Bright, colourful, and diverse, there’s no doubt about it, India is a captivating country – and it also happens to boast some of the best culinary experiences in the world. There’s no such thing as typical Indian food. In fact, each region has its own distinct recipes and specialities, making Indian cuisine a smorgasbord of sensational dishes and a true feast for the senses.
Our India expert, Eliza, has recently returned from a three-week research trip to India where she sampled some of the finest food India has to offer. Travelling through the capital of Delhi to the pink city of Jaipur, the blue city of Jodhpur, majestic Udaipur, the golden city of Jaisalmer and the holy city Varanasi, this blog shares Eliza’s top India travel tips, from must-see sights to the most memorable culinary delights.
So, from Indian-style tapas to delicious desserts and makeshift stalls to local haunts, read on for her foodie’s guide to northern India. We hope you’re hungry!
Please note: When sampling street food in India, always make sure you have a guide with you who can advise tried and tested vendors that are considered safe. For an authentic insight into life in India and the chance to sample some of the best home-cooked food, we’d also recommend a homestay: the food is less rich than that served in restaurants and your hosts will adapt meals to suit your tastes. Our team will be happy to help plan homestays in all of our India destinations.
Delhi: delicious paratha and super-sweet jalebi
India’s capital city can be overwhelming: it’s busy, it’s loud – but it’s also fascinating. With beautiful temples, grand colonial buildings, bustling markets, modern architecture and even some leafy parks (yes, really!), once you get used to the noise and chaos, it’s absolutely magnificent. In Old Delhi, you’ll find Islamic motifs and structures from the Mughal era, as well as a labyrinth of streets and bazaars. Head to the famous Chandni Chowk market and its winding streets with each lane devoted to something different; it’s a great way to immerse yourself into Delhi life – but with an endless stream of bikes, scooters and men pushing carts laden with sacks of spices, it’s not for the faint-hearted! If it’s too busy for your liking, try a cycle rickshaw ride instead.
New Delhi is a completely different experience. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker as an imperial capital for the British, here you’ll find wide-open boulevards, as well as two magnificent monuments – Humayun’s Tomb and Qutub Minar.
In Delhi, the food is rich, spicy and laden with clarified butter known as ghee. Must-eats here include paratha – served from busy stalls, these flatbreads made of wheat and filled with potato and cauliflower are fried in huge vats of bubbling oil and served with chutneys and curries. Also, I would definitely recommend trying the popular sweet in this part of India, jalebi – made with flour and ghee and dropped into oil, it looks like spaghetti and all sticks together for a light and sweet treat that’s basically pure sugar! And once you’re used to the food, the more adventurous can also try a food tour in Delhi for a true taste of India.
Jaipur: creamy desserts and flavourful kachori
Next up, I made my way to the Pink City of Jaipur. Founded in 1727, it’s the capital of Rajasthan and its streets – though less frenetic than Delhi’s – are still a sight to be seen as cars, bikes, and scooters weave their way through the cows, pigs, dogs and camels sauntering along the pavements. Jaipur is teeming with traditional life, from sparkling palaces to bustling bazaars, and the Amber Fort and the Palace are absolute must-visits.
I’d recommend visiting the Amber Fort in the morning before it gets too busy and hot. Built in 1592, it’s a spectacular sight – venture along walkways once roamed by concubines towards the courtyard at the summit for incredible views of the lake below. There’s also Jantar Mantar, Jaipur’s observatory and a World Heritage Site that’s devoted to the sundials invented by Maharaja Jai Singh II in the 18th century. However, as well as architectural structure, Jaipur is also known for artisan crafts and textiles – and a late afternoon/early evening walking tour is just the thing to spot artisans at work. From silverwork and embroidery to block printing, it’s also a great chance to haggle for souvenirs and pick up a bargain.
With appetites suitably worked up, you’re in for a treat here. Must-eats in Jaipur include rabri, a creamy dessert dish made by boiling milk for a really long time so it gets super thick before adding sugar and nuts – it’s a legacy of Jaipur cuisine! Also try kachori, a delicious snack of flaky fried dumpling that’s stuffed with a flavourful dhal mixture that gives a taste explosion once you bite into it. The super brave can also try laal maas – an incredibly fiery lamb curry that’s literally bursting with red chillies.
Jodhpur: local eateries and tapas-style thali
My next stop was the Blue City of Jodhpur, a photographer’s paradise. If you want to experience India at its brightest and most colourful, this is the place. The formidable Mehrangarh Fort is absolutely magnificent and a definite must-see. Built in the 15th century, it towers over Jodphur and offers unbeatable views across the bright blue city below (the particular shade of blue is said to repel insects). More active types can even zipline over the fort for a completely unforgettable experience! The old city is a labyrinth of winding streets with life at every corner – and if you get lost, don’t worry: the fort towering above you will help you find your way again.
When it comes to food, there’s plenty here to tickle your tastebuds. Make sure you try Rajasthani thali, a tapas-style silver platter with lots of different dishes such as dal bati churma, alu gobi, and paneer butter masala, all surrounded by and enriched with a number of different curries. It’s served with lots of breads such as naan, chapati and roti, as well as rice; ask your guide to help you find a local restaurant who serve it and will keep filling your plate until you say stop. The traditional way to eat it for a truly authentic experience is with your hands: remember, you don’t know how clean the fork is, but you know how clean your hands are! From Jodhpur, you also can pay a visit to the Bishnoi tribe to really immerse yourself into the culture.
Udaipur: no-frills food that’s bursting with flavour
Made famous by Octopussy, Udaipur is undoubtedly one of the most majestic destinations in India. Set on Lake Pichola with the Aravalli hills in the distance, in the middle is the Lake Palace, Udaipur’s iconic sight and one of India’s most photographed locations. The whole architecture of Udaipur is very crisp and bright, complete with stunning frescoes in the buildings. The City Palace is the best palace in Rajasthan, where each maharaja has added in its own wing, resulting in 11 wonderful palaces boasting beautifully unique paintings, antique furniture and frescoes. There’s Manak Mahal (Ruby Palace), Dilkusha Mahal (Palace of Joy) Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) and Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors), among others.
Back in the city, stroll through the narrow streets as you navigate your way past cows and mopeds – and if you’re feeling more active, you can also cycle in the surrounding hills. When it comes to food, you’ve just got to try the kachori again. One of my best India travel tips is to ask your guide to take you to a local restaurant outside of the tourist area for incredible no-frills food and plates that keep being piled high until you say stop. Rajasthani thali is also a must here – I had a great thali at Natraj Dining Hall, a foodie hotspot that is full of locals who have come to feast on all-you-can-eat thalis. If you’re looking for authentic fresh food and unbelievable flavours, then look no further.
Jaisalmer: heavenly sweets and my favourite paratha
After Udaipur, I continued my travels on to the golden city of Jaisalmer. Like a giant sandcastle which soars above the Great Thar Desert, this sand-hued town was once an important defence and trade town and is now a World Heritage Site. It’s still lived in today, with a quarter of the city’s population living within its walls. A tour of the inside of the 800-year-old fort with its narrow lanes, merchant houses and ornate temples is an absolute must, but it’s worth escaping the touristy parts too. Head to the temple Laxminath, built in around 1500, for a peaceful experience of the Jainism religion which sees the very devout sweep the floor before walking so as not to harm any insects.
You can’t visit Jaisalmer without paying a visit to my favourite paratha stall. Run by a husband and wife team, Sunrise Paratha House flavour their fillings with a creative and wonderfully flavourful selection of spices before stuffing them in flatbreads which are fried up in oil and served with a range of delicious chutneys. Trust me – you’ll be coming back for more! Follow your paratha with ghotua, a super-sweet sweet that’s made with gram flour and condensed milk and flavoured with saffron or cardamon – heavenly is a suitable word to describe it!
Varanasi: the best lassi you’ll ever drink
Next up, Varanasi, and a really important India travel tip: before visiting India’s holiest city it’s worth spending a little bit of time getting to know the country first because life here is seriously full on. As one of the oldest cities in the world, the winding streets of Varanasi are full of people, bikes, and cows – and the sheer volume of people and traffic makes it very frenetic and busy. If you’re an early riser, every morning the devout come down to ghats built along the sacred river Ganges to pray, wash and cleanse in the river. Head out on a morning boat ride to witness it all, or alternatively, in the evening, you can watch an aarti ceremony where priests worship river with bells, rituals, flowers, candles and incense. Cremations also take place in the evening in certain locations – only men are present as they believe women are too emotional. You’ll often see cows eating the garlands of flowers left behind.
When it comes to foodie advice, without a doubt, my top food tip for Varanasi is to try a lassi. A sweet, yoghurt drink served in terracotta pots, it’s served in tourist-friendly bars where it is decorated with fresh fruit like a work of art (make sure you tell them how sweet you want it as sugar is always added unless you specify). However, for a true lassi experience, you need to head to a local stall (ask your guide where is best to go!). In the traditional stalls, you’ll sample a truly authentic lassi, which is served with a thick layer of yoghurt cream on top and flavoured with cardamom. You can even watch it being made as they whip up the yoghurt with their hands – it’s a sight to be seen!
As well as being one of the most colourful and captivating countries in the world, India also boasts a culinary experience like no other. With years of on-the-ground knowledge, our dedicated India team can help to create the ultimate culinary trip combined with the chance to visit some of the most stunning sights India has to offer. From authentic homestays to street food stalls and even restaurant recommendations, there’s nothing we don’t know about Indian food, and we can’t wait to share our top India travel tips with you. Ready to start planning your trip? Contact our team today for a quote.