Going to India but not sure what to eat? Below, Susan Geringer, an Indian Subcontinent travel expert, shares some recommendations and general advice on what to expect when traveling there.
FarewellTravels: A lot of people worry that they’ll be sick in India after eating the food. Can you shed some light on this subject?
Susan Geringer: India is a foodies’ paradise. Just like its colorful and diverse cultures, the cuisine here is also quite diverse and an integral part of its cultures. But yes it is very much different from western cuisine. Hence some caution needs to be exercised. For starts, go slow with the spicy food the first few days so that your stomach can adjust to the different style of cooking. While ordering food at any restaurant, you can always request the chef to cook the dish less spicy. Only eat fresh vegetables or fruit that have been washed with purified water. This is done at most good restaurants. And…of course, always drink bottled water. If you come down with “Delhi Belly”, it usually passes within 24 hours with medication.
FarewellTravels: How does one go about finding great restaurants in India?
Susan Geringer: There are many ways but personal recommendations by experienced travelers, of course, top the list. Before you go, you might also poke around some of the online communities and see if particular restaurant names keep coming up favorably. The Times of India is an excellent site. I also like Chowhound. Once in India, check with your hotel concierge.
Two of my favorite guidebooks (available in India), that are very up to date with restaurants, are Love Delhi and Love Jaipur by Fiona Caulfield. You can find them at Full Circle Bookstore at Khan Market in Delhi and in most bookstores in Delhi and Jaipur.
FarewellTravels: What about your favorite spots? For example, can you recommend any specific restaurants (from simple to upscale) in Delhi?
Susan Geringer: Hard to pick just a few, but here are some different types of restaurants I make a point of getting to when in town:
Haldirams in Chandi Chowk (which is Old Delhi) is a fast food place that is very busy and quite good. I feel it is a safe place to eat street food.
Khan Chacha Kabab Corner at Khan Market has delicious chicken tikka and paneer tikka (cheese) wraps. There is no place to sit but what a treat!
Gunpowder (at 22 Hauz Khaz Village) specializes in dishes from India's southern states and is excellent. Be sure to order the sweet and sour pumpkin, the Kingfisher fish in a Kerala curry and Malabar paratha (a flakey delicious bread). The restaurant overlooks a lake and is a great place to watch the sunset.
Bukkhara at the ITC Maurya Sheraton has won many awards. This is a long-standing, upscale restaurant with an open kitchen serving fabulous North Frontier Indian food. Meats are cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor. The HUGE family style naan is a must.
Varq at the Taj hotel is driven by the vision of Chef Hemant Oberoi. He has taken street food and regional Indian cooking to great heights with modern innovative cooking and new ingredients. This restaurant made Food & Wine’s "Go List 2010: 100 Best Food and Drink Experiences."
FarewellTravels: What about specific dishes? Are there certain dishes you’ve discovered over there that you cannot get in Indian restaurants in the US ?
Susan Geringer: I have not had golgappas (pictured right) in the U.S. These are small hollow fried dough balls. You put a hole in the middle and fill them with different sauces that are usually sweet and spicy. Pop it in your mouth for an unbelievable taste sensation.
I’ve also never found rasam on menus in the U.S. This is a pepper spiced soup. I had this at Navedyam, a South Indian Udupi vegetarian restaurant, in Hauz Khaus in Delhi. All over India, there are also many lentil-based dishes that I've not come across in the U.S.
FarewellTravels: What about traveling with kids? Do you find there are plenty of kid-friendly menus or are children supposed to order from the adult menus?
Susan Geringer: There are no children’s menus in most restaurants. But there is always food for children to eat. Most hotels serve a combination of western and Indian food for all meals. Breakfast for the western palate will usually include freshly prepared eggs, fruit, yogurts, cheeses, meats, breads and pastries. In the cities, in addition to Indian food, you can easily find pizza as well as Chinese, Italian and western food. Most children will find something to eat with Indian food. Since it's often served family style, there’s never the worry of dishes going to waste with a selection of breads, rice dishes, meats, vegetables, and raita (yogurt) and …of course, sweets at the end.
FarewellTravels: Anything else to add?
Susan Geringer: Do not be afraid to try different dishes. But do not eat street food unless your tour guide knows the vendor. Each state has its own specialties as each state has its own culture. Sampling the various dishes is a big part of any trip to this part of the world. It’s all part of the adventure.
Photo credits: Pictured here, from top to bottom are 1) Bati 2) a Thali 3) Golgappa. All photographs by Susan Geringer.