By Carissa Hickok
India is a country in which it is near impossible to pick a national food. The sheer diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and religions means a certain city’s eating habits may be drastically different from its neighbors. However, there are a few patterns of Indian cuisine to watch out for, as well as a few notable foods one must try during their stay in India.
India has a reputation for being the vegetarian capital of the world. Many Indians either choose a vegetarian lifestyle or are forced to have one, due largely to religious reasons. This makes the country quite accessible to vegans and other forms of vegetarianism, as well as giving many delicious examples to meat eaters of what a vegetarian diet could look like.
Some staples of an Indian meal include whole-wheat flour, rice, beans, and a variety of spices. The type of spices used differs largely by region; however, the most common ones include chili pepper, cumin, ginger, coriander, and garlic. Food is often cooked in vegetable or peanut oil, although other oils can also be found in various regions.
It is impossible to discuss Indian food without mentioning curry. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one dish that is considered “curry” – the word comes from Southern Indian languages, and simply means “fried” or “sauce”. Therefore, curry simply consists of dishes that are made in a sauce, and typically contain a complex combination of spices. Although many are vegetarian, they can also be made with various meats and types of seafood. For example, in the state of Kerala, curries are typically made with coconut milk and mustard seeds, which reflect the state’s rich biodiversity.
Although it can be a rare delicacy in the inland regions, seafood is an essential part of the diet for those living on the coast. Goa is one of the best examples of this - fish is as essential to a Goan’s diet as rice. Shark, mackerel, tuna and kingfish are all commonly found, and often paired with coconut milk. Goa is also a great place for lobster, crab, and mussels, as well as squid to try for the more adventurous eaters.
Most Westerners are familiar with the lack of beef in India – Hindus consider cows to be sacred, and thus off limits for human consumption. However, other meats are readily available in various regions. For example, the region of Kashmir considers lamb an integral part of their diet. One notable dish from this area is wazwan, a multi-course meal that is considered an art to create. Almost all the courses are made with lamb or chicken.
Another region with heavier meat consumption is Tamil Nadu, another popular coastal tourist state. Although most residents are still vegetarian, both chicken and goat are readily accessible here, typically eaten along with rice and vegetables. Food in this region also tends to be spicier than the rest of the country, so don’t neglect the after-meal yogurt many residents will eat.
Indian food is much too diverse and complicated to be fully discussed in one article. I hope this gives you a glimpse of the many delicious meals that are waiting for you should you visit India.
Carissa enjoys traveling so much that she left the corporate world to work as a freelancer, which allows her to up and go on a regular basis. She lives with her dachshund, Daphne in central Florida.