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| Updated on Feb 8, 2016

A Newbie’s Guide to Eating in India

So, you’ve gotten your India visa, your bags are packed, and you are ready to embark on a dream journey.

Visa for India with official requirements? check. Souvenir budget, check. Train tickets, check. Hindi phrasebook, check. Are you suddenly a bit apprehensive about how to find food or what you’ll eat when you arrive? You are not alone. Before you embark, you may find a brief understanding of Indian food immensely helpful when trying to comprehend new and unfamiliar cuisine.

india visa and dishes

Spices Everywhere!

In every region of India, local cuisine tends to reflect a myriad of influences, from ancient Asian and native Indian flavors found in the deep north and east, to colonial European styles found in the southwest and coastal regions. When you got your visa for India, you actually gained access to a veritable history book of food. A common theme among all of these different flavors is the presence of spices. Some dishes contain no less than a dozen spices, each of which lends a specific flavor and often a naturopathic benefit to the food.

Cumin, mustard, coriander (cilantro), curry, tamarind, cardamom, and cinnamon are among the most commonly used spices, but the top dog is cayenne pepper (chili powder). This is one of the most important Portuguese contributions to Indian cuisine, used to add powerful hotness to many dishes, including curry.

If your tongue is not prepared, you may find yourself seeking out franchise outlets like KFC or Subway just to feed yourself, which is ridiculous. You did not get a visa for India and travel halfway around the world just to eat food you can get a block from your house. It does help to do some prep work ahead of time just in case, so visit a quality local Indian restaurant and get acquainted with the heat.

Pay Attention to Geography

When ordering food, where you are in India matters, and not just because you have to find your way back eventually. Regional dishes in India are so distinct that a blindfolded food expert could determine their location with a single taste.

Northern regions tend to incorporate a more Asian influence, centering dishes on plentiful rice. In the south, tropical fruits like coconut are common, as well as seafood. Tamarind adds signature sourness to the cuisine of Tamil Nadu while Kerala specializes in fried prawns, stews, and sweet coconut milk. To the east, rice and fish are popular wrapped in pumpkin leaf, and to the west you will find pickled delicacies in the northern deserts, prawn, rice, wheat, and fish down through Mumbai, and a distinct Portuguese flavor as you reach Goa to the south.

Sensitive Stomachs Come Prepared

No matter how delicious the food is where you’re going, eating dishes that you are not accustomed to can cause indigestion, heartburn, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Indian food is extremely flavorful, whether it is spicy, sweet, sour, or a combination of the three, plus one that you can’t even describe yet.

If you take medication for digestive sensitivities, do not neglect to bring a supply with you to India. Pack it with your India visa so you don’t forget – it could be that important.

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