Spicy, sweet, tangy, accessible, surprising: the India food is very much recognizable. The smells of strong spices mixed with veggies to create sauces of different thicknesses, deep-fried pieces of goodness, pulled coffee cooled and frothed for your own amusement…
The country of India is also huge. So huge in fact that it’s often referred to as a subcontinent. This means that the best Indian dishes have a north-south divide. The best of the South differ greatly from that of the North. While we’re used to the tastes of Punjabi and Bengali foods, regions of the North, southern foods have their own accents – and their own provinces.
Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala: they all have their own particularities.
The dichotomy of the best Indian dishes
The infamous Madras curry
The city of Chennai, also known as Madras, its colonial name, is the home of the infamous Madras curry. Or is it? Actually, it’s an invention of English colonialists that wanted to bring a taste of India back home. Don’t look for it in Chennai!
Instead, head straight to one of the many, many restaurants and get yourself some of the tastiest vegetarian curries in India. A good bet is Hotel Sennthur, on Mount Road, one of the main streets of the city. Chennai is famous for its thalis: many small dishes served with rice.
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Yes, rice: as opposed to northern Indian, which serves different breads, the best Indian dishes of the south are all served with rice. Mopping up the sauces using your hand has just become a little more challenging!
The Tamil thalis will often include sambar (hot-sour lentil stew), daal (spicy lentil curry), different kuzhambus (sweet-sour veggie curry) and various chutneys.
On the beach, you will find fresh fish sold on rolling carts and slathered in a sloppy red sauce, and small stalls that will fry them up for you while you wait, both feet in the sand.
In Chennai, you can also find the famous pulled coffee, prepared in front of you in a sock! It’s obviously not a sock, but it’s called this way because the filter used for the coffee looks like one, and the milk is pulled as high as possible, for the show of course, but also to cool down the drink to drinking temperature and to make it frothy.
Hotel Sennthur: Building No. 154, Anna Salai Mount Road, Club House Road Corner, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600002, India
Bangalore is international
Bangalore, the largest city of the province of Karnataka, is also a business hub for the whole region. This means that while the food of Karnataka is obviously present, there are many different international foods to be found there as well.
If the centre of Bangalore is old and falling apart, the outside layers and boroughs are much cleaner and more recent. This also means that you will find Western-style bars, Arab-style foods and East-Asian-inspired amusement. You can even find a couple of brewpubs that brew their own beer, including Toit and Bière Club!
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Bangalore is also the home of one of the most famous Indian dishes, the onion parotha. It’s a thick bread made by hand and layered with onions and served with a couple of dipping curries. Try the one at Rajasthani Parotha Point on Food Street! Yes, it’s called Food Street!
Rajasthani Parotha Point: Food St, Visveswarapuram, Shankarapuram, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560004, India
Goa, the Catholic
You’ve probably noticed by now that most of the foods presented here are vegetarian. That’s because observing Hindus don’t eat meat.
Goa, however, has the particularity of having many Catholic churches on its land, and many Catholics in the local community.
It also has the particularity of being the richest and smallest province of India. And its beaches are the main attraction.
That being said, Goa’s food is unique in the world. It has been said that the colonial Portuguese were the ones who introduced chillies in some of the best Indian dishes, which are now ubiquitous.
Its provincial dish is the vindaloo, a fiery hot pork curry served with rice. However it’s quite difficult to find, since Goa is such an international vacation destination. Actually, Goa’s best restaurant might even be Thalassa, a Greek restaurant in Vagator!
Thalassa-Mariketty’s Place, Small Vagator, Ozran, Vagator, Goa 403509, India
Kerala, communist, and the land of fruits and veggies
The South-Western province of Kerala is a land of delicious fresh vegetables and fruits. They’re eaten by themselves or in sweet and sour curries. Street stalls sell different fried foods and the activities proposed in this province are varied.
While you spend a day and a night on a houseboat in the backwaters near Alleppey, the cook of the boat will have plenty of fresh kingfish for you to sample.
Jackfruit is easy to find and a special treat for whoever hasn’t tried it yet.
In Kochi, the 500-year-old Chinese fishing nets which are still in operation allow local fishermen to catch fish and sell their catch to the tourists at the port.
Along the beach in Varkala, many seafood restaurants display the catch of the day for you to choose and make sure the quality of the food is as fresh as can be.
All in all, the best Indian dishes of the south are unlike any other.