- Everyday Life
Tips and Tricks around Food in India
07 Sep 2021
Eating and drinking in India is an absolute adventure - we have the best tips for finding your way through the jungle of options and uncertainties. Food in India is as diverse as the people, geography and culture in the different regions. So you can expect to find new taste sensations in every corner of the country.
Differences between North and South India
You will not only find the juxtaposition of North and South India in Indian cuisine. The languages, culture and climate are also very different. The latter has a significant influence on what is put on the table. While many dishes in the heat of the south are prepared with fresh coconut, you will find more cream and ghee (clarified butter) in north Indian dishes.
South India is a true paradise for vegetarians. Although more meat tends to be eaten in the north of the country, you'll find excellent vegetarian dishes as well as great meat and fish dishes all over India.
Check out what it's like to be a vegetarian in India and how veganism is spreading in India.
One major difference of Indian food in North and South is the staples. Dishes in North India are usually served with bread - circular chapatis, multi-layered parathas, hot fried puris and fluffy naans - a real treat for those who love flatbreads. In South India, rice is considered indispensable. Rice is not only popular as a classic staple, but also processed into rice pancakes (dosa), rice cakes (idli) or as rice flakes for breakfast.
The extremes of food in India
The intensity of the different flavours can be overwhelming at first. In time, you will see that it is all based on a formula of balance. In a thali, a dish with many different curries and accompaniments, you will often find a mellowing yoghurt or buttermilk alongside spicy curries, as well as the popular sour pickles and a sweet. Speaking of which, when we write sweet, we mean really sweet. Not only sweets drenched in sugar water, but even the morning chai will already cover the daily sugar requirement.
One contrast that is often played with in Indian food is sweet and salty. So you can have caramel and cheese popcorn mixed at the cinema, order your lemonade in the afternoon with sugar and salt, or enjoy sliced fruit sprinkled with savoury chaat masala as a snack.
Coffee or Tea?
In India, you can hardly get around chai – black tea with milk and lots of sugar. You'll find it at every street corner throughout the country, in charming tea houses and even on the train you'll meet the famous chaiwallas, who delight travellers with a thermos full of tea. Coffee is also sold at street stalls and on the train. This is mostly instant coffee. But as with chai, the taste is overpowered by lots of milk and sugar anyway.
The Indian tea-growing regions of Darjeeling, Assam or Nilgiri are renowned worldwide. But did you know India also grows coffee? The climatic conditions in the south of the country are particularly well suited for cultivation. South Indian coffee is a true delicacy. The aroma really unfolds when it is poured from the cup into the saucer and back again with great skill and theatricality. This peculiarity of cooling the coffee (and also chai) can only be found in South India. In recent years, there are more and more cafés in India's big cities that roast Indian coffee, praise it and celebrate it in the form of cappuccino and latte macchiato. By the way, a visit to a coffee plantation is also highly recommended!
Indian Street Food, do or don’t?
Indians love their street food and eat at street stalls every day. In contrast to Western stomachs they are used to this kind of food. When it comes to Indian street food, opinions vary widely among experienced travellers to India. Some refrain from eating from street stalls altogether to avoid the risk of getting sick. Others, however, are ardent advocates of street food as an expression of everyday culture and diversity.
Indian Street Food prepared in large pans, pots and bowls right on the side of the road tends to be less hygienic. However, there are some things you can look out for when buying from street stalls. For fruit and vegetables, the rule is: peel it, cook it or forget it! If you do fancy a piece of melon or guava, it should at least be cut open right in front of you.
Anything that lies open on a stand all day should be avoided. If something is freshly cooked or fried in front of you, you know that at least some of the germs have been cooked off. You should be careful with juices or lemonades if you don't know where the water comes from, because unfiltered water can make you sick. Also be especially careful with milk ice cream, because an interrupted cold chain can quickly become your undoing in the hot temperatures of India.
In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to street food in India. What is certain: with the risk also comes the chance of a great taste explosion.
Water – What you should know!
The heat and dusty roads make you thirsty quickly, but be careful: you should never drink water from the tap. The water is not filtered and can make you sick, especially during the monsoon season. Therefore, you will find water filters in every restaurant, hotel and office to supply you with fresh water.
If you are offered water from jugs in a restaurant, you should ask if it has been filtered. Packaged water is always the safest option. But be careful: Before you buy a water bottle, make sure that the cap is still sealed. Old bottles may be refilled and sold.
We hope these tips on food in India will help you to enjoy the culinary experiences to the fullest. With curiosity and an open mind, you can discover true treasures of Indian cuisine. However, if you have any questions or further uncertainties, please do not hesitate to contact us!
Written by: Tanja Holbe
Cover Photo: Indian Thali (Credit: Rajat Sarki - Unsplash)
Photo: Indian Snacks with green chili (Credit: Reshu Drolia - Unsplash)
Photo: Frying Puris (Credit: Ashwini Chaudhary - Unsplash)
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