India's culinary terrain is a feast for all the senses. Its multifaceted vegetarian cuisine is especially impressive – and South India is particularly famous for it. You'll delight in everything from sensational street food to work-of-art thalis, from contemporary fusion masterpieces to 50-year-old family-run stalls serving up one speciality, all using fresh local ingredients. Regional variations add extra flair. There's plenty for carnivores and seafood-lovers too. Indeed, it's this sheer diversity that makes eating your way around South India so deliciously rewarding.

The Basics

South India has eating options to satisfy all budgets and palates. The most upmarket places are worth booking a day or two ahead.

  • Street Food Frenzied holes in the wall provide some of South India's most fantastic, authentic food (especially in Mumbai).
  • Restaurants South India's restaurants deliver cheap, super-tasty local staples, fine-dining Indian cuisine and top-end international cooking.
  • Canteens & Messes Busy, basic sit-down South Indian spots, particularly popular for traditional thalis (all-you-can-eat meals); you usually eat with your hands.
  • Hotels Many of South India's top restaurants reside in hotels, but are open to nonguests.
  • Cafes From roadside chai stalls to smart, wi-fi-equipped urban lounges.

Delicious India

A Culinary Carnival

India’s culinary story is an ancient one: the food you'll find in South India today reflects millenniums of regional and global influences, with distinct local variations.

Feature: The Great South Indian Thali

In South India, the thali is a favourite all-you-can-eat lunchtime meal, often called just a 'meal'. Inexpensive, satiating, wholesome and incredibly tasty, this is Indian food at its simple best. The name 'thali' refers to the stainless-steel plate on which the meal is served. In North India the plate usually has indentations for the various side dishes, but in South India a thali is traditionally served on a flat steel plate often covered with a fresh banana leaf, or on a banana leaf itself.

In a restaurant, when the steel plate is placed in front of you, you can follow local custom and pour some bottled or filtered water on the leaf then spread it around with your right hand. A waiter will pile rotis (breads) on to your plate, followed by servings of dhal, sambar (soupy lentils), rasam (dhal-based broth flavoured with tamarind), vegetable dishes, chutneys, pickles and dahi (curd/yoghurt). When you're done with the rotis, waiters will materialise with large pots of rice and top-ups of side dishes. Using the fingers of your right hand, mix the side dishes with the rice, kneading and scraping it into mouth-sized balls, then scoop it into your mouth using your thumb to push the food. It's considered poor form to stick your hand right into your mouth or to lick your fingers. Observing fellow diners will help you master your thali technique. If it’s all getting a bit messy, there's usually a finger bowl of water available. Waiters will continue refilling your plate until you wave your hand over one or all of the offerings, or fold over your banana leaf, to indicate you have had enough.

Paan

Meals across India are often rounded off with paan, a fragrant mixture of betel nut (also called areca nut), lime paste, spices and condiments wrapped in an edible, silky paan leaf. Peddled by paan-wallahs, usually strategically positioned outside busy restaurants, paan is eaten as a digestive and mouth-freshener. The betel nut is mildly narcotic and some aficionados eat paan the same way heavy smokers consume cigarettes; over the years these people’s teeth can become rotted red and black. Usually the gloopy red juice is spat out – not particularly sightly.

There are two basic types of paan: mitha (sweet) and saadha (with tobacco). A parcel of mitha paan is a splendid way to finish a meal. Pop the whole parcel in your mouth and chew slowly.

Feature: Southern Belles

Savoury dosas (also spelt dosai) – large, crispy, papery, rice-flour crêpes, usually served with a bowl of hot sambar (soupy lentil dish) and another of cooling coconut chatni (chutney) – are a South Indian breakfast speciality that can be eaten at any time of day, all over India. Most popular is the masala dosa (stuffed with spiced potatoes), but other fantastic dosa varieties include the rava dosa (batter made with semolina), the Mysore dosa (like masala dosa but with more vegetables and chilli), and the pessarettu dosa (batter made with mung-bean dhal) from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

The humble idli, a traditional South Indian snack or breakfast, is a nutritious, low-calorie alternative to oil, spice and chilli. Idlis are spongy, round, white, fermented rice cakes that you dip in sambar and coconut and other chatnis. Dahi idli is an idli dunked in very lightly spiced yogurt (brilliant for tender tummies). Other super southern snacks include vadas (doughnut-shaped deep-fried lentil savouries), uttapams (thick, savoury rice pancakes with finely chopped onions, green chillies, coriander and coconut) and iddiyappams (rice-flour string hoppers) served with spicy curry or coconut milk and sugar.

Dear Dairy

Milk and milk products make a staggering contribution to Indian cuisine. Dahi (curd/yoghurt) is commonly served with meals and is great for subduing heat; paneer (soft unfermented cheese) is a godsend for the vegetarian majority; lassi (yoghurt drink) is one of a host of sweet and savoury beverages; ghee is the traditional, pure cooking medium; and some of the finest mithai (Indian sweets) are made with milk.

Sweet at Heart

India has a colourful kaleidoscope of often sticky and squishy mithai (Indian sweets), most of them sinfully sugary. The main categories are barfi (a fudgelike milk-based sweet), soft halwa (made with vegetables, cereals, lentils, nuts or fruit), ladoos (sweet balls made of gram flour and semolina) and sweet balls made from chhana (unpressed paneer) such as rasgullas (syrupy cream-cheese balls). There are also simpler – but equally scrumptious – offerings such as crunchy jalebis (orange-coloured coils of deep-fried batter dunked in sugar syrup; served hot) all over India.

Payasam (kheer in the north) is one of South India's most popular desserts. It’s a creamy rice pudding with a light, delicate flavour, enhanced with cardamom, saffron, pistachios, flaked almonds, chopped cashews or slivered dried fruit. Other favourites include gulab jamun (deep-fried dough balls soaked in rose-flavoured syrup) and kulfi.

In Maharashtra's hill areas you’ll find chikki (rock-hard, toffee-like confectionery for snacking). Madurai, in Tamil Nadu, is famous for its refreshing drink jigarthanda (boiled milk, almond essence, rose syrup and vanilla ice cream).

Each year, an estimated 14 tonnes of pure silver is converted into the edible foil that decorates many Indian sweets, especially during Diwali.

Pickles, Chutneys & Relishes

Pickles, chutneys and relishes are accompaniments that add zing to meals and appear alongside almost every South Indian idli (fermented rice cake), dosa or uttapam (savoury rice pancake). A relish can be anything from a tiny pickled onion to a delicately crafted fusion of fruit, nuts and spices. One of the most popular side dishes is yoghurt-based raita, a tongue-cooling counter to spicy food. Chatnis come in all kinds of varieties (sweet or savoury) and can be made from many different vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices.

The Fruits (and Vegetables) of Mother Nature

A visit to any South Indian market reveals a vast, vibrant assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables, overflowing from baskets or stacked in tidy pyramids. The South is especially well known for its abundance of tropical fruits such as pineapple, papaya and avocado (this last grown almost exclusively on southern hillsides). Mangoes abound during summer months (especially April and May); the pick of India's 500 luscious varieties is the sweet Maharashtrian Alphonso. You’ll find fruit inventively fashioned into a chatni (chutney) or pickle, and flavouring lassi, kulfi (flavoured, firm-textured ice cream) and other sweet treats.

Naturally in a region with so many vegetarians, sabzi (vegetables) make up a predominant part of the diet. Vegetables can be cooked sukhi (dry) or tari (in a sauce), and within these two categories they can be fried, roasted, curried, baked, mashed and stuffed into dosas (large South Indian savoury crêpes), or dipped in chickpea-flour batter to make a deep-fried pakora (fritter). Potatoes are ubiquitous and popularly cooked with various masalas (spice mixes), with other vegetables, stuffed inside masala dosas (dosas stuffed with spiced potatoes) or mashed and fried for the street snack aloo tikki (mashed-potato patties).

Onions are fried with other vegetables, ground into a paste for cooking with meats or served raw as relishes. Heads of cauliflower are cooked dry on their own, with potatoes as aloo gobi (potato-and-cauliflower curry), or with other vegetables such as carrots and beans. Fresh green peas turn up stir-fried with other vegetables in pilaus and biryanis. Baigan (eggplant/aubergine) can be curried or sliced and deep-fried. Also popular is saag (leafy greens), which can include mustard, spinach and fenugreek. Something a little more unusual is the bumpy-skinned karela (bitter gourd), which, like the delectable bhindi (okra), is commonly prepared dry with spices. Tamil Nadu is known for growing the drumstick vegetable – a long, thin pod often used in sambar (a South Indian soupy lentil dish).

Deep-Sea Delights

India has around 7500km of coastline, so it’s no surprise that seafood is a key South Indian ingredient, especially on the west coast, from Mumbai (Bombay) down to Kerala. Kerala is the biggest fishing state, while Goa boasts particularly succulent prawns and fiery fish curries; the fishing communities of the Konkan Coast – between Mumbai and Goa – are renowned for their seafood. The far-flung Andaman Islands are a treat for seafood lovers, with fresh catch on all menus, while fresh seafood also abounds in coastal Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Meaty Matters

Although India probably has more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined, it still has an extensive repertoire of carnivorous fare. Chicken, lamb and mutton (sometimes actually goat) are the staples; religious taboos make beef forbidden to devout Hindus, and pork to Muslims.

In South India, meaty Chettinadu cuisine from Tamil Nadu is beautifully spiced without being too fiery. In some southern restaurants you'll find meat-dominated Mughlai cuisine, which includes rich curries, kebabs, koftas and biryanis – the last is a particular speciality of Hyderabad. This spicy cuisine traces its history back to the (Islamic) Mughal empire that once reigned supreme over much of India. Tandoori meat dishes are another North Indian favourite also found in the south. The name is derived from the clay oven, or tandoor, in which the marinated meat is cooked.

Dhal-icious!

The whole of India is united in its love for dhal (curried lentils or pulses). You may encounter up to 60 different pulses: the most common are channa (chickpeas); tiny yellow or green ovals called moong (mung beans); salmon-coloured masoor (red lentils); the ochre-coloured southern favourite tuvar (yellow lentils; also known as arhar); rajma (kidney beans); urad (black gram or lentils); and lobhia (black-eyed peas).

Flippin’ Fantastic Bread

Although rice is South India's mainstay, traditional breads are also eaten. Roti, the generic term for Indian-style bread, is a name used interchangeably with chapati to describe the most common variety, the irresistible unleavened round bread made with whole-wheat flour and cooked on a tawa (hotplate). It may be smothered with ghee (clarified butter) or oil. In some places, rotis are bigger and thicker than chapatis, and sometimes cooked in a tandoor. Paratha is a layered pan-fried flat bread that may also be stuffed and which makes a popular breakfast; South India's parotta is similar. Naan is a larger, thicker, tandoor-cooked bread, usually eaten with meaty sauces or kebabs. Puri is an unleavened bread that puffs up when deep-fried, served with accompaniments such as bhajia (vegetable fritters).

Land of Spices

Christopher Columbus was actually searching for the black pepper of Kerala’s Malabar Coast when he stumbled upon America. The region still grows the finest quality of the world’s favourite spice, integral to most savoury Indian dishes.

Turmeric is the essence of the majority of Indian curries, but coriander seeds are the most widely used spice and lend flavour and body to just about every savoury dish. Indian ‘wet’ dishes ('curries' in the West) usually begin with the crackle of cumin seeds in hot oil. Tamarind is sometimes known as the ‘Indian date’ and is a popular souring agent in South India. The green cardamom of Kerala’s Western Ghats is regarded as the world’s best; you’ll find it in savouries, desserts and warming chai (tea). Saffron, the dried stigmas of crocus flowers grown in Kashmir, is so light it takes more than 1500 hand-plucked flowers to yield just one gram.

Rice Paradise

Rice is a staple throughout India, and especially in South India. Long-grain white-rice varieties are most popular, served hot with every thali and just about any ‘wet’ cooked dish. From Assam’s sticky rice in the far northeast to Kerala’s red grains in the extreme south, you’ll find countless regional varieties. The title of best rice in India is usually conceded to basmati, a fragrant long-grain variety grown in northern and central India and widely exported around the world. Rice is usually served after you have finished with the rotis (breads), and usually accompanied by enriching curd.

Feature: Feasting Indian-Style

Most people in India eat with their right hand. In the south, they use as much of the hand as is necessary; elsewhere they use the tips of the fingers. The left hand is reserved for unsanitary actions such as removing shoes. You can use your left hand for holding drinks and serving yourself from a communal bowl, but it shouldn’t be used for bringing food to your mouth. Before and after a meal, wash your hands.

Once your meal is served, mix the food with your fingers. If you are having dhal and sabzi (vegetables), only mix the dhal into your rice and have the sabzi in small scoops with each mouthful. If you are having fish or meat curry, mix the gravy into your rice. Scoop up lumps of the mix and, with your knuckles facing the dish, use your thumb to shovel the food into your mouth.

Vegetarians & Vegans

South India is king when it comes to vegetarian food in India. There's little understanding of veganism ('pure vegetarian' means without eggs) and animal products such as milk, butter, ghee and curd are included in most Indian dishes. As a vegan, your first problem is likely to be getting the cook to understand your requirements, though big hotels and larger cities are getting better at catering to vegans.

For further information, check out Indian Vegan (www.indianvegan.com) and Happy Cow (www.happycow.net).

Where to Fill Up?

You can eat well everywhere in South India, from ramshackle dhabas (simple streetside eateries) and frenzied lunchtime 'messes' (canteens) to other-worldly five-star hotels. Most midrange restaurants serve a few basic genres: South Indian (which usually means the vegetarian food of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka) and North Indian (which largely comprises Punjabi/Mughlai fare), plus, often, Indian interpretations of Chinese dishes. You’ll also encounter the cuisines of neighbouring regions and states. Indians frequently migrate for work and these restaurants cater to large communities seeking familiar home tastes.

Not to be confused with burger joints and pizzerias, restaurants in the south advertising ‘fast food’ are some of India’s best. They serve the whole gamut of tiffin (snack) items and often have separate sweet counters. Many upmarket hotels have outstanding restaurants, some with pan-Indian menus so you can explore various regional cuisines, others deliciously specialised. Meanwhile, the independent restaurant-dining scene keeps mushrooming in India’s larger cities, with every kind of cuisine available, from Mexican and Mediterranean to Japanese and Italian.

Dhabas are oases to millions of truck drivers, bus passengers and sundry travellers going anywhere by road. The original dhabas dot the North Indian landscape, but you’ll find versions of them throughout the country. The rough-and-ready but satisfying food served in these happy-go-lucky shacks has become a genre of its own known as ‘dhaba food’.

Railway Snack Attack

One of the thrills of travelling by rail in India is the culinary circus that greets you at almost every station. Roving vendors accost arriving trains, yelling and scampering up and down carriages; fruit, namkin (savoury nibbles), omelettes, nuts and sweets are offered through the window grilles; and platform cooks try to lure you from the train with the sizzle of spicy goodies like fresh samosas. Frequent rail travellers know which station is famous for which food item: Maharashtra's Lonavla station is known for chikki, while Chennai Central is (predictably) famed for idlis, vadas and dosas.

Street Food

Whatever the time of day, street-food vendors are frying, boiling, griddling, roasting, peeling, simmering, mixing, juicing or baking different types of food and drink to lure peckish passers-by. Small operations usually have one special that they serve all day; other vendors have different dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fare varies as you venture between neighbourhoods, towns and regions; it can be as simple as puffed rice or peanuts roasted in hot sand, or as complex as the riot of different flavours known as chaat (savoury snack). Idli sambar (rice patties served with lentil sauce and chutney) is a favourite in Chennai, along with vadas (doughnut-shaped deep-fried lentil savouries) and uttapams. Mumbai is famed for its pav bhaji (spiced veg and bread) and bhelpuri (fried rounds of dough with puffed rice, lentils, lemon juice, onion, herbs and chutney), while misal pav (spicy bean sprouts and pulses) is a Maharashtrian breakfast favourite. Mirchi bhajji (chilli fritters stuffed with tamarind, sesame and spices) are a Hyderabad delicacy. Samosas (deep-fried pastry triangles filled with spiced vegetables) and golgappa/panipuri/gup chup (puffed spheres of bread with spicy filling) are all over India.

Feature: Street Food Tips

Tucking into street eats is one of the joys of travelling in South India; here are some tips to help avoid tummy troubles.

  • Give yourself a few days to adjust to the local cuisine, especially if you’re not used to spicy food.
  • If the locals are avoiding a particular vendor, you should too. Also take notice of the profile of the customers: any place popular with families will probably be your safest bet.
  • Check how and where the vendor is cleaning the utensils, and how and where the food is covered. If the vendor is cooking in oil, have a peek to check it’s clean. If the pots or surfaces are dirty, there are food scraps about or too many buzzing flies, don’t be shy about making a hasty retreat.
  • Don’t be put off when you order some deep-fried snack and the cook throws it back into the wok. It’s common practice to partly cook the snacks first and then finish them off once they’ve been ordered. Frying them again kills germs.
  • Unless a place is reputable (and busy), it’s best to avoid eating meat from the street.
  • The hygiene standards at juice stalls vary, so exercise caution. Have the vendor press the juice in front of you and steer clear of anything stored in a jug or served in a glass (unless you’re absolutely convinced of the washing standards).
  • Don’t be tempted by glistening presliced melon and other fruit, which keeps its luscious veneer with regular dousings of (often dubious) water.

Daily Dining Habits

Three main meals a day is the norm in India. South Indians generally have a light, early breakfast, often idlis with sambar. Lunch can be substantial (perhaps a thali) or lighter, especially for time-strapped office workers. Many people also have several tiffin (between-meal snacks) throughout the day. Dinner is the main meal of the day: usually large serves of rice, rotis, vegetables, curd and spicy side dishes (maybe also meat), all served at once. Desserts are optional and most prevalent during festivals or other special occasions; fruit may wrap up a meal. In many Indian homes, dinner can be a late affair (post 9pm) depending on personal preference and the season (eg later dinners during warmer months). Restaurants usually spring to life after 9pm in big cities, but get busy earlier in small towns.

Spiritual Sustenance

For many Indians, food is considered just as critical for fine-tuning the spirit as it is for sustaining the body. Broadly speaking, Hindus traditionally avoid foods that are thought to inhibit physical and spiritual development, although there are few hard-and-fast rules. The taboo on eating beef (the cow is holy to Hindus) is the most rigid restriction. Jains avoid foods such as garlic, onions and potatoes, which, apart from harming insects on their extraction from the ground, are thought to heat the blood and arouse sexual desire. You may come across vegetarian restaurants that make it a point to advertise the absence of onion and garlic from their dishes for this reason. Devout Hindus may also avoid garlic and onions. These items are banned from many ashrams too.

Some foods, such as dairy products, are considered innately pure and are eaten to cleanse the body, mind and spirit. Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, health and longevity, also influences food customs.

Pork is taboo for Muslims, and stimulants such as alcohol are avoided by the most devout. Halal is the term for all permitted foods, and haram for those prohibited. Fasting is considered an opportunity to earn the approval of Allah, wipe the sin-slate clean and understand the suffering of the poor.

Buddhists and Jains subscribe to the philosophy of ahimsa (nonviolence) and are mostly vegetarian. Jainism’s central tenet is ultravegetarianism, and rigid restrictions are in place to avoid injury to any living creature.

India’s Sikh, Christian and Parsi communities have few or no restrictions on what they can eat.

Cooking Courses

You might find yourself so inspired by South Indian food that you want to take home a little Indian kitchen know-how. Recommended cooking courses are offered in Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and elsewhere. Some are professionally run, others informal. Most require a few days’ notice.

Goa

Kerala

Tamil Nadu

Telangana

Drinks, Anyone?

Alcoholic Beverages

Gujarat, Nagaland, Mizoram and Bihar, all in the north, are India’s only dry states, but there are drinking laws in place all over the country. Each state may have regular dry days when the sale of alcohol from liquor shops is banned. Kerala, where alcohol consumption was twice the national average, removed liquor licences from some 700 bars in 2014; some have reopened as beer or wine parlours, while Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) is available from state-run shops or in five-star hotel bars; at the time of writing, Kerala's planned move towards full prohibition looked unlikely to go ahead. On Gandhi's birthday (2 October), you'll find it hard to get alcoholic drinks anywhere. In Goa, alcohol taxes are lower and the drinking culture is less restricted.

You’ll find excellent watering holes in most big cities, all at their liveliest on weekends. Bengaluru (Bangalore) is India's craft-beer capital, but Mumbai (Bombay) and Pune are now racing up behind with their own lively brew-pub scenes. More upmarket bars serve an impressive selection of domestic and imported alcohol plus draught beers. Plenty of bars turn into heaving nightclubs anytime after 8pm. Many of South India's best bars are in flashy hotels. In smaller towns, the bar scene is usually a seedy, male-dominated affair – not the kind of places thirsty female travellers should venture into alone.

Despite India's domestic wine-producing industry still being relatively new, wine-drinking is steadily on the rise. The favourable climate and soil conditions in certain areas – especially parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka – have spawned commendable Indian wineries like Nasik's Grover Zampa and Sula Vineyards; Fratelli Wines, southeast of Pune, is another top Indian winery.

Stringent licensing laws discourage drinking in some restaurants, though places that depend on the tourist rupee may covertly serve you beer in teapots and disguised glasses – but don’t assume anything, at the risk of causing offence. Very few vegetarian restaurants serve alcohol.

Homegrown Brews

An estimated three-quarters of India’s drinking population quaffs ‘country liquor’, such as the south's notorious arak (liquor distilled from coconut-palm sap, potatoes or rice). This is widely known as the poor-man’s drink; millions are addicted to the stuff. Each year, many people are blinded, paralysed or even killed by the methyl alcohol in illegal arak.

An interesting local drink is mahua, a clear spirit with a heady pungent flavour, distilled from the flower of the mahua tree. It’s brewed in makeshift village stalls all over central India during March and April, when the trees bloom. Mahua is safe to drink as long as it comes from a trustworthy source, but there have been plenty of cases of people being blinded after drinking mahua adulterated with methyl alcohol.

Toddy (sap from palm trees) is drunk in coastal areas, especially Kerala, while feni is the primo Indian spirit and the preserve of laid-back Goa. Coconut feni is light and unexceptional but the more popular cashew feni – made from cashew fruit – is worth a try.

Nonalcoholic Beverages

Chai, the much-loved drink of the masses, is made with copious amounts of milk and sugar. A glass of steaming, frothy chai is the perfect antidote to the vicissitudes of life on the Indian road; the disembodied voice droning ‘garam chai, garam chai’ (hot tea, hot tea) is likely to become one of the most familiar and welcome sounds of your trip. Masala chai adds cardamom, ginger and other spices.

While chai is most of India's traditional choice, South Indians have long shared their loyalty with coffee. The popular South Indian filter coffee is a combination of boiled milk, sugar and a strong decoction made from freshly ground coffee beans, often with a dash of chicory. In bigger cities, you'll find countless branches of modern coffee-house chains (Café Coffee Day, Barista, even Starbucks), plus an ever-growing number of fashionable independent cafes, all serving standard international coffees.

Masala soda is the quintessential Indian soft drink: a freshly opened bottle of fizzy soda, pepped up with lime, spices, salt and sugar. You can also try a plain lime soda, with fresh lime, served sweet (with sugar) or salted. Also refreshing is jal jeera, made of lime juice, cumin, mint and rock salt. Sweet and savoury lassi, a yoghurt-based drink, is another wonderfully cooling beverage, popular nationwide. Sol kadhi, a pink-coloured, slightly sour drink made from coconut milk, is a staple of South India's Konkan Coast (between Mumbai and Goa).

Falooda is a rose-flavoured drink made with milk, cream, nuts and strands of vermicelli, while badam milk (hot or cold) is flavoured with almonds and saffron.

Food & Drink Glossary

acharpickle
aloopotato; also alu
aloo gobipotato-and-cauliflower curry
aloo tikkimashed-potato patty
appamSouth Indian rice pancake
arakliquor distilled from coconut milk, potatoes or rice
baiganeggplant/aubergine; also brinjal
barfifudgelike sweet made from milk
bebincaGoan 16-layer cake
besanchickpea flour
betelnut of the betel tree; also areca nut
bhajiavegetable fritters
bhang lassiblend of lassi and bhang (a derivative of marijuana)
bhelpurithin, fried rounds of dough with rice, lentils, lemon juice, onion, herbs and chutney
bhindiokra
biryanifragrant, spiced steamed rice with meat or vegetables
bondamashed-potato patty
chaatsavoury snack, may be seasoned with chaat masala
chachbuttermilk beverage
chaitea
channaspiced chickpeas
chapatiround, unleavened Indian-style bread; also roti
chawalrice
cheikusmall, sweet brown fruit
dahicurd/yoghurt
dhalspiced lentil dish
dhal makhaniblack lentils and red kidney beans with cream and butter
dhansakParsi dish; meat, usually chicken or lamb, with curried lentils, pumpkin or gourd, and rice
dosalarge South Indian savoury crêpe
faloodarose-flavoured drink made with milk, cream, nuts and vermicelli
faludalong chickpea-flour noodles
feniGoan liquor distilled from coconut milk or cashews
gheeclarified butter
gobicauliflower
gulab jamundeep-fried balls of dough soaked in rose-flavoured syrup
halwasoft sweet made with vegetables, lentils, nuts or fruit
iddiyappamrice-flour string hoppers
idliSouth Indian spongy, round, fermented rice cake
imlitamarind
jaggeryhard, brown, sugarlike sweetener made from palm sap
jalebiorange-coloured coils of deep-fried batter dunked in sugar syrup; served hot
jigarthandadrink made with boiled milk, almond essence, rose syrup and vanilla ice cream
karelabitter gourd
keemaspiced minced meat
kheercreamy rice pudding; payasam in South India
khichdiblend of lightly spiced rice and lentils; also khichri
koftaminced vegetables or meat; often ball-shaped
kormacurrylike braised dish
kulchasoft, leavened Indian-style bread
kulfiflavoured (often with pistachio), firm-textured ice cream
ladoosweet ball made with gram flour and semolina; also ladu
lassiyoghurt-and-iced-water drink
malai koftapaneer cooked in a creamy sauce of cashews and tomato
masala dosalarge South Indian savoury crêpe (dosa) stuffed with spiced potatoes
mattar paneerunfermented-cheese and pea curry
methifenugreek
mishti doiBengali sweet; curd sweetened with jaggery
mithaiIndian sweets
momosavoury Tibetan dumpling
naantandoor-cooked flat bread
namaksalt
namkinsavoury nibbles
pakorabite-sized vegetable pieces in batter
palak paneerunfermented cheese chunks in a puréed spinach gravy
paneersoft, unfermented cheese made from milk curd
paniwater
pappadamthin, crispy lentil or chickpea-flour circle-shaped wafer; also pappad
paratha/parantha/parottaflaky flat bread (thicker than chapati); often stuffed
phulkachapati that puffs up on an open flame
pilaurice cooked in spiced stock; also pulau, pilao or pilaf
pudinamint
puriflat, savoury dough that puffs up when deep-fried; also poori
raitamildly spiced yogurt, often containing shredded cucumber or diced pineapple
rasamdhal-based broth flavoured with tamarind
rasgullacream-cheese balls flavoured with rose water
rogan joshrich, spicy lamb curry
saagleafy greens
sabzivegetables
sambarSouth Indian soupy lentil dish with cubed vegetables
samosadeep-fried pastry triangles filled with spiced vegetables
sol kadhipink-coloured, slightly sour drink made from coconut milk
sonfaniseed; used as a digestive and mouth-freshener; also saunf
tandoorclay oven
tawaflat hotplate/iron griddle
thaliall-you-can-eat meal; stainless steel (sometimes silver) plate
thukpaTibetan noodle soup
tiffinsnack; also refers to meal container often made of stainless steel
tikkaspiced, often marinated, chunks of chicken, paneer etc
toddyalcoholic drink, tapped from palm trees
upmarava (semolina) cooked with onions, spices, chilli peppers and coconut
uttapamthick, savoury South Indian rice pancake with finely chopped onions, green chillies, coriander and coconut
vadaSouth Indian doughnut-shaped, deep-fried lentil savoury
vindalooGoan dish; fiery curry in a marinade of vinegar and garlic

Sidebar: Penguin Food Guide to India Book

The Penguin Food Guide to India, by Charmaine O’Brien, is engrossing and evocative.

Sidebar: The Indian Spice Kitchen Book

Containing handy tips, including how to best store spices, Monisha Bharadwaj’s The Indian Spice Kitchen is a slick cookbook with more than 200 traditional recipes.

Sidebar: Pongal

Pongal, the major harvest festival of the south, is closely associated with a dish of the same name, made with the season's first rice plus jaggery, nuts, raisins and spices.

Sidebar: Ghee

Ghee is made by melting butter and removing the water and milk solids: ghee is the clear butter fat that remains. It's better for high-heat cooking than butter, and keeps for longer.

Sidebar: Finest Rice Recipes Book

Spotlighting rice, Finest Rice Recipes, by Sabina Sehgal Saikia, shows just how versatile this humble grain is, with sophisticated creations such as rice-crusted crab cakes.

Sidebar: Dakshin Bhog Book

Dakshin Bhog, by Santhi Balaraman, offers a yummy jumble of southern stars, from iconic dosas and idlis to kootan choru (vegetable rice).

Sidebar: Maharashtrian Fish Dishes

Fish is a staple of nonvegetarian Maharashtrian food; Maharashtra’s signature fish dish is bombil (Bombay Duck; a misnomer for this slimy, pikelike fish), which is eaten fresh, sun-dried or deep-fried.

Sidebar: Seafood Beach Shacks

In coastal areas, especially Goa and Kerala, it’s hard to beat the beach shacks for fresh, inexpensive seafood, from fried mussels, prawns and calamari to steamed fish, crab and lobster.

Sidebar: Mangalorean Cuisine, Karnataka

The fiery cuisine of Karnatakan coastal city Mangaluru (Mangalore) is famed for its flavour-packed seafood dishes. Mangalorean cuisine is diverse, distinct, and characterised by its liberal use of chilli and fresh coconut.

Sidebar: The Anger of Aubergines Book

Bulbul Sharma's The Anger of Aubergines: Stories of Women and Food is an amusing culinary analysis of social relationships interspersed with enticing recipes.

Sidebar: Curry

Technically speaking, there’s no such thing as an Indian ‘curry’ – the word, an anglicised derivative of the Tamil word kari (sauce), was used by the British as a term for any spiced dish.

Sidebar: Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India Book

Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India, by Chandra Padmanabhan, is an easy-to-read, beautifully illustrated book of southern recipes.

Sidebar: 101 Kerala Delicacies Book

GP Vijay's 101 Kerala Delicacies is a detailed recipe book of vegetarian and nonvegetarian dishes from this coast-hugging state.

Sidebar: Street Foods of India Book

Got the munchies? Grab Street Foods of India, by Vimla and Deb Kumar Mukerji, which has recipes for much-loved Indian snacks.

Sidebar: Prasad

Food that is first offered to the gods at temples then shared among devotees is known as prasad.

Sidebar: Complete Indian Cooking Book

Complete Indian Cooking, by Mridula Baljekar, Rafi Fernandez, Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani, contains a host of over 400 favourite southern recipes, from chicken with green mango to Goan prawn curry.

Sidebar: Mumbai Craft Beer

New 2013 legislation finally paved the way for microbreweries in Mumbai. Following the lead of pioneering brew-pub Barking Deer, the city is now exploding in hops.

Sidebar: Goan Cuisine

Goan cuisine is a delicious blend of Portuguese and South Indian flavours, with lots of meats and fresh seafood. The famous, fiery vindaloo (curry in a marinade of vinegar and garlic) is a Goan favourite.

Sidebar: Keralan Cookbooks

Nimi Sunilkumar's award-winning Keralan cookbooks Lip Smacking Dishes of Kerala and 4 O’Clock Temptations of Kerala offer a tantalising insight into local cuisine.

Sidebar: The Bangala Table Book

The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad, by Sumeet Nair, Meenakshi Meyyappan and Jill Donenfeld, is a gorgeous, photo-heavy recipe tome on southern Tamil Nadu's Chettinadu region.

Taxes & Service Charges

Most upscale or midrange restaurants add a service charge (around 10%) on meals. They also add a service tax of around 13% on 40% of your bill (the 'service' part), plus VAT, which can be five to 20% depending on the state. Menu prices in Lonely Planet listings do not include taxes. Note that India's new Goods & Service Tax (GST), due to come into force in 2017, may affect restaurant taxes and charges across the country.