lankan type of pancake made from rice flour and water, which is then combined, pressed through a sieve, and steamed to make rice noodles. They are popular in states of South India, especially Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka.
Pani puri is a round, deep-fried, crunchy flatbread (also known as puri), stuffed with a combination of flavored water (also called imli pani), onion, chili powder, tamarind chutney, potato mash, chaat masala and chickpeas. It is a popular street food throughout India.
Malai Kofta is a dish made from potato and paneer kofta, or small fried balls sometimes likened to fried dumplings. The koftas are covered with a creamy curry sauce made from onions and tomatoes. Malai Kofta is an entirely vegetarian dish and is often served with naan or basmati rice.