The food lovers need not have any different resolution for the year 2019, than to explore the different flavours of India. Here is your ultimate eatlist to get started with!
The Indian thali is flavour in harmony
Throughout India, thali refers to both a set meal and the platter on which it is served. While there are huge regional variations, the aim of a good thali is to provide six complementary dishes that represent the tastes of salty, sweet, bitter, sour, sharp and spicy. Served with rice on a metal platter or, if you’re in the south, a banana leaf, thali is eaten without cutlery. Create your perfect flavour combination by mixing and rolling your own rice ball.
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Refuel on one of India’s most successful exports while seeing Kolkata’s sights
With the sights and sounds swirling about you, these chewy, mildly spiced parcels are ideal on-the-go street food. Hold one safely in one hand, while checking directions in your guidebook with the other. Every region in India has its own version of the samosa, from the Punjab, where the filling is dominated by potatoes and peas; to Gujarat, where finely chopped potatoes are mixed with cabbage; via Karnataka, where onion and minced mutton are popular; and Delhi, where fillings go off the rails with the likes of moong dal in the mix. But we’re plumping for the Bengali samosa in Kolkata – known here as a shingara. Its mix of potatoes, peas, cauliflower, chillies, a dash of cumin and peanuts or even, in the posher sweet shops, cashew nuts, is a total winner. As a sightseeing pick-me-up in Kolkata, nothing can beat the pairing of a cup of chai with one of these flaky pastries.
The ubiquitous dish that has become an essential addition to any gastronomic occasion
Dal is undoubtedly India’s culinary leveller and collective comfort food, a meal that is eaten at humble street stalls, high-end restaurants and everything in-between. Whether you eat it among the chaos of Delhi’s streets or in the air-conditioned cool of a restaurant, this is a food for the people, by the people. The best dals are cooked for hours for maximum creaminess and most include spices such as cumin, turmeric, garam masala, chilli, mustard seeds, ginger and garlic. In tarka dal the spices are fried in ghee and added to the creamy mixture, giving it a smoky flavour; dal makhani from the Punjab is made with black lentils and red kidney beans with butter and cream for extra richness; and in the south the sambhar dal is generously heaped with seasonal vegetables. There are seemingly endless varieties and combinations of types of split peas and different spices in this staple, all of them worth seeking out.
India’s sweet-tangy crunchy- spicy magic
Mumbai’s Chowpatty beach at night is teeming with families, lovers, friends and tourists all eating different types of chaats – savoury snacks. And the snack that keeps them coming back for more is bhel puri – a perfect combo of crunchy puffed rice and fried chickpea-flour noodles, with a smattering of soft cooked potato chunks for texture and handfuls of spicy chillies and onions. Rich brown tamarind sauce brings sweetness and tanginess and coriander-based green chutney brightens everything up. Bought from street stalls all over India, it’s eaten from paper cones by the handful. On sweltering days – and nights – in this maelstrom of a country, it’s the ultimate pick-me-up.
It’s your culinary saviour in southern India’s urban sprawls
Amid the swirling, noisy rush of a city street, the delicate crunch, subtle tanginess and aromatic spiciness of a fresh masala dosa can feel like a cool breeze. At any time of day too – they are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or any time in-between. The dosa is made from a fermented batter of ground rice and lentils, cooked thinly on a griddle until crispy on one side but soft and light on the other, the resulting crêpe folded around a filling of potato, onion, curry leaves, turmeric and mixed spices (the masala), and usually served with coconut chutney.
Go veggie with a vada pav in Mumbai
It’s not the kind of street food that springs to mind when you think of snacking on the go in Mumbai. But what could be better than a beachside veggie burger to go? Goan-style soft white bread rolls are packed with a crispy fried potato patty with toasted green chilli pepper and chutney. Grab one from the beachside kiosk then sit and watch the couples strolling and families playing in the sand of Chowpatty beach before visiting a nearby temple to see the faithful perform their evening prayers. By which time you’ll probably be ready for another vada pav.
Plan for one in modernist Chandigarh
Several South Asian countries lay claim to this minced mutton and pea curry, but we’re plumping for Chandigarh, for the city is a beguiling example of urban planning. After a day of sightseeing the elegant modernist civic centre of Le Corbusier’s Secretariat, Punjab and Haryana High Court and Legislative Assembly and, for a different perspective, the quirky Nek Chand Rock Garden, sitting down to a plate of keema matar will just seem, well, right. Eat a plateful in the circular, three-storey Panjab University Students’ Centre known to all as the ‘Stu-C’.
Tandoori: the red-hot chicken dish of Delhi
The enclosed restaurants of Pandara Road Market serve some of Delhi’s tastiest north Indian cuisine. The food is quite affordable – at Pindi, for example. The chicken, named for the tandoor oven in which it’s cooked, is marinated in curd or yoghurt and masala spices, including the distinctive cayenne and red chilli powder that gives the meat its bright colour. Beware, there’s no scrimping on the fiery spices here.
Paranthe Wali Gali
Pick a paratha, any paratha, in Delhi’s food alley
Like a microcosm of Delhi itself, the narrow laneway known as Paranthe Wali Gali is a teeming, chaotic, stomach-rumbling circus dedicated to food. In this case, it’s the paratha. There are close to 30 different restaurants and stalls to choose from, all serving this stuffed deep-fried flatbread, and every one of them is good. The cooks here work at a frightening pace; the stuffing and frying, all carried out at the front of the shops, is a blur.
Get sweet on sandesh in classic Kolkata stores
Bengalis are fervent about sandesh, as the plethora of sweet shops that fill the City of Joy’s streets and markets attest. Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick, dating to 1885, is one of the oldest and best places to enjoy this simple Bengali treat. Made from chenna, a type of whey from curdled milk with added sugar, the mixture is infused with all manner of flavours and shaped into small round or square biscuits.
Try a little tenderness with a raan biriyani in Mumbai
Centuries ago, the purpose of a good raan was to take the least desirable cuts of tough meat and transform them into something not only tasty, but tender. To achieve this, nomadic chefs would first marinate then fry the meat before adding layers of rice and masala (mixed spices). The whole dish would then be slow-cooked to succulent, mouthwatering perfection. Today’s cooks tend to select a choice leg of mutton to guarantee tenderness, and while the general biryani technique remains the same, the secrets of its sublime taste are often family secrets. It’s best to accept you’ll never know which spices should go in the marinade or how much ghee should be used to baste the meat. Just enjoy a little tenderness. Founded in 1970, Shalimar on Mohammad Ali Rd has become synonymous with succulent raan biryani in Mumbai.
Make a meal of murgh makhani in its Delhi home
Go to almost any Indian restaurant in the world and you can count on murgh makhani (butter chicken) being on the menu, but if you can, eat it at Old Delhi’s Moti Mahal; this legendary six-generation restaurant is a retro delight. Velvety chunks of yoghurt-marinated chicken simmered in a buttery tomato gravy, murgh makhani is one of India’s most-loved curries. Like many iconic dishes, its origins are shrouded in mystery, but most believe it was created by a Delhi restaurateur in the 1950s, based on recipes from his native Punjab. Eat it with basmati rice and tandoor-blistered rounds of naan, balancing the curry’s mildness with a dab of mint chutney. Warm and creamy with a hint of toasty spices, it’s the definition of comfort food.
Celebrate the colourful festival sweet of northern India
There’s something about the tantalisingly sweet and syrupy gulab jamun (gulab meaning rose and jamun meaning berry) that makes it the perfect dessert to eat on the streets of northern India during festivals such as Eid, Holi, Diwali and Navratri, when they’re particularly prevalent – maybe because the glistening reds and fiery oranges of these small, doughnut-like balls soaking in sugared rose water syrup make them look so, well, joyful.