Approx 815 words. 4 mins to read.
It would be impossible to capture India’s food scene in one dish. Its culinary landscape varies from region to region thanks to a number of influencers like, including climate, trade, its spice offering, history and more. To go on a foodie tour would be a very special thing – although you’d need at least a couple of weeks’ holiday to do it properly!
Instead, I’m going to take you on a virtual journey to discover some of my favourite dishes. From spicy rogan josh in the north to the sweet, coconutty curries you can expect to find in the south, it’s time to discover some of the best dishes India has to offer.
The best dishes to try in north India
The north of India is home to many of the UK’s favourite Indian dishes. Head to the home of the rogan josh, Kashmir, for this tasty tomato-based curry, traditionally made with mutton. Or take a trip to the capital, New Delhi, where you can try its famous butter chicken, a rich yet mild dish similar to a tikka masala. Give Co-op’s tasty take on this dish a go by replacing the cream for natural yogurt.
You’re much more likely to find meat dishes in north India, cooked in thick curry sauces and often made with ghee (clarified butter). Usually big and bold in flavour, with plenty of heat and spice, but and often served with a refreshing dollop of raita – a cooling dip made with yogurt, cucumber and fresh herbs.
Dairy is also popular in this region, with paneer (cheese) or yogurt used to add richness. If you’re looking for vegetarian options, aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower), palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and veg-filled samosas are all must-tries. This quick saag aloo, made with potatoes and spinach, can be cooked at home in just 25 minutes.
Tandoori dishes, named after the clay oven they’re cooked in (a tandoor), are also found in northern India. A must try is chicken tandoori – bone-in chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked in a tandoor creating a wonderfully smoky flavour. Give it a go at home with this chargrilled tandoori chicken. No need for the traditional over but still filled with flavour. Bread is also often cooked inside a hot tandoor and is perfect for scooping up all those thick curry sauces.
In fact, the north relies heavily on wheat farming, which is why bread is more readily available. I’m talking warm-from-the-oven naans, rotis and chapatis. Have a go yourself and try these 15-minute frying pan naans, made with wholemeal flour. They only require four ingredients and can be made in a pan – the recipe might not be strictly traditional, but I won’t tell if you don’t!
The best dishes to try in south India
Head further south and you’ll notice a big difference in the food. Due to the tropical climate and proximity to the sea, the ingredients used in the south differ, and the dishes are lighter, sweeter, less spicey and often vegetarian.
Coconut is very popular in southern Indian dishes. In fact, most sauce-based dishes will be made with coconut milk for richness instead of dairy (such as ghee or cheese), like in the north. You can also expect to find tamarind, ginger, fish and seafood in greater supply – along with plenty of rice. Check out this coconutty curry if you’re loco for coconuts!
One of my favourite southern Indian dishes has got to be the masala dosa, a savoury pancake made from a fermented rice and lentil batter, rolled up with spicy potatoes. It’s often served for breakfast with a little coconut chutney and is so addictive.
Another must-try is the classic Keralan curry. Thanks to the use of turmeric it’s a beautiful yellow colour and is rich with coconut milk. This prawn and coconut curry is inspired by the flavours of Kerala and uses plenty of storecupboard ingredients, so you can whip it up at a moment’s notice. Or check out this chicken version if you prefer to eat meat.
Finally, India loves its sweets! And I couldn’t take you on a food tour without mentioning one of its delicious desserts: malai kulfi. It’s a little like an Indian spin on ice cream, made with cream, sugar and often spices and fruit. Check out Co-op’s version, made with a mix of milk, cream and chopped nuts – it makes a creamy but cooling end to a meal, and is bound to impress whoever you serve it to.
I’m proud of my Indian heritage and so lucky to have travelled a lot around this incredible country. There are so many dishes to discover – and these ones are only the tip of the iceberg.
Let me know your favourite Indian dish in the comments below.
Co-op Colleague and Rise Network Member