Dining in India

There's more to Indian food than just curry - the country has more than 15 different regional cuisines (curries are favored in the south). Thali (pronounced TAR-ley) is the most ubiquitous meal in India. Served either as a vegetarian dish or with meat, it consists of rice and chapatis (similar to heavy flour tortillas) with five sauces and curds.

Even those afraid of spicy food will love the mild chicken tandoori or Kashmiri-style dishes or, in Kerala, fish flavored with coconut, ginger or fruit. Any dish prepared in the Kashmiri-style will be delicate and have lots of fruits and nuts (in Kashmir itself, find a restaurant offering a wazwan, a traditional feast containing as many as 17 meat dishes). Pakoras (fried vegetable fritters) also provide an easy introduction to Indian cookery. Samosas are breaded, fried vegetable triangles. Dal, an Indian lentil soup, can be found anywhere, and if the name of a dish has the word paneer in it, the dish contains cubes of compressed cottage cheese (it's better than it sounds). Dum aloo is a wonderfully spicy potato dish found in the north. Buff refers to water-buffalo meat, and mutton is usually goat. The breads are superlative - there's none better than naan (baked in a tandoori oven), but do try papadum, a wafer-thin lentil-flour bread, at least once.

For dessert, try kheer (rice pudding). Fruit lassis are a yogurt-based drink that can be very refreshing; curd, a very mild yogurt, is often served with meals. We generally advise against eating from street stalls, unless the food is freshly cooked before your eyes. Indian food is eaten with the fingers of the right hand only. In addition to Indian foods, Western and Chinese restaurants abound. Beware of ice cream and dairy products except at the finest hotels. If you're in an area where you don't trust the food but are really hungry, buy a package of the ubiquitous glucose biscuits, a bland (but safe) cookie. Steamed rice cakes, known as idli, are available almost everywhere and are considered the lightest and safest meal for sensitive stomachs.

Beware of vendors selling soft drinks that are not normally available in India (whatever's in those bottles, it's not what it says on the label). Don't accept ice in your drinks, except from the absolutely finest hotels - the water that goes into the ice might not be so good. Some states prohibit the sale of alcohol. If you want to drink liquor everywhere you go, get an All India Liquor Permit when you get your visa (or from the Government Tourist Offices in Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi or Chennai).