India is famous for a great many things: its vast population, its varied and beautiful geography, the devotion of its largely Hindu population. Its most famous export of all, however, is its cuisine. Indian food can be found in every corner of the world, whether it be a Rajasthani restaurant serving-up traditional Safed Maas in central London or a Keralan cookhouse dishing out Thalassery biriyani in rural California. While the food in such establishments is often excellent, nothing can quite compare to the authentic experiences offered on a food tour on the mighty subcontinent itself.
India is a country of contrast. This is most striking when visiting cities such as Mumbai or Delhi, where poverty and wealth rub shoulder to shoulder – while stopped at traffic lights, for example, it is not uncommon to see a limousine pull up next to a man pulling a cart. This contrast permeates every aspect of life here – from the hectic city centres to the sprawling calmness of rural tea plantations, from the Himalayan mountain range to the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and from the great Thar Desert to the mazy waterways of the southern west coast.
The sharpest and most delicious contrasts, however, are found within the millions of kitchens – both amateur and professional – that feed the nation. Every one of India’s many states has a unique culinary identity. As such, one of the finest ways to experience India’s colourful and varied culture is on a food tour. From street-side samosas in Udaipur – where you can enjoy a fill for less than a dollar – to fancy restaurants within the many bustling cities dotted across the country, there’s always something delicious on offer. A vegetable curry in Goa will not taste the same as one made in Gujarat. And the residents of the Punjab make theirs differently to those from West Bengal. It’s a culinary adventure full of spices and surprises. And it’s not all about destination eateries – some of the finest thalis can be found at roadside cafés and bus/truck stops: simple, filling and flavoursome food served-up as standard. They beat a drive-thru that’s for sure!
One important thing to bear in mind is the vastness of India. While a food tour exploring the entirety of the country would unquestionably be the trip of a lifetime, one would need a couple of years to do it! As such, pick a route that offers a number of non-foody attractions that appear on your personal must-see list and fit the food in around it. A trip that includes wandering the streets of Delhi, a visit to the Taj Mahal and a train ride down to Goa, for example, can be completed in just a couple of weeks and serves up cultural intrigue as well as plenty of excellent and varied food.
It is also worth remembering that while meat is readily available across India, a large proportion of the population don’t eat it. As such, many of the best dishes are vegetarian. Cows are also considered sacred, so you won’t be eating much beef. Fear not, you won’t even notice – the food is that delicious!
Bon voyage and bon appétit, or kripyā bhojan kā ānnaṅd lijīyai, as they say in Hindi.