Eating in India
A country as diverse as India has to have an amazing food scene! Our culinary styles differ across all 29 states and each region has its own take on popular Indian foods. A country known for its kebabs and chicken butter masala has tons to offer – from the lip-smacking biryanis of the south to the exquisite seafood of the East. Eating in India takes you through a unique culinary experience that blends traditional methods of cooking, exotic spices and the experience of local cooks.
The biggest apprehension of a foreigner traveling in India and tasting local food here is the quality of it. This doubt raises a lot of questions in their mind, which is very natural because cleanliness is a basic hygienic requirement and a lot of people are poor in India, who find it difficult to maintain a certain level of hygiene.
Apart from the quality, it is the degree of spiciness of a dish, which may or may not upset someone’s stomach and make you sick. A lot of foreign nationals are not able to handle the spicy nature so easily and end up having a bad stomach. There are few tips for enjoying Indian food and avoid falling sick in every possible manner. These are applicable for first-timers and even for regular visitors to India.
Top tips for eating in India
We have eaten across India, from street shops to the best kosher restaurants during our travels. So, we think we are in a good position to give you some simple and easy to follow tips for eating in India. Enjoy your culinary journey here and do drop us a line if you need any help!
Is tap water safe to drink in India?
No! It’s not safe because most of the tap water in India is not treated properly before usage. It may contain a lot of harmful bacteria and viruses which can make you sick. Once you are sick, forget about enjoying your stay in this beautiful country. The only exception to drinking water from an open source is when you are in the greater Himalayas where people drink glacier water, which is the purest of all the forms.
If you are very conscious about the environment, carry water bottles with you and refill it at the place of stay because most of them have water purifiers installed. The best solution for you will be to consume packaged drinking water from brands like Bisleri and Aquafina, which are very reliable in every part of India. Oh and avoid ice everywhere!
Street Food in India
Street food is something which Indians relish a lot. Be it a quick snack break during work hours or even a full-course meal from the roadside shops. But your digestive system is not acclimatized to this food and hygiene levels. Don’t risk it. The oil used for frying might be old and normally it is reused over and over. However, if you do want to try street food, do it under the guidance of your local host or tour guide only.
The most popular street food dishes are samosas, paani poori, pooris, vadas, pav bhaji, etc and every region adds their distinct flavor to these. And don’t forget to try freshly prepared chai or coffee from the roadside vendors. Since it’s freshly made, it’s safe to consume.
How would I know if the food is spicy or not?
Well, this is a tricky situation and you need to do some research about it by narrowing down to the dishes which you want to have and then checking out the ingredients being used in them. If it is a case of street food, get along with you a local friend who will tell you about the ingredients of a particular dish.
If you are going to high-end restaurants, almost all the menu cards will have the ingredients and they also indicate the level of spiciness. This will give you a fair idea. To make the food spicy in India, green chili and red chili is used.
The better option is green chilies because the red chili impacts your stomach in a very harsh way especially if you are not used to having spicy food and it does not have any nutritional value in comparison to green chilies. If you are confused, ask your waiter to tone down the spice factor and they will be happy to do it for you. If you feel brave and try spicy food, drink lots of water and have some yogurt after the meal.
Should I eat fruits in India?
Yes, definitely you should because they have high nutritional value. They will keep your body energized and hydrated. There are two options for you to choose the fruits, one is to buy them in loose form from the local market and the second one is to purchase sealed packets from the hypermarkets.
The challenge comes with the second option because sealed fruits are not available in abundance and even if they are available, there is a high chance that they are not fresh. The first option is the most preferred way since it is in demand and shops change their stocks every day. Before eating the fruits, wash them with bottled water and not tap water. And eat only seasonal fruits. You can google about seasonal fruits available in every Indian state.
Another tip is to eat ONLY cooked for in India. Avoid salads, fruit bowls, juices unless again you are in a fine dining restaurant.
Is it ok to eat Non-veg in India?
Non-vegetarian Indians mostly consume chicken, goat meat, egg or fish. Pork and beef are regional dishes only found in a couple of states. Unless you are in a 5 star or fine dining restaurant, avoid asking for beef as it’s a touchy topic here. In a Hindu dominated country that worships the cow, beef eating is looked down upon and crime in certain states.
Eggs are the safest to eat along with freshly prepared grills or tandoori chicken, fish and goat meat dishes. Again the non-veg tends to be oily so order wisely. Southern states use a lot of spices, the northern states tend to be oily and the northeastern states tend to have boiled non-veg.
How much should I order?
Indian servings usually tend to be generous so before ordering check the serving size. We advise you to order less initially so that you get an idea of the servings. There is no standard quantity across the country and you will need to check the quantity wherever you go. Eat less as Indian food is full of spices and oily. You don’t want to be traveling on a full stomach!
Should I eat using cutlery or hands?
Well, totally your choice. But if you are attending cultural or religious events, try using your hands. It will be a little awkward but a helpful local can guide you! It’s pretty simple and once you try it, you will like it. A lot of us generally prefer eating with our hands but in public spaces, you might see a lot of people using spoons. This is true when we consume mostly rice. Rotis are not eaten with cutlery. If you do decide to use your hands, wash them before and after the meal.
What if I fall sick even after taking precautions?
My friend luck has run out for you. Don’t worry! Stay calm and don’t panic. The most common sickness which happens is food poisoning when one consumes stale food. So, you must take medical assistance from a doctor, drink a lot of water which will flush out the toxins from your body and keep it hydrated.
Do some research
Do research on the various types of dishes available across India. Generally, northern states of the country consume more wheat i.e. roti, chapati, naan, and the northeaster/southern states prefer rice-based products, coconut oil-based dishes. Food tends to be spicier as you travel down south especially in the states of Andhra/Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
Should I try some different than the usual Indian dishes?
Well, you can, but before you do this speak to a local who has good knowledge about local dishes. In fact, the best Indian food is often not the popular butter chicken, dal or rotis. Ask around for authentic local dishes and you will be pleasantly surprised. But if you want to play safe and eat something that’s tried and tested then you can stick to the regular ones that feature all across India.
A couple of dishes like Paneer butter masala, Chicken Curry, steamed rice, rotis, and dal will have a standard taste everywhere you go and these are the safe dishes for travelers who don’t like experimenting much.
I hope these tips help you decide about what you will eat in India and make your travel in this country an experience worth remembering. This collection of tips for eating in India has been authored by Adhip Varma who is a passionate motorcycle tourer! You can follow his travels through his Instagram account.