India is one of the most culturally, linguistically and climatically diverse countries in the world and this is reflected in its food scene. Each city across this sub-continent has its own unique set of flavours and culinary style. From north to south and everywhere in between, discover the best places in this South Asian country for food lovers.
With an impressive collection of traditional and avant-garde restaurants, deli-style cafes, old-school bars and street food stalls, Mumbai is definitely the country’s holy grail for foodies. From dirt-cheap street food to regional cuisine, such as Mangalorean seafood, Goan Vindaloo, South Indian and Konkani Coastal meals, Maharashtrian fare, Mughlai Kebabs, Kerala and Gujarati Thalis, to global cuisine, including Continental, Modern American, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Mediterranean, European and Persian, Mumbai has it all. However, a trip to the City of Dreams is incomplete without trying its trademarks – pav bhaji and vada pav (deep fried potato dumplings in a bun) along with Masala chai. Mumbai’s food scene is vast and rich in terms of diversity and volume, thus catering to all taste 24/7!
Some budget-friendly favourites include Chowpatty Beach and the Amar Juice Centre for street food, Kalbadevi for meaty kebabs, Sardar for pav bhaji, Cafe Madras for South Indian cuisine and Britannia And Co. Restaurant for Parsi meals. For those who don’t mind splurging, consider Indigo for European-Asian fusion cuisine, Khyber famed for its meat-based dishes, Ziya for classic Indian dishes, Koh for Thai cuisine and Leopold Cafe for Italian, Continental and Indian fare.
Kolkata, fondly known as the City of Joy is culturally and gastronomically rich. The city offers a plethora of fish-based staples, although the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest are sweetmeats, Rasgulla and Sandesh. Also, its delectable street food, such as spicy jhal muri and puchkas, are famed across the country. There are a series of other must-try dishes, like Mughlai cuisine at Arsalan and Shiraz Golden Restaurant, Bengali cuisine at Bhojohori Manna, Tibetan fare at Tiretta Bazaar, chelo kebabs at Peter Cat Restaurant and kati rolls at Zeeshan.
Lucknow has distinguished itself as a pioneer in Awadhi cuisine. Kebabs are the vital part of the cuisine, and here, you will find a variety of these, such as tunday, boti, galouti, seekh, kakori and shami. You must also try lucknowi biryani (a combination of rice, garden-fresh spices and marinated chicken) and paya ki nihari (lamb trotted broth). While the city is a meat lover’s paradise, there are several options for vegetarians as well.
The Land of Nawabs also prides itself on having several historic restaurants that have been around for decades. Some of the iconic ones include the Dasterkhwan (known for its galouti kebab), Naushijaan (popular for its boti kebab), legendary Tunday Kababi (famed for its tunday kebab) and Idrees Biryani (famed for its mutton biryani).
The City of Nizams is internationally-famed for its biryani, which is found everywhere from roadside dhabas to luxury restaurants. This quintessential dish shows the strong influence of Mughlai, Andhra and Turkish cuisine. For relishing the best biryani, be sure to stop by the Bawarchi for mutton biryani, Shadab for chicken and mutton biryani, Cafe Bahar for biryani and haleem and Sarvi for chicken drumstick biryani. Other local delicacies to try include keema samosas (minced meat dish), paaya (stew made of trotters or beef), lukhmi (mutton minced savoury dish) and sheer khurma (vermicelli pudding).
While Amritsar is world-famous for its Golden Temple, Wagah Border and Jallianwala Bagh, one more thing that puts it on travellers’ lists is its lip-smacking food. This humble and beautiful Golden City has some of the best cuisine, such as amritsari kulcha, amritsari chicken, amritsari fish and paneer bhurji. However, an honorary mention goes to the langar at the Golden Temple. It is a vegetarian meal with bread (roti), lentils (daal), rice, a dessert and a vegetable dish. Also, a trip to the Golden City is incomplete without trying lassi (sweet buttermilk), which is perhaps the city’s most emblematic drink.
For first-timers, head to Temptation Restaurant, an iconic spot that serves everything from local Punjabi dishes to Mexican, Continental, French, Chinese, Italian and Kashmiri cuisine, or opt for Grand Trunk, famed for its traditional Amritsari fare and international classics, or Kesar Da Dhaba that specializes in traditional Punjabi flavours.
Gangtok is another must-visit place for food lovers due to its rich and vibrant food, which is an amalgam of native Sikkimese, Tibetan and Nepali fare. The most favourite dish of Gangtok is momos (steamed dumplings with a vegetable or meat filling), which is also available in a few states across India. However, there are two dishes that you can’t get as delicious anywhere else: thukpa (noodle soup with vegetables, meat or egg) and phagshapa (pork fat stewed with vegetables). Some go-to spots to relish local delicacies include the Golden Dragon Hotel, the Taste of Tibet and the Roll House, to name a few. You can even head to the quaint little cafes scattered in the region for some good local eats.
Though the historic city of Ahmedabad‘s claim to fame is its especially mouth-watering gujarati snacks, such as khaman dhokla, khakhra, khandvi, farsan, ganthiya, dalvada undhiyu and thepla, the city also plays host to a number of fine-dining establishments, cafes and street vendors that cater to a range of different palates. From north and south Indian cuisine to regional and international cuisine, you’ll find it all. For an authentic Ahemdabadi experience, head to Ambika Dalvada or Rajwadu, for a taste of international cuisine, head to La Feasta or 650-the Global Kitchen.
If you want to sample all of South India’s dishes in one place, Udupi is your destination. In fact, the ubiquitous dosa (a pancake made from rice flour and ground pulses) originated in this Konkani town, and just this specialty makes it an unmissable place for food lovers. For an authentic South Indian experience, head to Woodlands or Konark Vegetarian Restaurant.
Food is a serious venture in God’s Own Country, Kerala and Kochi stands out for luring tourists to try the gastronomic delights of Kerala. Its cuisine is defined by its richness, simplicity and multitude of flavours. From seafood-based dishes to traditional thali (rice, veggies, bread and sweets) served on a banana leaf, to snacks, like stew, puttu (rice and coconut dish) and idiyappam (string hoppers), you’ll find it all. In its favour, Kochi is a coastal city, so fresh seafood is found in abundance, which makes it a seafood lover’s paradise. Some of the best places to dine include The Drawing Room or Fusion Bay for seafood, Saffron for Indian and Continental cuisine and Kashi Art Cafe for comfort food.
This list would have been incomplete without the mention of the French Capital of India, Pondicherry. Pondicherry’s food scene is a potpourri of flavours that takes notes from South Indian, French, Continental, European and other Western cuisines. From beachfront cafes to fine-dining restaurants, the gastronomic scene of this ‘Little France of India’ keeps food lovers on their toes. Some of the local favourites include Le Cafe, Mango Hill and Le Club for French fare, Cafe des Arts for Continental fare, Carte Blanche for Creole cuisine and Surguru for traditional South Indian cuisine. If you’re craving organic food, there’s no better spot than the Auroville Ashram.