Now I’m very well versed on Indian food, and I’m proud to say no ‘Delhi belly’ has taken me out of commission. If you’re unaware of this informal term, I’m referring to the intestinal infection that overcomes many tourists unaccustomed to the bacteria contamination of food and drink. I was nervous after hearing horror stories from fellow travelers, but it turns out my massive caloric intake was clean, just like my plates post-meals.
After recently stepping inside a local’s home for a cooking demo, I know exactly what goes into creating these Indian masterpieces. And believe me, they are exactly that – masterpieces. Each and every dish is created with varying spices, flavors and love.
To start, it’s important to know that food and flavors vary from north to south India. Not all calories are created equal. It makes sense though, right? Take the U.S. for example. You can’t find finger lickin’ fried chicken just anywhere. The south does it better. Obviously 🙂 All in all, India loves its curry, an umbrella term used to describe foods with various spices usually prepared in a sauce. That’s a commonality amongst all states. Same goes for juices – watermelon, pineapple and mango when it’s in season. Sweet lime otherwise. Orange only down south. And bananas are nothing short of everywhere.
Disclaimer: Reading further will undoubtedly make you hungry, putting your fingers to work as you hit up your local Indian take-out joint. Feast your eyes…
Northern India – Rajasthan
My first deep dive into Indian food came in Rajasthan. I learned that the region creates dishes with a rich sauce base. Restaurants are also good about asking westerners what kind of spice level they can handle. Phew, I’m glad they can see me shaking in my boots before I even begin. Here were some of my favorite meals from the north.
Paneer (cottage cheese) with mint sauce – I found this on many menus as well as on my plate various times 🙂 I’m always in for anything with cheese.
Curry Pakora – Yellow banana chili with a yogurt base and spiced vegetables cooked in.
Channa masala – Delicious chickpea mixture that stole the show, cooked inside a tangy tomato sauce.
Laal maas – Popular lamb dish that set my mouth-a-blaze. Think chillies galore, lots of ghee (butter) and fragrant spices that brought.the.heat. So much so that my brain shut down and I forgot to take a photo.
Bhuna gosht – Yet another lamb dish that left my entire mouth in flames. Not for the faint of heart.
Note that Northerners don’t eat beef because all hail the cow. It’s a sacred animal, but lamb and goat are in abundance.
Jalebi – NAME THAT MOVIE. Anyone?? Lion is my jam (DROOL Dev Patel), and I couldn’t have been more excited to find this pretzel-shaped treat on the side of the road. It was sweeter than I could have ever imagined which made sense once I found out it was made from deep fried flour and sugar syrup. #cleaneating
Ras malai – Literally meaning “juice” and “cream”, ras malai can best be described as the love child between cheesecake and tres leches cake with saffron and cardamom spices to add some Indian flare.
Custard Apple – I put this fruit on my Insta Stories asking everyone what it could possibly be. Replies came back in abundance, so much so that for the first time, I felt pretty inadequate as a travel blogger. Perhaps I should have known about this little fruit already, but somehow it evaded me. I guess I really need to get out more 😉 Custard Apple has many names depending on the geographic location of where it’s eaten. Its soft, creamy texture and fruity flavor implies its name.
Barfi – The term is actually derived from the word ‘barf’ meaning snow (not vomit, I know what you’re thinking). Main ingredients include sugar, condensed milk and cardamom with flavors being enhanced with fruits or nuts. Sold.
Kheer (north) or Payasam (south) – India’s version of rice pudding. MMM. The specific name depends on the geographic location in India, and usually a rice base is more widely used up north while mountainous regions use noodles. On my flight over, Air India served it with noodles. At the time, I ate half happy af and half dazed and confused (thx, ambien…so no photo).
Petha – This is one of my favorite desserts in all of India with a translucent look and unique flavor. Made from ash gourd (aka winter melon or white pumpkin) it’s one of the purest forms of desserts containing only vegetable water and sugar. Of course, many places jazz it up with other flavors, and it’s widely loved up north.
Kachori – Mmm carbs. This is like a fried puff pastry with spices in the middle. I ate the street food one night for dinner outside of Jaipur and immediately fell in love.
Pakora – One size does not fit all here. Pakoras come in many shapes and sizes and flavors, although all come deep fried. I’ve had the sweet version with bananas and the fried onion ring version that literally tasted straight out of a Sonic. I wasn’t made about it.
Samosa – Little fried carbohydrate triangles filled with a medley of savory spices and fillings like potatoes, onions, veggies, etc. You may have had these from your local take-out joint.
South India – Kerala
Ooh how sweet it was to arrive in the Land of Coconuts. That’s what the southern state of Kerala is dubbed. Doesn’t that sound dreamy? Like what more could one need in life than a coconut and a palm tree? Plenty exist here, and I was blissed out hard.
We’ll start with the obvious. I’m in love with the coco…turns out, so are the locals down south. From coconut shells to coconut oils to coconut fibers to coconut milk, they certainly don’t let any part of the fruit, or er, nut, go to waste. Coconut curry FTW!
Seafood is a huge staple down here from snapper to prawns to whatever is fished out of the ocean. I was baffled to find out that locals actually eat beef down here as well! Apparently the cow is not so holy here since the vibe is more relaxed. Christmas is also celebrated, palm trees are in abundance, and life goes by a little bit slower here. I like it, I like it a lot.
Back to food. In terms of flavors, I noticed that the meat or fish served actually do the talking. They tend to be spiced just right without drowning in rich sauce. Flavors tend to be smoother here, not so much a hit-you-in-the-face kind of spice that’ll knock your tongue off.
More observations: Oranges grow down here due to the warm weather, something I coveted greatly since I traveled much of India with a bit of a cold. Vitamin C to the rescue.
General Favorites of India
Curry, dal, naan, papadum, rice, yogurt, lassi, masala chai, and a medley of veggies can be eaten just about anywhere in India. I found a good friend in the yogurt since it’s main purpose for me was to cool down the heat from the blistering spices. I could more or less live off of naan, lassis, and chai…basically carbs, yogurt and caffeine. Sums me up pretty damn well 🙂
Thank you, India cuisine, for setting off a gluttonous love affair between my taste buds and stomach the past two weeks. You’re the real MVP.
Let me know your favorite Indian dishes below!