India's landscapes, climates, and cultures are so diverse that the country basically feels like a microcosm of the world – either that, or a million smaller countries. And for travelers, this means a ton of vastly different places to visit: the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, the tropical canals of Kerala, the colorful temples of Varanasi, and more. It's little wonder, therefore, this diversity has seeped its way into the cuisine, where dishes are created differently, according to the available spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits. So, while all visitors will try many different curries while exploring the sub-continent, a real connoisseur will delve further into the varied regional dishes.
With that in mind, here are eight authentic Indian dishes all true gourmands must try:
Best place to eat it: Hotel Chawla, Jaipur
Pani are light crispy fried semolina pastry balls, with a hole in the top, that are commonly filled with spiced mashed potato or chickpeas. Pani, a delightful tangy concoction of spices and tamarind juice, is then poured into the puri to create a perfect chaat (savory snack). Pani puri, which translates to 'water bread', are also known as golgappas in northern India or poochkas in West Bengal, and can be found all over the Indian subcontinent with varied fillings depending on the panipuriwallah’s (vendor's) recipe. The trick is to eat them with your hands, preferably in one bite to avoid any mess!
The original Kolkata street food, kati roll is a succulent skewer-roasted kebab wrapped in paratha bread that's cooked on the griddle. There are an array of different fillings available such as egg, potato, paneer (cheese), mixed vegetables and curried chicken, and sometimes the plain Indian flatbread roti is used instead of the layered paratha. All in all, this sandwich roll is a perfect brunch, lunch or late night snack.
Dahi Ke Kebab
This Mughlai dish is rich and creamy, and feels especially decadent when eaten at Agra’s Oberoi Hotel with a view overlooking the iconic Taj Mahal. The crispy yogurt curd dumplings themselves are filled with dried apricots and pomegranates; when eaten with green chutney they're literal perfection.
This traditional Indian delicacy consists of fried spicy lamb or goat mutton brain with egg. Bheja is a rich protein-packed meal best shared with a friend and paired with a soft tandoori roti. A traditional offal dish, it's making a comeback in Mumbai and it is certain worth trying for the sumptuous pungent flavors and subtle textures.
Best place to eat it: Wildgrass, Puri
A classic Odisha state recipe (i.e. from eastern India), Badi Chura is a dried lentil side dish that's nearly always served at lunchtime meals in the state, often with pakhala, a regional rice and water dish. Usually made in the Fall, badi (the dried lentils) are cooked with chillies and garlic until crispy and are then stored and used as needed throughout the year to create quick side dishes for any meal, simply served with raw red onion and green chilli.
Best place to eat it: Veda, New Delhi
This spicy crispy dish is simple and superb, made up of vivid green okra, sharp red onions and sweet tomatoes spiced with chaat masala that are coated in chickpea flour and fried to a deep golden hue. Crunchy and flavorful, crispy bhindi are great snacks or appetizers alone, or served on the side of rice and dal (dried, split pulses).
Best place to eat it: Mum’s Kitchen, Goa
Thanks to the Portuguese, pineapples were introduced to Goa from Brazil in the 1500s and have become both a thriving crop and an integral part of Goan cuisine. Pineapple Sukkem (in Marathi, sukkem means a dry curry) is a Goan-style pineapple curry. It's usually served as a side dish to accompany a fish or seafood curry, however it also partners well with bread and rice, or Goan rice cakes to soak up the perfectly spiced pineapple’s flavors.
Best place to eat it: Surya Rooftop, Hotel Supreme, Madurai
Virundhu means feast, and this deliciously-balanced one is a feast for both eyes and stomach. It's served on a banana leaf with up to eight small dishes including basmati rice, lemon rice, sambhar (lentil stew), vada (fritter), coconut chutney, pickles and a variety of other stews and sauces. This full course feast can be vegetarian too, and betel leaf with fragrant herbs is often chewed after enjoying it to ensure good digestion (downside: it stains teeth red!).