India is home to one of the most interesting cuisines in the world, and here are the most popular Indian food dishes and recipes.
By Nina Walker
So, the most popular Indian food dishes and recipes are really more of what we are familiar with.
It doesn’t mean an Indian would see it that way.
Therefore, this article presents dishes you’re most likely to come across in Indian restaurants in the West.
So, what are you waiting for?
Let’s dig in!
Because India is a very diverse country, Indian food dishes and recipes are very diverse, as well.
Although the West is more familiar with dishes from the north, there is more to Indian cuisine!
For example, there are very popular southern dishes from areas like Telengana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala.
Likewise, there are also popular dishes from western areas like Odisha, West Bengal, and Bihar.
Similarly, eastern dishes from states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa are very popular.
In other words, all of India!
Meanwhile, Indian cuisine is definitely influenced by others, as well.
For example, because of the Muslims, there are some Arabic-influenced dishes, such as those you find in Kerala.
“You can find Arabic influences in Hyderabad, Delhi, and here in Jaipur, too,” says Divya, a chef-in-training we interviewed. “Islam was ruling religion for some centuries,” she says, talking about the Mughal Era of India.
Meanwhile, Divya, who lives in Jaipur, in the northern part of the country, says neighboring cultures influenced too.
For instance, there are many Persian-origin dishes in India, such as biryani, lassi, and others.
Likewise, there are Chinese-origin dishes like the chai and momo (Indian dumplings).
So, think of Indian food in terms that are more broadly, says Divya.
However, we also want to make it clear that the following foods are our favorite, as foreigners.
To be fair, though, we will try to point out the origins of the dishes!
So, what are some regional Indian cuisines that we want you to know more about?
South Indian Cuisine
One of the most overlooked Indian cuisines is without doubt the southern.
Srividhya Gopalakrishnan, author of The Essential South Indian Cookbook, says that southern Indian food is flavorful.
According to Gopalakrishnan, the cuisines in southern India are typically those from Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala.
“South India uses millets, lentils, coconut, tamarind, fresh seasonal fruit, and vegetables extensively,” says Gopalakrishnan.
However, rice is the region’s staple food, Gopalakrishnan explains.
South India is surrounded by Bay of Bangel to the east, Arabian Sea to the west, and Indian Ocean to the south.
Because southern India is home to the largest coastline in the country, seafood is plentiful in the cuisines, says Gopalakrishnan.
For sure, another Indian food that is very unique is Bangla cuisine, rooted in the undivided historical Bengal.
So, this area includes today’s Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, and Assam, but also the neighboring country of Bangladesh.
Ananya Banerjee, author of Bangla Gastronomy, says that Bengali food is known for fish and rice, but it is not as fishy as you think.
“A fabulous vegetarian spread and an amazing range of sweets are also hallmarks of Bengali cuisine,” says Banerjee.
Our northern friend, Divya, also says that Bengali food is delicious. For example, she loves daab dhingri, which is a shrimp curry dish.
Likewise, Divya says she loves mishti doi, which is a fermented sweet made of yogurt and other delicious things.
“Also, if I’m feeling spicy that day, I love to get tarkari,” says Divya, talking about a vegetarian hot spicy dish.
Meanwhile, the uniqueness of Bengali food has to do with cooking methods.
“The ingredients keep varying, but the cooking method remains the same under some broad categories,” says Banerjee.
More importantly, Bengali food has unique dishes served for every stage of life—from birth celebrations to funerals!
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s jump into the most popular Indian dishes and recipes!
So, Indian appetizers are very delicious!
But, wait, what is an appetizer?
“Why do you need such a thing?” asks Rashmi, a young woman in Mumbai.
Because the concept of appetizers is not Indian the same way, it can be challenging for some.
“Oh, you mean snacks. I get you,” says Rashmi, after hearing samosa, a popular appetizer in the West.
So, most Indians would consider the dishes in this section as part of their chaat.
Because “chaat” is typically consumed after lunch but before dinner, chaat items are would be considered afternoon snacks.
“I wouldn’t eat panipuri [a dish in this section] before my dinner or lunch as an appetizer,” says Rashmi.
However, Indian restaurants in the West list them as appetizers.
Likewise, popular tourist restaurants in India have them on their menus, as well.
Similarly, cosmopolitan Indians, or even Indians in the tourist industry, would also know.
So, what types of appetizers do we recommend?
Well, let’s start with the papad (not pictured in this section). Then we will talk about samosas (on the left in the above photo). Finally, we will discuss panipuri (bottom right) and jhalmuri (top right).
So, you’re super hungry and head into your favorite Indian restaurant.
Because they are so lovely, they might automatically bring you some things.
For instance, they might bring papad, the crunchy, thin bread that holds you over until the “real” food comes.
“It is just the perfect amount of spice to get me going,” says Jennifer, who loves Indian food.
Although they are all over India, they originated in southern India, in Kerala, where they are called “papadum.”
But how do you make this?
So, my favorite recipe is by Tarla Dalal, the late chef often called the Julia Childs of India.
Dame Dalal knew precisely how to make these things.
Because of its deliciousness, samosas have gone global!
So, here is the shocker: they are not originally Indian.
But, alas, true.
So, samosas originated in Central Asia and were brought by the Muslims to the Subcontinent in the 13th Century.
But why do we love samosas as appetizers?
“They are perfect because you feel like you ate something bad,” says Michael, an American tourist in Delhi. “However, because they are so small, it’s not so bad,” he laughs.
Well, then have a few, please!
So, these triangle-shaped fried pastries are full of flavor.
For instance, you have a vegetable one or one with meat or fish!
So, how do you make them?
Because it is vegetarian and easy to make, we love the recipe by Dassana Amit.
Really, you have to try it.
Oh, the roundness of panipuri!
Although it is made from unleavened bread, it is fine as it is deep-fried.
However, there is a watery side to it (it has to be enjoyed with a delicate sauce of tamarind).
“It would be such a mess if it wasn’t so delicious,” says Atul, an Indian-American.
Therefore, it is worth the trouble.
Meanwhile, this delicious appetizer originated in Bihar.
But how do you put it together?
So, we love this recipe by Padhu Sankar.
Oh, it is so good!
Our final appetizer is a case of “last but not least.”
Because it is puffed rice with tons of cute things, jhalmuri is an excellent appetizer.
“It’s like spicy cereal full of flavor,” says Amanda, after trying it from an Indian food truck in Manhattan. “So, it’s yummy,” she smiles, digging into it a third time. “I like it.”
Meanwhile, this delicious appetizer originated in the eastern state of West Bengal and is popular across the east.
So, try this healthy recipe by Swasthi Shreekanth.
Afterward, you’re ready for some main course!
So, unlike the appetizers, our selections of main course dishes are not diverse.
Because most Indians in the United States are from the northern part of India, Americans miss out on other types.
As a result, our main dishes are predominantly northern.
However, keep in mind that food from the south, east, and west is really delicious, too!
As a result, we included a couple of non-northern dishes.
So, what did we choose for the main course?
For instance, tandoori chicken (pictured top right), a popular dish in the United States.
Likewise, we have some thali (bottom right) and naan (left).
Meanwhile, we also have biryani, dal, butter chicken, and palak paneer!
So, let’s get some main courses going!
Because this is a dish that can be enjoyed anytime, idli makes a perfect dish to start our showcase.
So, this is typically a breakfast dish in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where it originated.
“We enjoy it with a sauce called sambar,” says Sivaji, who is from Chennai. “It is a light dish that you can enjoy throughout the day, though,” he adds.
Meanwhile, idli is made from rice and turned into a rice cake.
“Some people like it hard and others soft,” explains Sivaji.
So, we love it soft!
“I never had the hard type,” says Michael, an American tourist. “Meanwhile, I sometimes will eat plain idli, too,” he adds. “Of course, that makes my Indian friends curious.”
And, guess what, we got a recipe for you by Anushree Shetty.
Because they are delicious and filling, dal recipes are forever in fashion in India.
“So, there are tons of dal recipes,” explains Divya, our chef-in-training friend in Jaipur. “For example, we have yellow dal, black dal, green dal, any color dal!”
Divya is right!
For instance, there is a dal made from yellow lentils.
However, some are elaborate.
“For example, there is dal tadka,” says Divya. “It means there are tomatoes and lots of diverse herbs in this dal,” she adds.
Likewise, there is a dal where the lentil is mixed with black beans and called dal makhani.
“So, naturally, this dal has a darker color, sometimes very black,” says Divya.
Similarly, there is a dal with meat called dal gosht!
“Typically, the meat will be mutton,” says Divya. “Oh, my God, it is delicious!”
Meanwhile, according to Divya there might be as many as a thousand different dal recipes across India.
“So, the origin of dal is complicated,” explains Divya. “For example, we know Pakistani-born Kundan Lal Gujral invented some dal recipes,” she adds. “However, we also know we had dal before this time. So, it is controversial.”
For instance, Divya notes it was Kundan Lal Gujral, who invented dal makhani, the one mixed with beans.
“Therefore, I can confidently say dal makhani was invented in Punjab,” she says, smiling.
So, we love this dal makhani recipe by Vineeta Anand.
Because of ingredients like yogurt and garlic, naan is one of the most delicious bread in the Indian cuisine.
“I refuse to have Indian food without naan,” says Katherine, a woman from Chicago. “Why bother otherwise? It makes everything well worth the effort.”
We agree, Katherine!
So, we hate to break hearts, but this is another dish originating outside of India.
Oh, my God, we know!
“What? It can’t be true,” says Sivaji, our friend from Tamil Nadu. “How? It is so Indian!”
Yes, we know!
“It is true,” agrees Divya, our chef-in-training from Jaipur. “Naan originated in Persia. So, if you want to really taste its Persian side, order a garlic naan,” she says.
Meanwhile, we love this recipe by the late Tarla Dalal, another one from the famed chef.
So, this is by far one of the most popular dishes from India.
Divya, our friend from Jaipur, says Kundan Lal Gujral invented it.
In other words, it comes to us through Punjab.
“Delicious, mouth-watering, unforgettable,” says Karen, from Minneapolis. “Listen, you must try to make this if you don’t have an Indian restaurant nearby,” she adds.
Because it is a complicated recipe, Divya suggests following a chef’s recipe.
So, we diced to bring you this recipe by chef Sanjay Thumma, well known for his easy-to-follow recipes.
Therefore, take your time and fall in love with this delicious recipe.
So, around 40% of India is vegetarian, as a large number of the population follows Hindu sects that promote vegetarianism.
Likewise, a smaller number usually said to be around 15%, is vegan.
As a result, there are tons of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Any kind of a paneer dish.
“Because paneer gives you the protein you need,” says Divya. “So, it is a popular option for many Indians.”
Paneer is an acid-set cheese like tofu, but not as dull as tofu.
So, that means you can have an excellent dish of palak paneer, which is paneer with spinach.
“Actually, it is very hearty,” says Amanda, our friend from Manhattan. “I feel like I ate something heavy. A great option for vegetarians.”
Yes, it is!
Meanwhile, paneer originated in West Bengal.
So, we love this recipe by chef Smita Deo.
Her recipe is fresh and delicious.
So, biryani originated in Hyderbad, but you could argue it goes back to the Persian pilau.
On the other hand, it is really so different from the pilau because it’s so much more vibrant and flavorful.
“And, there are a million different ways to make it,” says Divya. “Almost every single state has its own way of doing it,” she adds. “Of course, no one can beat hyderbadi biryani.”
She is so right!
Meanwhile, as previously noted by Divya, there are many ways to cook this dish.
However, we love a chicken hyderabdi biryani!
“Chicken biryani is always my go-to meal in India,” says Thomas, an American financial analyst in India. “I would say it is probably the most flavorful dish that is yet also least threatening,” he explains.
In other words, so much flavor and it is fully cooked—meaning you won’t get “sick,” says Thomas.
But, honestly, you should love biryani because it is so awesome!
So, to make it right, check out this recipe by the Hyderabadi foodie Roxana Begum.
It is so delicious and so original!
Because tandoori is a clay oven, anything with this name can make us so excited!
However, nothing says “tandoori” quite like a tandoori chicken, a popular roasted chicken.
“It is both dry and juicy,” explains Divya. “So, the combination is mouth-watering,” she adds. “Even pure veg people [term for vegans] would love to try it,” she laughs.
Meanwhile, the tandoori style of cooking originated in Delhi.
“Because of the Muslim Mughals, we suspect it has its roots in Persia,” explains Divya. “There are similar dishes across Persian-speaking countries,” she adds.
As a result, it is our final stand-alone main course dish—to celebrate the capital of this gorgeous country.
So, to make it, we suggest this recipe by chef Aktar Islam.
If there was an Indian national dish, it would be this.
So, thali means “plate” in Hindi and is a meal served on a large plate that has mini dishes on it.
“For example, some thali can have as many as 50 items on it,” says Divya.
Meanwhile, every state has its own version of this dish.
“However, this is the dish that originated in Rajasthan,” explains Divya. “So, originally, it was only served to royal members,” she adds. “Now, of course, anyone can have.”
In other words, this is a historically supreme dish that you must try!
So, here is a rajasthani thali recipe by NDTV, which is short for New Delhi Television Limited.
Meanwhile, you need something to get down your main dish.
Hey, why not try one of these fresh drink recipes?
So, have you ever heard of something called mocktails?
Well, in India, they are a thing.
“It is mock of cocktails, do you get it?” asks Divya. “Because we like having a cocktail, but we also don’t want to drink alcohol,” she adds. “Our culture doesn’t really support that whole drinking thing.”
Yes, Divya, we get it!
In other words, mocktails may look and taste like cocktails but without the alcohol.
Meanwhile, Divya notes that many Indians drink and that alcohol is available (and legal) in India.
Of course, there are more to drinks than that.
So, what did we choose for the drinks section?
For instance, goan coconut water, masala chai, mango lassi, and bellini mocktail.
Goan Coconut Water
So, believe it or not, some say that coconut water can taste different in different areas!
“It has to do with the soil,” explains Rakesh, a local in Goa.
However, Divya says the soil is not very different on the coast in Maharashtra, Karnataka, or Kerala—all nearby states.
So, how do you make goan coconut water at home?
Well, you can’t.
You have to go to Goa since it is a fresh drink from the earth!
So, in India, the chai or tea is probably the most consumed manmade drink product.
Because it’s flavorful with spices and is sweet, Indians love to have it any time of the day.
“For example, I have chai in the morning, afternoon, and also evening,” says Divya. “Meanwhile, if I’m studying for exams, then I have more in the evening to keep me awake,” she adds.
Likewise, chai is super popular with Indian food lovers everywhere.
Meanwhile, we should point out that tea is not originally an Indian thing, either.
“It originated in China,” says Divya.
In fact, the word chai is from the Chinese chá.
“I love masala chai,” say Michael, the American tourist. “It wakes me up. Somehow, the tea is stronger here.”
So, how do you make masala chai?
We love this recipe by Kawaljeet Kaur.
Because it’s only second to chai for the tourists and foreigners, mango lassi is a must on any list!
So, lassi is a yogurt and spices mix that can stand-alone or have fruits mixed in with it.
“However, most Indians will only have plain lassi,” explains Divya. “Meanwhile, we know about mango lassi,” she adds. “We just prefer to have normal lassi.”
Meanwhile, Indian restaurants worldwide feature the drink on their menus.
Finally, this is a dish that is rooted in Persia.
For instance, the plain Indian lassi is a modern version of the dough, which dates back to Ancient Persia.
“I understand Indians drink the salted lassi for digestive purposes,” says Michael, the American tourist. “For a tourist, it’s rather boring,” he adds. “Instead, the mango lassi is fresh and you have to try in different places. It will taste different!”
But how do you make it at home?
So, we love this recipe by chef Manali Singh.
Because we already explained what mocktails are, let’s focus on what bellini is.
So, bellini is an Italian cocktail made with prosecco (wine) and peach (purée or nectar).
As a result, it is a delicious cocktail!
“It is popular for Indians,” says Divya.
Well, it is also popular with foreigners, too.
“I had a plum bellini in Goa,” says Michael, the American tourist. “I didn’t expect it to be so good! Then I tried the peach in Mumbai and it was also amazing. However, I prefer the plum.”
So, that reminds us, the bellini can have different kinds of fruits, too!
However, the peach one is most popular.
But how do you make it at home?
We got you covered.
This recipe by Times of India is delicious!
So, now that you had you made your appetizers, main course, and drink, it is time to make some dessert!
There is so much dessert in India.
No, really, Indians love to eat sweets!
“Because each region has many local sweets, we have over a thousand in the country,” says Divya.
For instance, there are 25 that you can find in every state, as they are “national” sweets.
However, we can’t choose all of them in this one article, or we will end up with a mini-book.
So, what sweet did we choose?
We love gulab jamun (pictured left), laddu (bottom right), and jalebi (top right).
Therefore, here they are!
Because it’s easy to make and super delicious, gulab jamun is mega popular—in India and worldwide.
Meanwhile, Divya explains that “gulab” means rose, and “jamun” translates to berry.
Therefore, a lovely description of this berry-sized yummies!
“For example, I like the smaller ones,” she says, explaining they are tastier. “The big ones are just full of solids.”
However, she says, the smaller ones give you the flavor without all that extra carbohydrates.
“I have a rule of just eating two,” says Michael. “Good news is most restaurant will only serve that many, if not one,” he adds. “Otherwise, I could really have six or seven in one place,” he laughs.
We agree, Michael!
Meanwhile, this is a sweet that originated in Arabia, and the lokma is still very much alive.
In Arabic, its original name is “mouthful.”
“This information melts my heart,” says Divya. “I like seeing the connections of food between all of us.”
We feel you, Divya!
So, how do you make this dessert at home?
Try this recipe by Shireen Anwar.
So, laddu, which is sometimes styled as “laddoo,” is a very popular sweet across India.
Laddu, meantime, originates from the southern part of India, in Andra Pradesh.
Because they are delicious and easy to make, the laddu has many functions in India.
“For example, it is the most popular of the sweets for weddings,” says Divya.
Likewise, it is served in temples, says Divya.
“In fact, it was invented in a temple,” she says.
In other words, this is a sweet that can be served for any happy occasion.
“Really like this,” says Amanda, our New York food-truck tester. “I love that it breaks down in your mouth, but sweet,” she smiles. “Yeah, I would totally make this for my family.”
So, how do you make these yummies at home?
We love this recipe by Sharmila Das.
Really, it is easy!
So, the jalebi is a delicious sweet that Indians love—no matter where they are.
In fact, it is the only sweet in this collection that is sold on the streets!
“Because it is so easy to carry it and enjoy it,” says Divya. “I used to love to go to the street and buy some. So good!”
So, the jalebi is made from sweet white flour batter that is swirled in hot oil.
“It is a bit oily for me,” says Michael, the American tourist. “Probably have had it less than three times in my entire visit to India,” he said.
Although it can be oily, it is so delicious!
Meanwhile, this is another dish that is of Arabic origin, and the zalabia is still popular there.
So, how do you make this?
Check out this recipe by Prerna Singh.
That concludes our popular Indian food dishes and recipes.
Because it’s one of the most interesting cuisines in our world, you should know popular Indian food dishes and recipes.
However, before understanding the dishes, you should know that Indian food is very diverse.
For instance, the country has regions that have distinct cuisines!
As a result, you want to be careful calling something “Indian” when you mean one region.
“Because regional people will be upset with you,” explains Divya. “Instead, point out where it comes from. For example, idli is southern Indian,” she adds. “So, it makes a difference!”
Meanwhile, you should also know that India was highly influenced by its foreign rulers of the past.
For example, the northern part of the country was ruled by Turks, Persians, Mongols, and British—to name a few!
Likewise, India has non-Indian neighbors in Asia, which influenced it too.
Therefore, the influences show up in every way of life, including food.
In other words, some popular Indian food dishes and recipes are not even of Indian origin!
But, Indians have Indianized the food they inherited from their foreigners!
For example, the momo (Chinese dumplings) have curry inside!
So, that is all to say that Indian food is Indian—no matter where it originated.
As such, enjoy this flavorful cuisine!
Nina Walker is a food writer for Caravanzers.