The Fine Cuisine of India

If one nation’s cuisine has been welcomed to Britain more naturally than any other, it’s Indian cooking. The foreign style of cooking has been so successfully adopted here that chicken tikka masala is often cited as being Britain’s favourite dish!

For those heading out on a luxury India holiday, the food is indeed worthy of celebration. If you generally go for the hottest curry on the menu, be warned that even the hottest is made more mild for English tastes, so you could be in for quite the surprise!

One more thing, I’m often hear people asking if it’s safe to eat the meat in India, and there are many people who will go vegetarian for their India holiday. The vast majority of travellers I know who have eaten the meat have been fine, but there are some tips to take for the paranoid: avoid roadside eateries and small shacks (where hygiene is often less a priority) and don’t eat pork and prawns (which if not prepared properly can be nasty.) It’s also a good bet to eat in busier restaurants, because this means that the food will be fresher, and will not have been stood around for so long!

Anyway, here is a guide to the types of food you can expect from each area of the country...

Customs and Table Manners

The first thing to be aware of is that the majority of food in India is actually eaten with the hands. Knives and forks may be provided in some areas, but it’s not uncommon to be simply provided with the food. Despite the apparent table manner anarchy that this implies, there are a number of customs and table manner requirements that you should be aware of: Only the right hand should be used, food should not pass the first joint on any finger, and the fingers should never come into direct contact with the mouth during your India tour if you don’t want to be thought of as rude.

The Best of Each Region

Although Indian restaurants in the UK combine all the imported dishes onto one menu, in the country itself the best cuisine is neatly separated by its area of origin. Here’s what you can expect in each region on a luxury holiday to India:

Punjabi

Punjab is famous for its tandoori cooking style - large earthen ovens that cook various meats, breads and vegetable dishes inside, giving the ingredients a distinctive flavour and aroma. The state also has developed many lamb and chicken dishes, coated in spicy onion and mustard or sweet cream sauces. If you’ve visiting here, be sure to try some genuine tandoori cooking on your tour of India!

Gujarati

The food round here is mostly vegetarian, so meat eaters may want to avoid it on their tour of India! Gujarati food is usually served as a thali - which is everything served on a single plate. A typical thali meal consists of two vegetables, cooked in spices, dahl (a kind of pulse soup), flatbread, rice, pulses and something sweet.

Maharashtrian

If the vegetarian Gujarati diet doesn’t sound right for your India tour, then the meat and fish fare of Maharashtrian may be right up your street. Fish is generally stuffed or fried, while meat is typically braised and spiced. Peanuts and cashews are also often used, alongside the kokum berry (sweet and tangy). Oh the coast of the region, the focus moves to seafood with crabs, prawns and shellfish proving popular.

Bengali

Bengali food is known for being based on fish and sweets. The fish is typically sautéed in yoghurt or marinated in the famous Bengal spice mixture. The five spices favoured in Bengali cooking are aniseed, cumin, black cumin, mustard and fenugreek.

Bengal was the birthplace of the majority of Indian sweets, so this is the place to get your fill. Most of these are based on milk or cottage cheese, and are often served with a sticky sweet syrup. Just as Indian food is spicy for British tastes, the sweets are very, very sweet - many visitors may find them just too sickly for a western palette on holiday in India.

Karela

Food from Karela is certainly unique - it’s traditionally served upon a large banana leaf, and is still served this way for feasts! Coconuts are popular in this region, and give savoury dishes a delightful sweetness alongside their spiciness. Rice is the main staple of this, and the remainder of southern India, with various preparations.

And what should you drink with these fine dishes? Well, tea is popular, but unsurprisingly takes a spicy twist, often prepared with sugar, milk and a mix of nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. If you want something sweeter on your India holiday, lassi is an option. This is a yoghurt or buttermilk based drink either served straight or seasoned with mango or rose.

Wherever you go on your tour of India, the cuisine is a delight. Due to the extra spiciness though, my advice is to start mild and work your way upwards!

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About The Author, Kieron Sellens
Kieron Sellens is the marketing manager of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AiTO). With AITO’s luxury India holidays, you can tailor-make the dream holiday.