Have you decided to be adventurous in 2019 and sample some new cuisine for the first time? If so, we recommend Indian food. If you are ready to dive into a world of delicious spices and rich fragrances, try these 16 popular foods from India’s different regions:
1. Butter Chicken
This is one of the most popular dishes in Indian restaurants in the West, and once you try it, you will understand why. Even though this Punjabi meal is called butter chicken, there really isn’t a lot of butter in it — but that doesn’t mean the chicken doesn’t have a tender, buttery flavor.
This Indian classic isn’t as spicy as some of the other dishes on this list, but you can adjust the spices for an extra kick. Butter chicken was invented in Delhi’s famous Moti Mahal restaurant, and it features chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast that are marinated overnight in yogurt and a variety of spices. It is served with a dollop of cream or butter on top, and it is perfect with basmati rice, a side of naan (leavened Indian flatbread), and a crisp, green salad.
2. Chicken Tikka Masala
When you are exploring Indian food for the first time, you must try chicken tikka masala. You will be hooked after the first bite, thanks to the dish’s creamy, spicy tomato gravy and ginger-marinated chicken. You don’t even have to go to an Indian restaurant to try it. Instead, you can make it at home with our easy crockpot recipe.
3. Rogan Josh
The name of this Kashmiri dish means “red lamb,” and the lamb is cooked with fennel seeds, garam masala (an Indian spice mix), bay leaves, and turmeric. Dry red chilis are responsible for the dish’s deep red color. Rogan josh is pretty spicy, but the spice is toned down a bit because cream is added at the end of cooking.
This dish might be a bit challenging to make at home if you don’t have any experience cooking Indian food. You can easily find it on the menu of your local Indian restaurant, and it is a staple in British curry houses. If you do decide to make it at home, you can find all the spices you’ll need online or at your local international food market.
4. Bhapaa Aloo
This classic Bengali recipe is quite the stunner, and it features baby potatoes that are tossed in an aromatic five-spice powder, coconut paste, curds, and mustard oil before being steamed to perfection. This vegetarian dish is one of the easiest Bengali recipes to make, and you can serve it with rice or puri (Indian unleavened deep-fried bread).
5. Tandoori Chicken
A tandoor is a clay oven, but you can easily make this iconic Northern Indian dish on the grill. Tandoori chicken is simply roasted chicken marinated in yogurt and a few spices. It has a savory flavor with a hint of smoky sweetness, and its reddish-orange color comes from the blend of turmeric, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and paprika.
Despite containing all of those spices, tandoori chicken is actually quite mild in Western restaurants. But you can easily cook it at home and customize the flavor to get the spicy kick you prefer with this recipe from The Spruce Eats.
6. Kakori Kebab
Kakori kebabs get their name from the city of Kakori, which is on the outskirts of Lucknow, a large Northern Indian city that is the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh. This is a great melt-in-your-mouth snack made with the finest lamb meat and a few spices, and it is best served with coriander chutney.
7. Hyderabadi Biryani
Do you love spicy rice with tender pieces of meat or chicken? If you answered yes, then you must try Hyderabadi biryani from Southern India. It is cooked in “dum style,” which is a slow-cooking technique where meat and veggies are cooked over a low flame while sealed in containers with spices. This dish is layered with fried onions and mint, and legend has it that it originated in the kitchens of Nizam of Hyderabad.
8. Chole (Chickpea Curry)
This Northern Indian classic is perfect for a party, especially when it is served with poori or bhatura (fried Indian leavened bread). If you want to make it at home, don’t let the ingredient list intimidate you. You’ll only need chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and ginger paste, plus some common Indian spices and this recipe from Cook With Manali.
9. Papdi Chaat
If you have ever traveled to Northern India, you are probably familiar with this popular snack. Vendors sell different varieties of papdi chaat in the streets, and the dish is a great introduction to Indian cuisine. Papdi are deep-fried dough wafers, and chaat refers to fast-food meals.
The wafers are filled with a tangy, spicy, and sweet sauce. And, since chaat literally means “to lick,” don’t be surprised if you are licking your fingers when you try this great meal alternative.
Dhokla is steamed cake made from fermented batter derived from rice and split chickpeas. This vegetarian food comes from Gujarat, and it makes a delicious main dish, side dish, or afternoon snack. This dish is made in various ways, and if you want to make it at home, try this recipe from Food Viva.
11. Dal Makhani
Perfect for lunch or dinner, this creamy dal (lentils) recipe from the Punjab region is loaded with butter and is a classic dish that you can easily make in your own kitchen with this recipe from Whisk Affair. But, if you want to try it first before cooking it at home, you can find it in just about every Indian restaurant.
The main ingredients of dal makhani are whole black lentils, red kidney beans, butter, and cream, which make the dish incredibly rich and absolutely luscious.
If you don’t have any experience with Indian food, you might want to try khichdi first because, in Indian culture, it is the first solid food that babies eat. We kid, we kid. But in all seriousness, this is a classic comfort food that is perfect for a lazy weekend lunch. It is topped with dollops of ghee and is considered to be one of the healthiest foods in India.
Recently, the Indian media unofficially crowned khichdi the national dish, calling it the “queen of all foods” because it is the perfect symbol of Indian culture.
This delicious dessert always makes an appearance at festivals and special occasions. Kheer is a rice pudding made by boiling rice, broken wheat, tapioca, or vermicelli with milk and sugar. Then it is flavored with cardamom, raisins, saffron, and nuts like cashews, pistachios, or almonds.
14. Malai Kofta
This Northern Indian dish is a vegetarian alternative to meatballs, and it goes well with rice or naan. Malai means “cream,” and koftas are veggie balls made from a mixture of potatoes, carrots, beans, peas, sweet corn, and paneer, a block cheese that is similar to tofu. It is slightly crunchy on the outside and very soft on the inside.
You can easily find malai kofta in natural food stores or in Indian restaurants, or you can try this recipe from VegeCravings.
15. Saag Paneer
This classic Northern Indian dish is a combination of cooked spinach and fried paneer cheese that is thickened with cream or coconut milk. In Hindi, saag means “greens,” and in the United States that means spinach. But in India, saag paneer is also made with mustard, collards, fenugreek, and even amaranth.
Saag paneer is vegetarian yet hearty and filling. And, the fresher the ingredients, the better the flavor.
If you are new to cooking Indian food, this recipe for saag paneer from A Spicy Perspective would be a great place to start. The warm, sautéed spinach is infused with aromatic spices, and it is quick and easy to make. You can serve it over rice or with a side of naan. And if you don’t want to make the paneer yourself, you can easily find it in Asian markets and grocery stores.
16. Chicken Korma
Like butter chicken, korma is one of the most approachable Indian dishes. This creamy, stew-like dinner features chicken that is braised in a velvety sauce made from butter, coconut milk, cream, and mild spices.
Chicken korma is sweet and nutty, and cumin will give it a slightly smoky flavor. When you try this dish, make sure to have some pieces of naan on hand so you can sop up the stew.