26 Traditional Indian Foods That Will Change Your Life Forever
What It Is: An aromatic rice dish cooked with several spices, notably saffron, and a protein (typically chicken or mutton) that’s been marinated.
Perfect For: A huge family dinner.
Feels Like: Hearing the neighborhood mosque sound its azan for evening prayers.
What It Is: A variation on the traditional dimsum, native to the North Eastern states that border Nepal (where the dish originated), eaten with a fiery red chutney.
Perfect For: A quick mid-evening snack.
Feels Like: Kicking your shoes off after a long day and settling into your couch for hours of TV.
What It Is: A heavy South Indian breakfast food. A fermented batter of ground rice and lentils, steamed in little circular moulds.
Perfect For: When you’re done sleeping in on a Saturday morning.
Feels Like: Being woken up by the smell of cooking.
4. Gulab jaamun
What Is It: Small balls of dried milk, slow cooked and boiled in a sugar syrup.
Perfect For: When you’ve already had a delicious meal and have just enough room for dessert.
Feels Like: Playing hide-and-go-seek with your cousins at a family reunion way, way past your bedtime.
5. Chole bhature
What It Is: A spiced, curried chickpea dish served with a fried flour bread.
Perfect For: A late Sunday breakfast.
Feels Like: Seeing your family all dressed in new clothes on a festival day.
6. Nethili varuval
What It Is: Anchovies dipped in a paste of turmeric and red chilies and fried, native to the South Indian region Chettinad.
Perfect For: A crispy, spicy appetizer.
Feels Like: Temple bells.
7. Kati roll
What It Is: A traditional street food popular across India (and abroad). A wrap of kebabs, eggs, vegetables, and spices rolled into paratha (a type of flat bread).
Perfect For: When you need a meal on-the-go. Also a great way to use up leftovers.
Feels Like: Standing on a dusty Kolkata street-corner at dusk, watching families go home through rush hour traffic.
What It Is: Kidney beans in a thick gravy popular across North India.
Perfect For: An accompaniment for rice, particularly delicious when served piping hot in the winter.
Feels Like: Summer holidays at your grandparents’ house.
9. Pani puri
What It Is: A small crisp hollow round bread filled with spiced water, tamarind paste, potato, onion, and chickpeas.
Perfect For: When you’re craving a thousand flavors at once.
Feels Like: Drunkenly challenging your best friend to a contest of who can eat more of these, and then feeling like your mouth is on fire.
What It Is: A wheat flour batter deep fried in coil-shapes and soaked in sugar syrup, served hot.
Perfect For: When you want something hot, but also sweet.
Feels Like: People-watching in a crowded bazaar while your mother haggles over sari prices.
11. Tandoori chicken
What It Is: Chicken marinated for hours in a paste of yogurt and spices, and then roasted (traditionally) in a clay oven called a tandoor.
Perfect For: Wowing your dinner guests with minimal effort.
Feels Like: Making a pitstop at a roadside diner three hours into a family roadtrip.
12. Banana chips
What It Is: Thin slices of banana deep fried in savory spices.
Perfect For: Munching on while watching your favorite movie.
Feels Like: The wind flying through your hair as you sail down Kerala’s backwaters in a houseboat.
13. Baingan bharta
What It Is: Roasted eggplant mashed together with a variety of other vegetables and spices, served with flatbread.
Perfect For: An exciting and fancy vegetarian meal.
Feels Like: Going back for seconds at a family friend’s house.
What It Is: A crispy, flat bread (similar to a crepe or pancake) made of rice batter, served with a lentil sauce (sambar) and a variety of chutneys.
Perfect For: When you want breakfast to be the highlight of your day.
Feels Like: Recounting last night’s events the morning after a sleepover.
What It Is: Puffed rice fried with vegetables, in a spicy and tangy tamarind sauce.
Perfect For: When you want a chilled savory snack.
Feels Like: Sitting in the back of a rickshaw at the peak of summer, thankful for the breeze.
What It Is: A South Indian snack staple made of a lentil or flour batter fried into a doughnut shape.
Perfect For: A neutral carb to accompany your craving for chutney and lentils.
Feels Like: A morning raga.
17. Bhindi masala fry
What It Is: Okra stuffed with spices, fried.
Perfect For: A vegetarian dish that’s both exciting and comfort food.
Feels Like: Mom’s cooking.
18. Rogan josh
What It Is: A lamb curry of Persian origin, now popular in the Kashmir area. In India, rogan josh is often made using goat meat instead of lamb.
Perfect For: When you don’t just want a meal – you want a feast.
Feels Like: Strutting around in your nicest traditional finery and feeling like royalty.
What It Is: A snack/breakfast food from the state of Gujurat, made of fermented rice and chickpea batter.
Perfect For: An very, very light yet very, very flavorful snack.
Feels Like: Gossiping with your aunts and cousins for hours.
20. Gaajar halwa
What It Is: An extremely popular dessert, made by cooking grated carrot with milk, sugar, and dried fruits.
Perfect For: A piping hot wintertime dessert.
Feels Like: Wrapping a shawl around yourself and sitting by a heater on a chilly Delhi evening.
What It Is: A fritter native to the Indian state Uttar Pradesh – one or more basic ingredients (onion, eggplant, potato, cauliflower, and chili peppers are all options) are dipped in gram flour and deep fried.
Perfect For: Rainy days.
Feels Like: Sitting by a window during a monsoon afternoon, bonding with your family over hot chai.
22. Rumali roti
What It Is: The word “rumal” is Hindi for handkerchief, and this bread resembles one; it is large, as thin as cloth, and served folded like a napkin.
Perfect For: When you need bread but want something lighter than naan.
Feels Like: Watching with child-like awe as a chef tosses the dough up in the air and spins it in circles.
23. Papri chaat
What It Is: Crispy, fried dough wafers served with boiled potatoes, boiled chick peas, chilis, yogurt, tamarind chutney, and several spices.
Perfect For: A healthy and multi-flavored snack.
Feels Like: Rewatching an old Bollywood movie with your mom, for the eighth time.
What It Is: An iced preparation made from thickened milk, almonds and pistachios.
Perfect For: When you’re craving ice-cream but with an Indian touch.
Feels Like: A street fair.
25. Recheado masala fish
What It Is: A spicy paste made of chilies, tamarind, and garlic (amongst other spices) is rubbed onto whole fish which are then fried.
Perfect For: Satisfying your seafood craving and spice craving all at once.
Feels Like: Sitting on a beach in Goa, watching the waves roll in.
26. And, finally, samosas
What It Is: A fried or baked triangular snackfood made of a potato stuffing, usually also containing onions and peas, served with a mint chutney.
Perfect For: Literally anytime, anywhere.
Feels Like: Home.