Indian food encompasses a huge variety of regional dishes that are native to India. As the country’s range of diversity is defined by soil type, climate, and work occupations, the dishes vary and use whichever herbs, fruits, vegetables, and spices are available in every state. Furthermore, Indian food is strongly influenced by religious and cultural factors such as Dharmic beliefs and vegetarianism, a growing dietary trend among the Indians. In northern India, the cuisine has Central Asian influence caused by the ruling years of the Mughal and Turkic Delhi Sultanate. Up to this day, Indian cuisine continues to evolve as a result of the country’s cultural sharing and exchanges with other nations. Below is a list of the most popular food dishes in India which have been identified as a result of research, interviews, and some personal encounters as well. If you can’t find them in a local restaurant, you can opt to make one yourself as the ingredients are very easy to find and a lot of cooking videos are also available.
1. Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken tikka masala is a traditional and highly popular Indian dish which is filled with lots of flavor and color. The word ‘tikka’ means bits or pieces. The dish is made by cutting chicken into chunks, marinating these pieces in spices and yogurt, then baking them in a tandoor oven. It is always served in a ‘masala’ or spice mix sauce. Usually, the sauce is creamy, spiced, and orange in color. According to a survey, there are at least 48 different recipes of chicken tikka masala wherein the only common ingredient among them is the chicken. The dish is usually served with a type of flatbread called ‘naan.’
2. Masala Dosa
Masala dosa is a traditional dish from southern India that has become very popular all over the country. The recipe of this dish uses a batter that has rice and black gram beans, giving the dish loads of carbohydrates and protein. It is also a healthy dish since it uses only minimal oil during preparation. It can be enjoyed either as a side dish or as a quick snack. Masala dosa is filled with lots of flavor and is more delicious when served with coconut chutney or sambar which is a popular vegetable stew from southern India. The broth of this stew is usually made with pigeon peas and tamarind. Masala dosa is made by filling in a dosa with lightly cooked potatoes, green chili, spices, and onions. CNN has included the dish in its 2011 compilation of the world’s 50 most delicious foods and listed it as number 49. It is also cited as one of the top ten tasty foods in the world.
3. Aloo Gobi
Aloo gobi is a dry cuisine dish that has Indian, Nepali, and Pakistani origins. It is made with aloo (potatoes), gobi (cauliflower), and Indian spices. It has a yellowish color because of the turmeric ingredient. Occasionally, it has kalonji and curry leaves. Other usual ingredients include cumin, peas, tomato, coriander stalks, onion, ginger, and garlic. Though it has several variations and a number of similar dishes exist, the name is never changed.
4. Rogan Josh
Rogan josh is an aromatic dish of lamb that has a Persian origin. It is one of the signature recipes of Kashmiri cuisine. Rogan means ‘fat’ or ‘clarified butter’ in Persian. Josh means ‘hot, boiling, heat, or passionate.’ On the whole, Rogan josh means something that is cooked in oil under intense heat. Other interpretation of the name says that rogan means ‘red color’ and josh means ‘heat’ or ‘passion.’ The dish was originally brought to Kashmir by the Mughals. Its ingredients include braised boneless lamb chunks cooked with gravy of browned onions or shallots; garlic; ginger; yogurt; and aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and cloves. Traditionally, its unique bright red color comes from liberal amounts of Kashmiri chilies that have been dried and de-seeded to reduce their heat. In India, rogan josh is sometimes prepared with goat instead of mutton. Some varieties include beef wherein the brisket is preferred.
5. Hyderabadi Biryani
Hyderabadi Biryani is a dish that is made with basmati rice and lamb meat which can be varied by using chicken instead of lamb. The dish was created as a result of the blending of Telangana and Mughlai cuisines in the kitchens of Nizam, former monarch of the historic Hyderabad State. Its ingredients include basmati rice, saffron, lemon, spices, onions, yogurt, and meat. For the garnish, it uses coriander and fried onions. The meat preferred for the dish is goat, lamb, or chicken. The dish is also served with several accompaniments such as Dahi chutney (yogurt and onions); Mirchi ka salan (green chili curry); Bagare Baingan (roasted eggplant); and salad that includes cucumber, carrot, onion, and lemon wedges.
6. Gobi Manchurian
Gobi Manchurian is a type of Indian dish that has adapted some Chinese cooking and seasoning techniques and matched them with Indian style of cooking. Rumors say that the dish was originally concocted by a small Chinese community based in Kolkata for a century. The dish has two stages to prepare. During the first stage, you would need a spiced corn flour batter and use it for dipping the cauliflower florets. After dipping them, they are now ready for deep frying. In the second stage, sauté the deep fried florets with chopped onion, garlic, capsicum, etc in chili and soy sauce. The dish comes in two variants: one is dry and the other is with gravy. Both variants use the same ingredients such as cauliflower, maida flour, capsicum, chili sauce, ground pepper, corn flour, spring onion, soy sauce, minced garlic, etc. with spring onion used as a common garnish. The taste of the dish varies from mild spicy to hot and then to fiery hot depending on the recipe and one’s preference.
7. Palak Paneer
Palak Paneer is an Indian and Pakistani dish that has spinach and paneer which is a type of Indian farmer’s cheese. It is cooked in a thick curry sauce and uses pureed spinach as its base. It is a very popular vegetarian dish. The dish is usually served with naan, roti, or boiled rice and may be accompanied by lassi, a type of yogurt drink that is Punjabi in origin. Aside from spinach and paneer, the ingredients of the dish include ginger, chilies, milk, whipping cream, masala powder, fenugreek leaves, and tomatoes. Palak Paneer is commonly served in buffet tables.
Sambar is a vegetable chowder or stew based on broth that is made with pigeon peas and tamarind. It is very popular in India’s southern regions, mostly in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. The dish is usually served with steamed rice. It is one of the main food courses of both formal and everyday south Indian cuisine. Sambar is also served at lunch and dinner time in south India and usually comes with idli, dosa or vada, together with two chutneys, one is a mildly spicy red tomato chutney while the other is a green coconut chutney. Some vegetables may also be added to sambar. Typically, these vegetables include carrot, pumpkin, potatoes, brinjal or eggplant, okra, radish, daikon, tomatoes, and shallots or onions.
9. Seekh Kebabs
Seekh Kebabs, with the latter pronounced as ‘ka-bab’ in Hindi, can be served in three different ways. It is served either as a side dish together with an Indian main course meal, as a starter dish, or as a main meal served with salad. They are also good for a BBQ dish. The name Seekh is derived from the fact that the meat is cooked on a seenkh or a thin bamboo or wooden stick (a skewer). In India, Kebab is usually spelled as Kabab. Its ingredients include lamb or beef or mutton, egg, bread crumbs, ginger, garlic, onion, coriander, chilies, and mint leaves. It also uses whole spices such as cinnamon stick, mace, cardamom pods, cloves, and cumin seeds.
10. Tandoori chicken
Tandoori chicken is a highly popular Indian dish which consists of roasted chicken that is prepared with spices and yogurt. The name is inspired by a type of cylindrical clay oven dubbed as ‘tandoor’ which is traditionally used in preparing the dish. To prepare, the chicken is first marinated in yogurt then seasoned with the spice tandoori masala mixture. The original fiery red version uses cayenne pepper, kashmiri red chili powder or red chili powder. An orange version is achieved by adding a higher amount of turmeric. For the milder version, both yellow and red food coloring can be used for the dish to have bright colors. You can also use turmeric powder and paprika to achieve the same mild and bright color of the dish. While it is traditionally cooked at high cooking temperatures in a ‘tandoor,’ some people would prepare the dish on a standard barbecue grill.