India is the country of diversity, both culturally and gastronomically. One of the attractions of travel is to experience new flavors and combinations of foods. Of all meals, breakfast is the best way to better understand the culture of a nation or its weather conditions. Indian breakfast is no exception.
The two main varieties of Indian breakfast are from the north and the south, although there are more than ten types of breakfast in India, depending on the region in which one is, with multiple variants of each. But they all have something in common with the spices and the prevalence of vegetarianism.
The basic ingredient in North Indian breakfast are the parathas, a kind of wheat flour bread fried in a pan with ghee or clarified butter. They are often stuffed with vegetables such as potato called Alu paratha and cauliflower called gobi paratha, or fresh cheese called paneer paratha. They are taken with yogurt and achaar or pickles.
Another popular breakfast of the north, present in the street stalls is Chole Bhature, an inflated fried wheat bread, which is accompanied with curried chickpeas or Chana masala and aam ka achaar or mango chutney. It is taken with fruit lassi, a milkshake with cardamom and pistachios.
In the region of Delhi, a regular breakfast is the Vermicelli Upma, a tasty semolina dish that has onion, carrot, and peas and is flavored with coriander, ginger, turmeric and curry leaves. If you prefer an omelet, do not forget that in India chunks of chili are added.
Instead, in southern India, the breakfast par excellence are the dosas, thin and crispy cake, made with rice flour and lentils, which acquire a consistency of a pancake. They are called masala dosa when they are stuffed with a fry of potatoes and mustard. Generally, the Dosa is eaten with the Sambar, another traditional dish of very popular vegetables in the south and Sri Lanka.
The sambar is a common dish in southern and consists of a broth made with tamarind and different spices, to which are added lentils and vegetables such as okra, radishes, and pumpkins. To give flavor, curry leaves or cilantro are added. It is served with southern specialties such as idlis, a kind of buns with the shape and texture of a donut made with fermented rice batter, that is also accompanied by coconut chutney.
The most common drink in the whole country is chai, black tea with milk, cardamom, cinnamon or ginger. It is very effective for combating the heat. In South India and Bengal, coffee is also very popular.
If you are not accustomed to spices or prefer other breakfast options, most hotels in India offer continental breakfast and English breakfast. You will not miss scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, cereals, and freshly squeezed natural juices. Do not miss the watermelon, mango, and pomegranate. And in some hotels, you can find even a small section of Japanese breakfast, with rice, tofu, miso soup, and seaweed.
Among the main course, curries are popular. Curry comes from the word kari which means pepper, which the English adopted to define any dish with spicy sauces, which are called masala. There are many types of different masalas. For example, the garam masala is made with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper. Spices here are the world!
Wheat is the food base of the northern and western part of the country, and rice in the eastern and southern part. Although on both sides are both one and the other. There are many kinds of bread and the most famous are the naan, baked flour cakes, that can be prepared with cheese, garlic, butter or plain. Chapati is a wholemeal bread cooked in the tandoori oven or in the tawa. Pappadam is a crispy lentil flour crepe and the paratha is a kind of naan stuffed with different ingredients like cheese, potato, cauliflower and other vegetables.
Rice can be plain white rice or jeera rice cooked with cumin seeds or pulao flavored with butter or ghee and biryani, a type of very richly flavored rice stuffed with vegetable or meat. In virtually all restaurants there are options for fried rice (veg/non-veg) and fried noodles (veg/non-veg). They are not usually spicy. You cannot fail to taste the famous biryani, the rice flavored with vegetables or chicken.
Some of the popular vegetarian dishes that you would have to try in India are Palak Paneer and Matar Paneer, a curry masala made with spinach or peas and fresh cheese. The Palak Paneer is a typical dish of North India based on small pieces of cheese which are first lightly browned in a pan with mustard oil and subsequently drowned in a cream of vegetable obtained from boiled spinach and tomatoes. The whole is enriched with spices, turmeric, ginger, and cumin.
Matar Palak Masala is made with spinach and peas. Malai kofta is meatballs made of potatoes and fresh cheese dipped in sauce. Jeera aloo is sauteed potatoes with cumin seeds while aloo palak masala is made of potatoes and spinach. Aloo Gobi Masala is made of potatoes and cauliflower. Chana masala is prepared with chickpea.
In India, there are hundreds of lentil-based dishes, each one different from the other. Dal Makhani is a typical dish of Punjab, where the black variant of lentils is combined with red beans, creating a rich and substantial dish, but especially delicious to eat with rice or bread. It is served either as a main course or as a side dish.
The thali is a great invention. If you do not know what to eat, ask for a thali. The Thali is actually not a single dish, but there are many different small dishes served on a banana leaf or with small metal bowls called Katori resting on a large plate where you will be given different dishes. The idea behind this dish is that you can taste many different flavors and many small dishes. There are the veggies and the meat.
Usually, they come with a large bowl of rice, nan, raita (yogurt sauce), dal and palak paneer. Prices vary a lot depending on where you eat it. If it's in a Dhaba, the cheap street restaurants, it costs between Rs. 50-100, and Rs. 150 if you eat in restaurants. In both cases, as soon as you finish something off the plate, in many places the waiters will come and put something on until you ask them to stop.
The great king of Indian nonvegetarian food is the chicken. The lamb is closely followed, but pork and beef are rare. There are many types of meat dishes with sauces and in most cases, they are quite spicy, so remember to ask the waiter. The favorites are Butter chicken or murgh makhani prepared with tomato sauce and butter. Chicken Kebab is chicken skewers marinated in yogurt sauce and spices and cooked in a tandoori.
Tandoori chicken is macerated in yogurt and spices. A red coloring is added that gives it a very characteristic color and is cooked in the tandoori oven. It is served with lime. The Chicken tikka masala is the boneless chicken in masala sauce.
The butter chicken and naan bread represent the whole world. This bright orange Punjabi dish can be spicy or mild and has a very thick and creamy sauce. It is also known as Murg Makhani. Apparently, its origin can be traced back to a man named Kundan Lal Gujral, who ran a restaurant called Moti Mahal Delux in Peshawar before the partition of British India. The restaurant was later moved to Old Delhi and now has branches in other cities in India.
Fish curry is a popular dish in Bengal and Goa and is one of the most common and cheapest curries you'll find on the menu there. It is spicy and usually made with a sweet and spicy coconut base. Enjoy it in a beach hut on one of the beaches of Goa and accompany it with beer! In Kolkata, Maacher Jhol usually has mustard oil as a base ingredient. It is a simple and tasty dish that can be made from all kinds of fish.
Vindaloo is a hot and bittersweet Goan origin curry. Ideal for lovers of chili, but if you do not like spicy food it is definitely best avoided. Vindaloo comes from the Portuguese term vin-d'alho or garlic wine. Originally referred to a meat stew, it is usually prepared with pork and red wine.
Chicken Korma is a Mughal dish from North India that uses a yogurt sauce and spices like garlic and ginger. Then the meat is cooked in its own juice and a sauce of onions, tomatoes, green peppers and whole spices. The dish also comes as a vegetarian Navratan Korma with nine different types of vegetables.
A common vegetarian chickpea curry, Chana or Chole Masala is quite dry and spicy. It has a citrus flavor. The dish is very versatile and is eaten as a main meal, or a bite (chaat). Treat like a Delhi street. As the main meal, it is popularly eaten with deep-fried bread called Bhatura.
Here people are very sweet and in a literal sense. They flip the desserts or mithai, and the more sugary the better! In every street, there is a sweet shop and the popular are the Gulab Jamun, which are balls of fried flour dough soaked in liquor of rose water flavored sugar syrup. Rasgulla is cheese balls dipped in sugar syrup. Jalebi is fried and soaked in sugar syrup. But to cool off better than ice cream is the Kulfi. There are mango, pistachio, and chocolate versions.
Indian street food is varied, especially if you do not mind the fried food! The most common snacks are samosa, which is a triangle-shaped fry made of fried dough. They are usually vegetarian made with potatoes and peas but there is also meat version. Pakora is fritters of chickpea flour and stuffed with vegetables, potatoes, cheese, shrimp or chicken. Aloo Tikka is a kind of hamburger/potato fritter. Kachori is a crushed empanadilla stuffed with green soybeans, chickpeas, and lentils.
Pani puri is a kind of round potato chips, which the seller breaks in the middle and stuff with a potato dough, chickpeas, and cilantro. Then fill it with chili and a green salad. Bhel puri is a very rare snack and is a mix of puffed rice, onions, potatoes, lentils and tomato sauce!
It is impossible to travel in India without falling in love with the Chai, the delicious Indian tea, which is almost a religion in itself! It is quite a spectacle to see how people prepare it. If you have to cheer yourself up try the Masala Chai. Other drinks are Lassi, a sweet yogurt shake that can be single or with fruit like mango, banana, and pineapple. Lemon Soda is made with soda, sugar and lemon juice.
Badam Milk is made with saffron, almonds, cashew nuts and walnuts. The Indians are crazy about the Paan, which is a betel leaf stuffed with lime, walnut, lime gum, and betel nut. There is sweet and narcotic zarda version. Above all, it is taken after eating to facilitate digestion and also has anti-inflammatory and healing properties. The paan has to be put itself wholly in the mouth.
It has to be chewed. You have to chew until this has been completely discarded. There are many paanwala stops at the exit of the restaurants where you can buy it.