Indian food is characterized by the subtle use of spices and vegetables, it varies from region to region. The main staples of Indian food are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, vegetables are cooked in vegetable oil. In North and West India, groundnut oil has traditionally been most popular for cooking, while in Eastern India, Mustard oil is more commonly used, in South India coconut oil is used.
The spices commonly used are chili pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (Haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing, perungayam), ginger (adrak, inji), coriander, and garlic (lassan, poondu).
North Indian food uses a high proportion of dairy products like milk, paneer, ghee, and yogurt. In South India, there is great emphasis on rice and the liberal use of coconut oil and curry leaves. The dosa, poori, idli, vada, bonda, and bajji are typically South Indian favorites. In East India desserts are famous, sweets such as rasagolla, chumchum, sandesh, rasabali, chhena poda, chhena gaja, and kheeri. While Western India has Gujarati, Maharashtrian, and Goan food as popular.
Tea is a staple beverage throughout India, wherein the tea leaves are boiled in a mix of water, spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger, and large quantities of milk to create a thick, sweet, milky concoction. India also has many indigenous alcoholic beverages, including palm wine, fenny, bhang, and Indian beer.
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Understand Indian food with our ultimate food glossary
Aachar or Pickles
A spicy mixture of fruits and vegetables like mango, lime, green chilies, etc. The Aachar or pickles have strong flavors and delighted with any Indian meal.
Aloo Tikki is an Indian street food snack made with boiled potatoes, aromatic spices, and herbs. Aloo Tikki literally means potato patties which can be studded with a spiced mixture of green peas or chana dal (split chickpeas) or paneer. Served with sweet tamarind-jaggery chutney and hot green chutney along with onions and yogurt.
A vegetarian dish using chickpeas, potatoes, and tamarind makes it popular comfort food.
Bhajji or Pakoras
A bhaji is a spicy Indian snack. The main ingredient of this is made into dough with rice, gram flour, and then flavored with many herbs and spices. The bhaji is fried until golden and then served. It is most commonly onion-based.
A bhuna curry dish is cooked ‘dry’ in hot oil. By cooking dry, the bhuna becomes one of the most flavourful curry dishes as the meat marinates in the own juices with the spices and herbs.
Balchao, Prawn Balchao
The shrimp is marinated in a brine sauce: a Goan specialty where vegetables like aubergines or seafood like prawns are “pickled” in sugar, vinegar, and spices for a day or two before eating.
A dessert made from milk that has been cooked slowly and reduced to a fudge-like consistency. This sweet is flavored with either saffron, vanilla essence, cocoa, rose water, etc. Sometimes nuts and fresh coconut is added. Eaten and served in bite-sized pieces “Barfi” is a very popular after-dinner dessert.
The name of biryani originally is of Persian derivative. The Persian word beryã means fried or roasted. It is a Mughlai dish of rice dish that has a variety of lots of layers of spices and rice, and can involve additions such as chicken.
Butter chicken (it’s is easy!) flavored with curcumin, cumin, coriander, etc. It’s basically a gravy the chicken is cooked in with plenty of warm spices, a hint of tomato, and some cream.
A spicy vegetable dish, with a pulp-like consistency. A commonly made bharta is a “baingan” (eggplant) bharta.
One of Bombay’s favorite snacks. It is a mixture of puffed rice, “sev”, “puri”, lentils, finely chopped onions, chopped coriander topped with two kinds of chutneys; one is the sweet tamarind date chutney and the other is the spicy cilantro chutney.
A smallish fish native to the Bombay area known locally as Bommbil. It is dried and appears on the table as a crispy shallow-fried starter or as an accompaniment to a curry.
Marinated boneless cubes of meat cooked in a tandoor.
To Indians, the term curry means gravy or sauce, Curries are what made Indian cuisine famous all over the world, the most famous of all is the Chicken Curry. Residents of the rest of the world, however, have come to think of “curry” as simply a thick creamy yellow sauce or any dish seasoned with a curry-powder blend, whether it has a sauce or not. An authentic Indian curry is an intricate combination of a stir-fried wet masala (a mixture of onion, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes), various spices and seasonings with which meat, poultry, vegetables or fish is prepared to produce a stew-type dish.
Chutney is a very common condiment used in Indian cooking. Flavors of chutneys can range vastly from any chopped fruit or vegetable which is cooked in vinegar, sugar, and spices.
Chaats are traditional Indian street foods made with layers of bold flavors and textures. Chaat is a term signifying a variety of Indian street foods which usually combine salty, spicy, sweet, and sour flavors.
Chana masala is simply chickpeas cooked in an onion, ginger, and garlic-based sauce with garam masala added to it. Often served with rice or Indian flatbreads such as roti or naan, then garnished with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.
Boneless chicken marinated in garlic, oregano, saffron, and other Middle Eastern spices. Served on a bed of rice and fresh vegetables with housemade garlic dip.
Daal is the Indian word for lentils and is often used to describe any lentil curry, be it stewed or steamed. Dal can also be used to describe a soup-like dish prepared with lentils. Dals are the primary source of protein in a vegetarian diet. Dals are cooked whole or pureed, depending on the dish. Ground powdered dal is used in unleavened bread and crackers, and even in spice mixtures.
Dal Makhani is a popular Indian lentil dish, it consists of red kidney beans and whole black lentils, which also go under the name urad. The dish is prepared with hefty amounts of ghee and various seasonings such as ginger garlic paste and chili, and it is slowly cooked in a rich, tomato-based sauce.
A popular delicacy from southern India made from rice and “urad” dal. They are usually made very thin and pancake-like and sometimes filled with a spiced potato mixture. Served with chutney and “sambar”.
A way to steam foods in a pot with a tightly covered lid or a sealed pot. A popular spiced vegetable dish is “Dum Aloo”. In the olden days, the utensil was sealed with atta (dough) to capture the moisture within the food as it cooked slowly over a charcoal fire. Some coal was placed on the lid to ensure even cooking. The food continued to cook in its own steam, retaining all its flavor and aroma. Dum means, “to steam” or “mature” a dish.
The Goan drink made from cashews or coconut is the perfect beach drink. It was originally a very basic and local drink, much like toddy.
Gulab Jamun is deep-fried dumplings/donuts made of dried milk [khoya] are dipped in rose-cardamom flavored sugar syrup.
Indian sweet made from a variety of finely grated vegetables, milk, and sugar and flavored with cardamom. The consistency is that of a thick pudding. Among the popular halwa is the “Gajar Halwa”.
Hariyali is a general Indian term for ‘greenery’. Hariyali can signify the use of any green vegetables or herbs in a dish.
South Indian steamed rice cakes: a very popular snack from the south of India. Generally eaten with “sambar” and “chutney”.
These sweet crisp round whirls, made from plain flour and water deep-fried and then dipped in sugar syrup, served hot or cold, make a favorite Indian dessert.
Korma is a preparation where protein is cooked with a yogurt-based sauce flavored with ginger and garlic. The rich sauce thickened with yogurt, nuts, or poppy seeds, fragrantly seasoned with aromatic spices.
Kashmir or Kashmiri refers to a region in India. A Kashmir curry, therefore, refers to a dish that originated in this region. A Kashmir curry is often very sweet as it is cooked with fresh cream, spices, and mixed fruit.
Keema is a stew that is usually prepared as a curry with ingredients such as minced lamb or goat meat, green peas, potatoes, ginger, chili, onions, ghee, garlic, and garam masala spices.
Khichdi is a South Asian dish consisting of rice and lentils, its name derived from the Sanskrit khiccā, denoting a dish of rice and legumes.
Marinated and spiced small pieces of any meat, poultry, fish, ground meat, vegetables, skewered and grilled in a tandoor/oven or over a grill. Kebabs can also be shallow fried over a pan.
Mutton/chicken/fish or vegetable ball mixed with fresh herbs.
Essentially a rice pudding made with rice, milk, and sugar flavored with cardamom. Sometimes nuts are added. Served either hot or cold.
Kulfi is one of the most famous Indian desserts. It is a frozen dessert made from evaporated milk, condensed milk, and double cream. Although very similar sounding to ice cream, kulfi isn’t whipped therefore is denser.
Lassi is an Indian yogurt-based drink. A plain lassi is a blended yogurt, water, salt, pepper, and spices. Adding a variety of different spices, juices and fruits can create your own individual twist on the lassi.
Lime pickle is a condiment that is used very often in Indian food. This is prepared by setting limes and chilies in direct sun for 2 to 3 weeks. The mixture will thicken and take on a strong and powerful flavor.
Masala is a description of a mixture of spices. This mixture can be either dry or paste form and often consists of garlic, ginger, cardamom, coriander, and onions.
Masala dosa is one of the most popular South Indian food. It is a thin crepe stuffed with potatoes, cooked with spices and sauces.
Methi is a curry that is heavily flavored with fenugreek, through either dried leaves or ground seeds. The unique taste of the fenugreek adds a depth to the curry with a smoky, almost caramel flavor.
Momos (traditional Tibetan dish, but sold all over India)
A kind of ravioli with vegetables or meat
A specialty dish of the whole chicken, marinated in yogurt and spices for 24 hours then stuffed and roasted.
Mutton with a creamy sauce flavored with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
The naga pepper is one of the hottest peppers in the world, therefore any naga curry dish is sure to be incredibly spicy!
Indian cheese made from simple curd and drained milk, cooked in small pieces in vegetarian cuisine.
Panipuri is an extremely popular Indian snack. It consists of a hollow puri that is fried until crispy, then stuffed with a combination of flavored water called pani, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, potatoes, onions, hot chillis, and chickpeas.
Paan is an Indian street food delicacy, which each recipe varying. A stuffed betel leaf, the Paan can be customized to your favorite flavors to upgrade it from its original purpose of a palette freshener.
Pappadums are a thin crispy Indian wafer. The crunchy delicacy is made from chickpea or gram flour is mixed with salt and peanut oil to create a dough and then deep-fried.
Pav Bhaji is a vegetable curry that is typically served with a soft bread roll known as pav. There are a lot of varieties of the basic pav bhaji, with added cheese, paneer, mushrooms, plantains, and even dried fruits thrown in the flavorful curry mix.
Delicately flavored rice, sautéed in ghee, and flavored with whole spices like cumin, cloves, etc. Just like Indian cuisine, there are many varieties of Pulao.
Ras malai is a popular Indian dessert consisting of white cream, sugar, milk, and cardamom-flavored paneer cheese known as chhana. Almonds, cashews, and saffron are often added to the dessert.
One of the most famous Indian sweets that originated from east India. The walnut-size balls of semolina and milk are cooked in a light sugar syrup, flavored with cardamom.
Raita is a condiment primarily used to cool the pallet, particularly alongside a very hot curry dish. It is yogurt based with notes of fragrant coriander and soothing cucumber.
Kind of spring roll with chicken/mutton/cheese or vegetables/mushrooms.
Rogan literally means to be cooked in oil at intense heat. In terms of curry dishes, a Rogan dish is normally a lamb or goat cooked in paprika and a tomato-based sauce.
Rogan Josh gosht
Rich lamb curry, literally meaning “red juice lamb”. It is a traditional Northern Indian dish of lamb that is marinated in yogurt, then cooked with ghee and spices and tomato.
Shahi means royal. Paneer is the soft and tender Indian cottage cheese. Shahi Paneer is an exotic curry made with onions, tomatoes, nuts, and cream. It’s typically not a spicy curry. It’s packed with mild fragrant flavors with Paneer cubes dunk in it.
Sherbat is the perfect thirst-quenching and refreshing drink for the summer. It is a syrup that is made from fruits and flower petals and served with water and ice.
A popular Indian food that contains spicy potato or meat filling that is wrapped in triangular dough and deep-fried.
Greens, mostly often spinach but can be mustard or other greens.
Sambhar or sambar
Lentil curry from the south of India. Served as an accompaniment with “idli” and “dosa”.
Seekh Kebab or sheek kebab
The word “Seekh” in Hindi means skewer. Seekh kebab simply means kebabs on a skewer. Kebabs are usually made out of ground lamb mixed with various spices, cooked in a “tandoor”.
A mixture of seeds and sweeteners for chewing after a meal. It usually includes aniseed or fennel, shredded betel nut, sugar balls, marrow seeds, etc
Tadka or Chounk
Spices and herbs are added one at a time to hot oil and this tempering is either done as the first step in the cooking process, before adding the vegetables for example, or as the last, pouring the tempered oil over a cooked dish. The oil extracts and retains all the sharp flavors of the spices and flavors the entire dish.
A full meal of vegetables/meat, dal, rice, chapati, yogurt
Tandoori is a term to denote how meat is cooked. The meat for a tandoori dish must be marinated in yogurt and tandoori masala. This gives the distinctive orange hue associated with tandoori. The meat is then cooked at very high temperatures in the tandoor, a traditional Indian clay oven.
This is the bright red world famous Tandoori Chicken. Chicken marinated with spices, dried red peppers, and yogurt, cooked in a tandoor.
Tikka is a traditional method of preparing meat. Tikka is quite similar to tandoori methods in that the meat is marinated in spices and yogurt and cooked in the tandoor. A tikka is then brushed with ghee to give a unique flavor.
Vadas are deep-fried dumplings or flat patties served with pav bread. It can be called as Mumbai’s own burger as it is one of the most famous Mumbai’s food.
Fried lentil/vegetables in the shape of small rings eaten with chutney.
A medley of vegetables, herbs, and spices formed into patties, lightly breaded and fried. Served with cilantro and tamarind chutneys.
Meat usually pork is used to make this very spicy and flavorful dish. Cooked in vinegar and typically served 2 to 3 days after it is made.
A Goan dish using chicken and coconut.
Chapati/chapathi: A chapatti is an unleavened bread made very simply from whole grain flour, water, and salt. This dough is made into thin discs that puffs up following a steaming using an open flame.
Roti: is Bread in Hindi. “Tandoori roti” is the bread that is baked in a tandoor, “Rumali Roti” or literally meaning handkerchief bread is a kind of a thin and flaky Partha made up of many layers.
Naan: bread made from flour and yeast, baked (half leavened dough)
Parantha: Whole-wheat unleavened flatbread. It is sometimes filled with cooked ground meat or a vegetable mixture. Slightly larger than a Chapatti and shallow fried to perfection.
Puri: Deep-fried whole-wheat flatbreads. They are usually around 4 inches in diameter and puff up when deep-fried. Delicious when hot!
Papadam: crispy pancake made from lentils flour, flame cooked, or oil cooked. Sometimes flavored with cumin or chili
Kulcha: Flatbread often stuffed with onion or potatoes and seasoned with cilantro.
Naan Keema: Baked naan bread, stuffed with a thin layer of minced meat curry
Naan Peshwari: Baked naan bread stuffed with almonds and or cashews and or raisins.
Suggested Read:15 Interesting Facts about Indian Food
- Samosa. This delicious option is a food that even those new to Indian cooking may have tried. ...
- Dal Soup. If you are a fan of soups, especially vegetarian ones, then you must try a bowl of dal. ...
- Curry. ...
- Tandoori Chicken. ...
- Tandoori Fish. ...
- Biryani. ...
- Masala. ...
Chaat: The all-inclusive word for Indian Street Food. Dosa: South Indian crepe made from fermented rice and lentil batter. Idli: Steamed lentil cakes made from fermented rice and lentil batter. Sambar: South Indian Lentil, served with Idli and Dosa.
India: Due to its diverse culture, India does not have a specific national dish. There were rumours that the government of India was planning on designating khichdi as a national dish but it was later denied by the government.
Since the cooking method varies with changing areas or regions, each dish has something unique about itself. To be precise, about 31 dishes define the Indian cuisines. According to scientists, they have examined more than 2,000 Indian dishes in a common thread.
The core of a typical Indian dinner (or lunch) is rice, or a flatbread, and a lentil stew (dal). There will also be a vegetarian stew, and if non-vegetarian, a meat, chicken, or seafood curry.
Phaal curry is considered one of the hottest curries in the world, and the hottest of Indian curries, even hotter than vindaloo.
A specialty food is a food that is typically considered as a "unique and high-value food item made in small quantities from high-quality ingredients". Consumers typically pay higher prices for specialty foods, and may perceive them as having various benefits compared to non-specialty foods.
Indians typically create saucy curries to serve over rice with flatbread or puppadams, which they dip into the sauce. For example, a popular Punjabi dish, dal mahkni, is a butter-based lentil dish served over rice. Another popular meal is curry chicken, which consists of a tomato-based sauce.