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    The Guide To Navigating The Flavorful World Of Indian Cuisine

    The Guide To Navigating The Flavorful World Of Indian Cuisine

    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

    Indian cuisine is as bold, colorful, and diverse as Indian culture itself. For the newbie, that means learning what’s what in Indian cuisine can prove difficult, and sometimes result in less than desirable side effects (like Delhi Belly.)

    Here’s your ultimate guide to Indian cuisine. If you’re not headed to the country any time soon, then at the very least, you’ll know how to order food like a savvy pro the next time you head to an Indian restaurant.

    surati farsan

    Photo by ndalya via Flickr

    The Ultimate Guide To Indian Cuisine

    The Basics:

    Although food styles vary significantly throughout the country, there is an overall baseline that rings true for most basic Indian meals: rice, dal, and curry.

    Dal and Pilau Rice

    Photo by su-lin via Flickr

    The most basic Indian meal begins with a generous heaping of rice. This rice will be mixed with dal: a thick lentil soup. You will most likely be served a curried vegetable on the side to mix in with your rice and dal as you please. The most common curries include potato and cauliflower, okra, and egg, but there are several variations. Added to this baseline meal, you will most likely be served some sort of bread, such as: naan, chapati, or roti. Occasionally meat will also accompany the meal, most commonly, chicken, mutton, goat, fish, or prawns.

    Variations Galore

    Indian Spices

    Photo by saramarlowe via Flickr

    Depending on which area of the country you visit, or who the chefs at your favorite restaurant are, you will be offered different types of food. South India is significantly spicier and saucier, while North India is typically easy on the heat and heavy on the carbs.

    So what exactly do all of these Indian names mean? Here are few examples of Indian foods to serve as a foundation of understanding this rich cuisine:

    Idli & Sambar

    Idli and Sambar

    Photo by astrolondon via Flickr

    This is a South Indian breakfast staple. Idli is a thick yet airy rice cake while sambar is a thin vegetable stew made with tamarind. It is often served with coconut chutney. (Chutney is a spicy condiment that is made of vegetables or fruits. Some variations include coconut, ginger, tomato, mango etc.)

    Chole Bhatoora

    This is a common breakfast item found throughout the North, especially the North West. Bhatoora is a type of soft, fried bread that puffs up to have a hollow center. It is dipped in chana masala--chana meaning chickpeas, and masala meaning a spicy curry.


    onion rava mysore masala dosa innards

    Photo by pabo76 via Flickr

    Dosas are traditional South Indian breakfast items served with the same sides as idli: sambar (veggie stew) and coconut chutney (Indian condiment.) Dosas are large, thin rice pancakes that are resemblant of a crepe. They can be eaten plain with sambar and chutney, or they can be stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, onions, and other vegetables and seasonings.

    Tandoori Chicken

    Mazza Barbecue Half Chicken

    Photo by deadhorse via Flickr

    Tandoori chicken is an Indian classic. It consists of slow, fire-roasted chicken that is bright red in color and has a dry, smoky taste. It is traditionally cooked in a large clay oven, called a Tandoor.

    Butter Chicken

    Butter chicken is probably the least intimidating of the bunch. Chicken is smothered in a thick, creamy sauce that is sweet to the taste, and for a change, not spicy.

    Dal Makhani

    Dal Makhani is a thick, lentil stew loaded with beans and topped with cream. It’s a North Indian dish that is a rich brown color and is more savory than spicy.


    Biryani Dajaaj

    Photo by webmonk via Flickr

    Biryani can be served with chicken or as vegetarian. It is the “creme de la creme” of Indian cuisine and is most commonly associated with important events or festivities. It is a rice dish that consists of layers of rice and seasonings that have marinated for hours. It is usually served with a raita, a cucumber yogurt sauce similar to Tzatziki sauce.



    Photo by kalyan via Flickr

    Samosas are among the most commonly known Indian foods. They are considered a snack, or “fast-food,” but are occasionally eaten for breakfast. Samosas are deep fried shells stuffed most often with potatoes or chickpeas. They are served with either mint chutney or tomato chutney on the side.


    Panipuri is a common Indian snack, and one of the most popular types of Indian street food. It is a ultra-thin, crispy fried dough with a hollow center that is stuffed with potato, onions, chickpeas, and tamarind. They are submerged in spice-mixed water and popped completely into the mouth.

    Aloo Gobi

    Aloo Gobi - Cauliflower & Potato Curry

    Photo by nettsu via Flickr

    Aloo Gobi is a common North Indian curry made from potato (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi) mixed into a saucy curry.


    Paneer is one of the few Indian cheese dishes. Paneer is a different type of cheese, made from curd, and is similar to tofu. It is mixed into a curry either by itself or with a vegetable, such as spinach (palak paneer.)

    Indian cuisine is rich in flavor, versatile in taste, and stocked with health benefits. Don’t let the names intimidate you--there is a whole world of Indian cuisine just waiting for you to dive right into. This is only a basic introduction to the marvelous world of Indian food, but keep this guide handy and you’ll have no problem devouring some great Indian eats. 

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A Cruising Couple A Cruising Couple's Column

A Cruising Couple Dan and Casey are the two lovebirds, world travelers and adventurers extraordinaire behind the popular travel blog A Cruising Couple - adventure travel with a dash of class. Their stories and photographs feature that special place where experiential and stylish travel meet. Find out how you can spend less money, live more adventurously and travel more luxuriously on their blog,
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