A foodies guide to India

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A foodies guide to India

Indian food is always hot, spicy and rich, plus every dish is a curry. At least, that's what some people think.

But those who've travelled to this colourful destination, as well as those who haven't but who know a bit about the cuisine, will understand that the above notions are misconceptions.

India is one of the world's most diverse countries, with over 40 languages and approximately 1600 dialects. Every state has its own traditions, culture, lifestyle and style of cooking. Even individual households differ in their preparation of the same dish. Most have their own secret recipes for the powders and pastes that form the backbone of these dishes. And for those who are scared off by Delhi belly tales from other travellers - all that's actually required for a trouble-free trip is wisdom about where and what you should eat.

From spices like cumin and turmeric to the much-used blend of garam masala, the ingredients in this cuisine are as exotic as they come. And the great thing about travelling in India is that everything is cheap and plentiful, whether you're dining in at a restaurant or grabbing something from a street vendor. Here's a sampler of just a few dishes for a glimpse into the heightened sensory experience that is India.

TEMPTING SOUTHERN SNACK FOOD: Kerala-style chicken fry

The southernmost state of India is best known for its lush tropical landscapes and the charming backwaters on which visitors can take a leisurely houseboat cruise. But it's also a place of alluring and delicious cuisine, and one of the favourites is the Kerala-style chicken fry.

This is a dish that's perfectly crisp on the outside and deliciously juicy on the inside. Chicken pieces or drumsticks are covered in a marinade that includes garam masala and cumin powder, then it's fried with onion, green chillies and curry leaves. The dish goes well with rice or roti as a main or side dish, otherwise it can be eaten as a simple snack.
 

A NORTHERN ONE POT WONDER: Balti chicken paneer

This dish takes its name from the thick flat-bottomed iron pot (the balti) in which it is both cooked and served. Balti refers to the general style of cuisine popular in northern India, which is prepared mainly in the Punjabi way and is mild yet rich. Paneer is a soft, crumbly cheese used in Indian cooking. Normally the balti is served with naan bread or flatbreads, pieces of which are torn off by hand and used to scoop up the hot curry sauce from the dish.

To make Balti chicken paneer, a paste made from yoghurt plus garam masala and other spices is combined with chicken pieces and paneer. This more-ish meal can be served with either rice or roti.

INDIA'S ALL TIME FAVOURITE RICE DISH: Biryani

Indians love their biryani - a delicious combination of basmati rice and exotic spices that can be served as a vegetarian dish, or with most types of meat. The rice is mixed with spices like cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. The most popular form of biryani in India is the Hyderabadi biryani, which isn't just limited to Hyderabad and is available around the country. One of the other favourites is the Kashmir mutton biryani.

Ingredients in the biryani can differ from state to state, but only slightly. The dish is usually served with plenty of onions, tomatoes, chillies and lime all mixed into yoghurt.

SEAFOOD LOVER'S DELIGHT: Goan fish curry

West India is the part of the country where you'll find the greatest diversity of cuisine - from Rajasthan's spicy vegetarian food to the rich Goan cuisine, which is strongly flavoured by coconut, chillies and vinegar. Goa's position on the coast means there's an abundance of seafood to be enjoyed.

Tangy and spicy, Goan fish curry is a staple food in this laid-back region. Tuna is especially good in this recipe but other species with firm white flesh are also used. Tamarind, tomato and chillies are a few of the base ingredients that make this dish such a hit.

ALL ROUND SWEET TREAT: Balushahi

Indians are very fond of their desserts - and they like them very sweet. There are plenty to choose from, such as the more commonly known lassi (drinking yoghurt) or burfi (condesnsed milk cooked with sugar), but one that's lesser known outside of India is Balushahi. Some call it an Indian doughnut, but that's not quite accurate.

While a doughnut is soft and spongy, this deep-fried fried Indian sweet is flaky. It's made from a dough containing white flour and fermented yogurt, rolled into small balls, deep fried, then dipped in a sugar syrup. While it's a favourite throughout the country, Balushahi is thought to have originated in North India. In southern India it's also known as badusha or padusha.