Culturally speaking, India is one of the richest countries in the whole world. But besides all the visual pleasures and History trivia it can offer to tourists, a whole trip could (and should) be dedicated just to getting acquainted with the country’s amazing food scene.
This year I had the AMAZING opportunity of traveling to India (Jaipur – Delhi – Varanasi – Rishikesh) and I was blown away by the culture, their lovely people, and their food.
Even if you had enough time in India to get to know the entire food scenario and try all the dishes, that would take you an absurd amount of effort. Trust me, even Indians try to do this! So I figured it would be a good idea to select ten of the best and more traditional dishes you can order in India.
Ok, let’s do this!
Table of Contents
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Masala (or Cheese) Dosa
Dosa is a very traditional dish in southern India. It’s a sort of “Indian pancake”, only thinner, and made from a fermented batter that mixes black lentils and rice. They’re served hot and with different spreads, like chutney or sambar. As with many other traditional Indian dishes, the Dosa usually has a nice spicy kick to it.
You can fill the Dosa with pretty much anything you’d want, and that’s exactly what the Indians do! There are many variations of the dish, but we’re going to focus on two of the most delicious: the cheese and the masala.
The Masala Dosa consists of a roasted Dosa served with spicy potatoes and onion masala, which is a delicious sauce made up of onion, ginger, garlic, and other spices.
And the Cheese Dosa is served with a LOT of cheese, chopped onions and carrots, fresh herbs, and, sometimes, tomato sauce. It’s reminiscent of a spicy pizza, but with some exotic flavors mixed in.
Another traditional Indian dish that resembles a pancake (but this time, thicker) is the paratha. It’s essentially unleavened flatbread, made up of slightly fried whole-wheat dough. It has a smooth texture inside and it’s crispy on the outside, with a nice peppery flavor.
One of the most famous variations of the dish is the Aloo Paratha, which combines the paratha with a delicious spiced potato mixture with exotic spices. Pickles and yogurt can often be served as sides for this.
The potato mixture is made with potatoes, red chili powder, garam masala (a very peppery spice), salt, ginger powder, and more. The other spices will vary depending on the place and/or region where you’re eating, but you can expect to be served a very strong-flavored dish regardless.
Be sure to warn the server to go easy on the pepper if your resistance is low. This is a strong one!
Even if you had spicy chicken several times before, you probably didn’t taste anything quite like the Chicken Handi, a traditional Indian spicy chicken dish served with a sauce that is absolutely to die for.
You can say the big secret here, and what really delivers the dish’s amazing flavors, is the sauce. It’s a rather easy recipe too, so you probably won’t wait too long if you order this dish during your food trip.
The sauce consists of several traditional Indian spices, as well as onions, garlic, cumin seeds, chili powder, salt, and the two most important flavor agents: pureed tomatoes and whipped yogurt.
Trust me, you’re in for a spicy, delicious, and slightly creamy chicken experience that you’ll never forget with this one. Really amazing.
This is one of my personal favorites. I ordered chicken handi multiple times during my trip to India and by far my favorite place for this dish was at Varanasi in the restaurant The Palate
Paneer Butter Masala
This one is yet another addition to simple yet extremely rich-in-flavor traditional Indian dishes. It’s a sort of curry but creamier, accompanied by spices, onions, tomatoes, cashews, and, of course, lots of butter.
Paneer is a typical Indian cottage cheese, often used in northern India. The cheese has an uncommon, less rubbery texture compared to western cheeses. It’s a creamy cheese with a milky and salty flavor; very interesting!
And the Peanut Butter Masala is a gravy that consists of lots of spices, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, garlic paste, red chili powder, and much more!
The consistency is creamy and thick, and the way the cheese blends in with the rich-in-flavor sauce is simply amazing. In Indian restaurants, the dish is typically served with plain basmati rice, jeera rice, or butter naan (a plain flatbread).
Another cheese-based dish, the Shashi Panner is also a thick gravy-like option, but that goes harder on the tomato sauce. Before you ask, the main difference between this dish and the Paneer Butter Masala is that this one has fewer whole spices and a slightly sweeter taste.
This could also be referred to as the “royal” version of the paneer dishes – “shahi” references the royal title in the Mughal empire. And there’s nothing like eating like a king, wouldn’t you agree?
This dish is also made with an onion-nut paste and can be enriched with yogurt (a beloved addition to many Indian dishes) and several delicious spices. The yogurt can also be replaced – or added to – other types of creams.
Just as the other paneer option, this dish is also typically served with different types of rice or butter naans.
This one is more of an appetizer than a main dish, but it’s worth the order anyway for its traditional (and delicious) approach to prawns. One of the few non-vegetarian options on our list, the Tandoori Prawns are an excellent way to open your experience in an Indian restaurant.
The dish is also great for those who don’t want to go so heavy on India’s more fatty dishes (‘cause there are a lot of them). These prawns are high in protein and low in carbs, perfect for those who want to stay fit during their trip!
The prawns are grilled and made with a classic mixture of Indian spices, lemon juice, garlic, red chili powder, powdered turmeric, and more.
The dish is typically served hot with mint chutney sauce or fried onions. You can also go with regular chutney on this if you prefer, as it also provides a great fit.
Like curry? Great! Why not try the Indian version of it, a potato curry full of delicious spices, perfect for a dinner meal in India?
Just as with many other traditional Indian dishes, this one can vary in its ingredients according to the region/restaurant you order it from. But we’ll talk about the most common recipe for it here.
“Aloo” means potato in Hindi. And, besides the obvious ingredient, this curry also consists of some sautéed onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and a mixture of traditional spices. The dish can be made both in a regular and in an instant pot, so be sure to ask how it’s being done to get an idea of how long it will take.
The taste can vary according to the ingredients used, but it’s comparable to a sort of stew without meat and, of course, spicier than usual.
Another delicious side dish addition to our list, the Masoor Dal is a sort of lentil-based stew, extremely rich in protein and flavors.
This plate is often served to people that want to replace the protein present in meat with an adequate vegetarian option. Red lentils are rich in protein and have a smooth texture that serves as a great replacement for meat texture, too.
The dish usually consists of lentils, tomatoes, green chili, mustard seeds, garlic cloves, curry leaves, chili powder, lemons, and more. The flavor is peppery and very rich, and the dish is served hot, with bread, rice, or extra veggies served as sides.
Two types of red lentils usually compose the plate: skinned and whole. Whole lentils are preferred by most, as they’re rich in both fiber and flavor.
Masala Chai (in a clay pot)
Ok, it’s time to diversify things a bit. India is a very crowded place and maybe you want to take some time to sit back and relax. Well, how ‘bout doing that with the help of a nice tea?
The Masala Chai is a traditional Indian tea that has milk and amazing spices added to it. The tea is known for its amazing scent and unique flavors. This tea also does amazing things for your health, as is rich in Vitamins A and C, and calcium. Another great option for the “fit” travelers!
The Masala Chai has literally thousands of variations, but the usual recipe consists of ingredients such as milk, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper, brown sugar, and cloves.
But make sure you drink it in a traditional clay pot. Trust me on this. it will enhance the earthy flavor and will give you the most amazing tea experience EVER!
This drink is a personal favorite. It’s similar to a smoothie but with a yogurt base and some spices — because, duh, India — and seasonal fruits.
Here I have to be completely honest, I only like sweet and fruity lassies. I’ve tasted salted lassi twice and it was … interesting. It’s herbal and highly spices salty milk that is usually served at breakfast. And for me, it’s a hard pass but I know a few friends that enjoy it. So at least, give it a try for the experience.
My personal favorite is either banana or mango lassi. But be careful because it’s usually way heavier than your regular smoothie so I wouldn’t order it with any additional food.
To wrap things up, I think a delicious dessert is a good way to go, wouldn’t you agree? The gulab jamun is the national dessert of India and it definitely earns its spot.
The dessert is a sort of “milk cake”, dipped in delicious sweet syrup. It’s made up mainly of khoya, a traditional Indian soft dough dairy, butter, almonds, and cashews. Modern versions of the dish can replace the khoya for powdered milk.
A heads up for those not-so-fond of sweets: this dish is very sugary, so be sure you have someone to share it with if you’re not a big fan.
Owner and Food blogger on The Cookware Geek. She loves cooking, baking, traveling, playing with the cats, and knitting. She believes that eating delicious meals doesn’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef in your kitchen.