Margot B
Margot B
Portland, Oregon, USA
Travel journalist and guidebook author.

More than Mango Lassis: India for Foodies

When most people from the West think about Indian food, the first things that come to mind are tandoor-baked naan, spicy curries, stewed lentils, samosas, pakoras, and mango lassies--essentially, the mainstays of most Indian restaurants around the world. However, go to India and you'll find an incredibly diverse selection of cuisine, and regional dishes that have little in common with what you can get at home. 

During my five years in India, I got to try plenty of different specialties from around the subcontinent and even learned to cook a few of my favorite Indian dishes. I've written about some of the places in this custom guide for Fodor's Essential India, Moon Living Abroad in India, and Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur; other's are personal favorites from areas outside of my typical North India beat.

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Shri Sagar (formerly Central Tiffin Room)

7th Cross Rd, Shri Rampura, Malleshwaram West, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560003, India

One of Bangalore's best-known spots for a quick, inexpensive bite to eat, Central Tiffin Rooms is a bit of a classic institution in an increasingly modern, flashy city. This "hotel" as local restaurants are called in Southern India is a great place for traditional South Indian breakfast foods, ranging from spongey idlis (fermented cakes served with hot lentil based soup known as sambar), to CTR's famous butter masala dosa (an egg-free crepe filled with savory potatoes and topped with a generous dollop of butter).

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Parathe Wali gali

chandni chowk, delhi 110006

If you love paranthas (Indian stuffed flatbread), you'll adore this little alleyway near Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk. They say the oil in which they cook--ok, deep fry--the paranthas at the main stall here has never been fully changed, so that there is always a mollecule of the original oil mixed in with the rest. This famous street has some of the richest, greasiest paranthas most people have ever tried, and it's a bit of a must-see for anybody who likes their food greasy. Everyone from Bollywood Stars to statesmen have stopped here for a bite, and the parantha wallas (essentially, parantha vendors) have the photos to prove it.

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The Big Chill Cafe

68 A, Khan Market (2,961.52 mi) Delhi, India 110003

This casual family restaurant specializes in pizzas, pastas and deserts, and is a great place to go if you want a break from Indian cuisine. The chocolate squidgy cake is to die for, and the shakes are some of the best in town. My personal favourite dish here is the vodka penne pasta although the salads are pretty good, too. Note that it can get pretty crowded on weekend evenings. The vibe here is casual, and the entire place has been plastered with vintage Hollywood film posters.

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ITC Maurya, Sardar Patel Marg, Akhaura Block, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Delhi 110021, India

One of Bill Clinton's favorite restaurants (presumably from before he went vegan), Bukhara serves some of the richest, heaviest food in all of Delhi. They specialize in NW Frontier cuisine, which has its origins in NW Pakistan. Most of the dishes here are based around meat, but as with most restaurants in India, there are plenty of veg options. Note that although this is one of the finer restaurants in town, guests are expected to eat with their hands, traditional style (although silverware is available upon request).

Hotel Saravana Bhavan

57, Dr Radha Krishnan Salai, Loganathan Colony, Mylapore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600004, India

South Indian cuisine is at its best at Chennai's Saravana Bhavan, a short walk from the city's main train station. This "hotel" as fast-food breakfast places are known in the South serves up excellent dosas (savory crepes), idlis (rice cakes), and fresh juices, as well as a number of more unusual South Indian specialties such as iddyapam (steamed rice noodles also known as string hoppers). The food here is fast and cheap and the busy kitchen is kept very clean. Note that everything here is vegetarian.

Spice Market

Khari Baoli, Chandni Chowk, Delhi, India

If you love cooking, you won't want to miss Old Delhi's famous spice market. The stalls here stock all kinds of freshly milled spices, which are generally sold in bulk. It's a great place to take photos, too. Just be warned that this market is well on the beaten trail, and foreigners are often overcharged for spices that aren't necessarily that high in quality. If you want guaranteed prices and purity, simply head to any local supermarket and pick up a pack of MDH spices; the maximum retail price will be stamped on the bottom of every box.

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Leopold Cafe

Opp Olympia Coffee House, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba Causeway, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001, India

One of Mumbai's oldest continuously operating establishments, the historic Leopold Cafe is popular among budget travelers in search of cheap Indian, Chinese, and continental food and strong libations. Bollywood scouts know this, and it's one of the first places they look when they need foreign extras for films set overseas. This large cafe's popularity is largely attributable to the fact that it's in the heart of Colaba Causeway, Mumbai's main tourist strip, and is open late.

Chowpatty Beach

Marine Drive, Mumbai, India

A popular spot with Mumbaikar (Mumbai residents) families out for a sunset stroll, Chowpatty Beach is one of the best places to sample some of Bombay's beloved street foods. The specialty here is bhel puri, puffed rice mixed with thin, dry snack noodles made from chickpea flour, finely cut tomatoes and onions, chaat masala (a special snack spice blend), and a dash of imli chutney (tamarind sauce). If you have room, make sure to try some pao bhaji (buns served with spicy potato curry) or kulfi (creamy pistachio ice cream on a stick).

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Choki Dhani

12 Miles Tonk Road via Vatika Jaipur, Rajasthan, India 303905

Out in the sticks, south of Jaipur, Chokhi Dhani encompasses much of what is weird and wonderful about India. This super-corny mega resort is essentially a fake Rajasthani village, with (authentic) live performances, elephant rides, carnival rides, a maze, craft demonstrations...the list goes on. It's a popular weekend retreat with families, and there are 80 or so spendy cottage rooms onsite. However, the main reason to come here for many people is the sumptuous--and seemingly seemingly endless--buffet of ghee-laden traditional Rajasthani food, included in the admission cost.

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Gunpowder -- CLOSED

22, Hauz Khaz Village, 3rd Floor, New Delhi, DL 110016, India

Specializing in Keralan and Andheri home-cooked style food, Gunpowder is one of the most popular spots in South Delhi's trendy Hauz Khas Market neighborhood. It's known for its rich meat-based dishes served with flaky parantha (flatbread), although there's also plenty for vegetarians. This small restaurant gets its name from a super-hot spice blend that's mixed with oil an; if you like your dishes spicy, you can order some of this stuff on the side.

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Cafe Coffee Day

Koramangala 1A Block, Koramangala, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Once upon a time, before there was Starbucks in India, Cafe Coffee Day as the go-to coffee spot for people who prefer lattes and freshly brewed coffee to the ubiquitous Nescafe. CCD, as it's affectionately known, was birthed in Bangalore and can now be found all over the country. Although it's the coffee that draws in most people, you can also get sandwiches and pastries as well as basic hot meals in some locations.

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Cafe Moshe's

7, Minoo Manor Building, Near Badhwar Park Nursery School, Cuffe Parade | Cuffe Parade, Mumbai (Bombay) 400005, India

If you've had your fill of Indian food and want something different, check out one of the many branches of Moshe's, a pan-Mediterranean restaurant run by an Indian Jew who got his inspiration living on a kibbutz in Israel. Here you'll find everything from hummus to pasta, as well as fondue, grilled chicken, sandwiches, and a great selection of freshly-made desserts.

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Dilli Haat

Aurobindo Marg, Dilli Haat, I N A Colony, New Delhi, Delhi, India

If you want to sample cuisine from nearly every state in India, you can either spend months traveling around the country or simply head to Dilli Haat, an open-air crafts market that's sponsored by the government. While you can buy everything from saris to furniture at this subdued, slightly artificial recreation of a traditional market, most local people come for the food. There are booths representing cuisine from around India. Meat lovers won't want to miss the Chinese-like Nagaland cuisine; those with a penchant for spicy food should check out the Rajasthani booth.

Khan Market

61A, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, India

One of Delhi's more upscale markets, Khan Market doesn't look like much from the outside, but the shops here stock a great selection of items, ranging from luxury imports to fine Indian decor items. It's popular among hoity-toity Delhiites and expats living in the nearby diplomatic enclave. The market is also home to plenty of great cafes and restaurants, including two branches of the much-loved Big Chill Cafe. Khan Chahcha, an old-school kebab joint, is a long-time favorite among meat-eating locals. Other popular dining spots include Italian restaurant Amici (who serve the best pizzas in town, in my opinion) and my personal favorite, Mrs Kaur's Crepes and More, which serves up delicious eggless crepes, waffles, pancakes, and even baked beans on toast.

Last updated at Jan 06, 2017