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India Food and Drink

Indian food is world-renowned for its tantalising flavours, spiciness and enormous variety. Many of the spices we now take for granted – pepper, cardamom, turmeric – hail from India’s plains and jungles. The flavour of each Indian dish is a carefully judged balance of herbs, seasonings and spices, and each cook carefully maintains their own recipe for garum masala – literally ‘hot mix’.

Rice is the foundation stone of Indian cooking, but you’ll also find many kinds of bread, from light, flat chapattis to fat, roasted naan. As often as not, Indian meals are served as thalis, with rice, sabzi (vegetables), soups, and side orders, all served on a single plate.

The north of India specialises in meaty stews and kebabs, while the south favours highly spiced vegetarian curries and dosas (rice-flour pancakes). Head to Bengal or the beaches of Goa and Kerala to sample India’s finest seafood.

Specialities

Dhal: Lentils; there are dozens of varieties and they come stewed, fried or ground up into flour as an essential ingredient for pastries and fritters.
Pakora: Deep-fried vegetables in lentil-flour batter, a favourite portable snack.
Samosa: Triangular pastry parcels, stuffed with potato and pea curry.
Thali: A platter of rice, chapattis, vegetable curries, meat dishes and more; in many parts of India, this is a just described a ‘meal’.
Naan: India’s favourite bread, cooked in the tandoor (clay oven).
Tandoori chicken: A Punjabi speciality, spiced chicken marinated in yoghurt, cooked in the tandoor.
Paneer: Soft Indian curd cheese cooked in sauces or spiced and grilled.
Jalebi: Deep-fried batter in sweet syrup, poured out in a nest of orange squiggles.
Dosa: A pancake made from fermented rice-flour batter, serve with curry dips or stuffed with vegetables curry, originally from the south.
Chai: Sweet, strong Indian tea, best sampled from roadside chai-wallahs.
Kingfisher: India’s most popular lager.

Things to know

Bottled water is recommended for visitors but make sure the bottles are properly sealed. Alcohol is mainly served at mid- and upper-range restaurants in the larger towns and cities known as “resto-bars”; in budget eateries, it's usually only found at non-vegetarian restaurants which have a liquor licence. Bars on the lower end of the scale are generally male and seedy.

As of April 2017, alcoholic beverages may no longer be sold within a radius of 500m of national roads.

Tipping

10 to 15% is usual in restaurants that impose no service fee; optional where service fee is added to bill.

Drinking age

18-25 (depending on the state) and is also illegal in some states.

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