India restaurants vary greatly by location, and all serve distinct regional cuisine. The most commonly known food in India is Punjabi; this is the type of cuisine that most Indian restaurants in the United States serve, including dishes such as tandoori chicken. Important elements of this type of India cuisine are yogurt, vegetables, milk, and a variety of spices including cumin, turmeric, mustard, garlic and ginger. Rice is eaten very infrequently in this region, and typically only on major holidays. For travelers, this food in India is popular in rural areas, where it is served in self-service roadside restaurants for affordable prices.
India dining is distinguished by the spices used and a high volume of vegetables consumed. Many factors affect what you will see on the plate at a restaurant in India, including religious and caste restrictions, geography, and weather. India cuisine for one of the highest caste in the country, the Brahmins, includes strictly vegetarian diets. And yet regional variations see these people eating fish in coastal areas. Other effects of the weather include the availability to keep meat in hot weather, which can often pose difficulties for health purposes.
From ancient times, the food in India has been divided into two categories. The Satwik type of food is for the higher castes and includes vegetables and fruits, but not roots. This type of diet was designed to promote spirituality and health. The other type of diet, called Rajsik, includes just about everything, such as onions, garlic, root vegetables, and mushrooms. These items would typically be avoided by the upper class. India restaurants around the country are particularly known for their use of spices, long considered to be one of the country's most valuable commodities.
Similar to other countries, food in India is prepared in relation to the seasons. In the northern part of the country, such as in the Kashmir or Shimla in the Himalayas, which can experience severe cold, the cuisine can be rich and heavy. Different types of breads are staples in India restaurants, including chapathis, rotis, phulkas, puris, and naan. To satisfy the taste for vegetables and fruits in arid areas of the country, such as Rajasthan and Gujarat, preserves are a frequent part of regional India cuisine. Folklore also has an effect on the food, as a very spicy curry is sometimes believed to be a strong antidote for the flu virus. Andhra food is especially known for its spiciness and use of chilies.
Foreigners will find the variety of spices used in India cooking to be staggering. One of the best pleasures in visiting Indian is seeing a cook at work with various powders and spices, generously sprinkling vegetables and sauces with flavor. Most of the India food available outside of the country is of the North India variation, so visitors may be surprised at the wide spectrum of cuisine available within the different regions of the country, and food in southern India, such as in Chennai or Trivandrum might be far from what you expect. Wherever you are, keep in mind that if you are traveling to India during the hot season, take a cue from the locals and stay away from meat. You’ll be surprised how satisfying a vegetarian diet can be during your India vacation.