When we’re home and not traveling, we often like to go out to Indian restaurants or order delivery or take-out of Indian food – perhaps to enjoy while watching .
Indian recipes are so complex, requiring many different spices and lots of prep and cooking time, that Indian food is not something we can easily whip up ourselves.
So what are some popular Indian dishes to try?
Which are the best Indian dishes to order?
If you love curry and the fragrant flavors of Indian food, but don’t know your dal from your dosa, here’s a quick primer.
Popular Indian dishes
A vast country, the Indian subcontinent has up to 36 distinct cuisines.
But for the sake of absolute simplicity, you can break down the food preferences into two regions: North Indian food and South Indian food.
Food in North India:
- Spices and veggies reign (lots of vegetarian options).
- North Indians prefer breads like naan over rice.
- Dishes aren’t as fiery hot as in the south, and you’ll find more creamy creations.
South Indian dishes:
- Curries are hotter.
- More rice is eaten, often combined with lentils.
- Dishes feature a lot of seafood and coconut.
Best Indian dishes to order at a restaurant
Ok, let’s now check out the 23 best Indian dishes.
You can read about them in detail below.
See also our “short-and-spicy” 45-second video on 10 of our favorite Indian dishes!
Pause for our Indian food video!
Brought from Persia to India by the Mughals, biryani is a classic Indian dish.
Rice and meat or vegetables are prepared separately, then combined and slow-cooked in the oven to create this aromatic “dry dish” (there’s no creamy gravy-like sauce).
Basmati rice is typically used, and the meat (goat, chicken or mutton) is usually marinated first in yogurt. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom add a delicate flavor.
You can’t go wrong ordering biryani!
2) Butter chicken
Butter chicken (or murgh makhani) is one of the most popular Indian curries.
Typically a mild curry, it combines onions, butter and cream in a velvety smooth tomato sauce with chicken chunks.
Butter chicken is our go-to curry; we never tire of it!
If you want something lightly spiced and easy on the heat, then this is one of the best Indian food dishes to try.
Butter chicken is an especially good pick if this is your first time eating Indian food.
Walk around any street in North India and you’ll find vendors lined with a variety of street preparations like Aloo Chaat, Papdi Chaat or the famous Dahi Bhalla Chaat. These are easy to prepare and are loved by all. Straight from the streets of chaat now famous all over the world. It is believed that chaat was born in the royal kitchen of emperor Shah Jahan. According to legend, when the Mughal emperor fell ill, he was instructed by his Hakim to consumefoods that are light on the stomach but high on spices so as to strengthen his immunity. Hence, chaat was discovered!
There are many types of chaat, but all have a starch base (like a samosa or puffed rice), vegetables and chutney.
One of the most popular is papri chaat, made with a samosa-style crust, boiled potatoes and chickpeas, topped with tamarind chutney and crunchy bits of deep-fried noodles.
A thin pancake, dosa is crepe-like and slightly sweeter than naan. Coming from the southern part of India, it’s usually made from rice and lentils.
You usually eat dosas hot, dipped in various chutneys, as an accompaniment to a curry meal.
But sometimes dosas are stuffed with veggies and eaten as snacks (popular as street food in India). Masala dosa, for example, is filled with spiced potatoes.
5) Gulab Jamun
Of course, you need something deliciously sweet to finish off your Indian meal.
Make one of the most popular Indian sweet, Gulab Jamun two ways. My step-by-step photo guide will help you to make these Indian treat perfectly every single time. I share the traditional method of making Gulab Jamun with Khoya (milk solids) and the cheat’s version made with Milk Powder. Choose to make any Gulab Jamun Recipe depending on the ingredients you have.
Using milk solids and flour, the dessert consists of small doughy balls soaked in rose water and green cardamom.
Think of it like Indian doughnuts dipped in mouth-watering syrup! (But, sorry, ordinary doughnuts won’t ever taste as good again after you’ve tried gulab jamuns.)
Korma is another one of the best Indian dishes to hail from northern India.
Braised meat (maybe chicken or beef) and vegetables are slow cooked in a thick mild curry sauce made with cream, coconut milk or yogurt and sometimes almonds.
This is one of those traditional dishes, like that I’ve attempted numerous times before I was satisfied enough to share. My goal is to give easier versions of these dishes with zero sacrifices on the classic, ‘authentic’ taste
It’s delicately spiced with coriander, saffron, ginger, cardamom and black peppercorn.
7) Madras Curry
From the south of India, Madras curry is commonly made with chicken – so is known as “Chicken Madras” or “Madras Chicken.”
No matter what you call it though, it’s an intensely flavorful Indian chicken curry (a fairly hot curry).
Like roghan josh, it’s a rich dark red in color – the color comes from the chilis used.
And it’s less creamy than butter chicken and tikka masala (#14 below).
8) Mutter Paneer
This one’s for the vegetarian in you.
Mutter paneer is a north Indian curry made with cubes of paneer (a soft fresh cheese like cottage cheese). It’s mixed with peas and a tomato-and-onion based sauce.
Slurp it up with naan or chapatis.
As part of your Indian curry feast, you need one of the most famous Indian dishes – naan.
A type of pillowy yeast-leavened flatbread, naan is traditionally baked in a clay oven. It’s perfect for mopping up all that delicious curry sauce!
Some Indian restaurants also offer different types of naan.
We’ve eaten several versions – plain naan, naan with garlic butter brushed on top and naan baked with rosemary inside.
And while we enjoy all the different versions, plain naan is probably still our favorite.
One of our favorite Indian dishes to order as a starter is a serving of papadums.
We love breaking the large thin crispy wafer apart – hearing that satisfying crackle.
A little peppery, papadums often come with coriander mint chutney.
Parathas, a staple in many Indian homes, are soft, thin, and flaky flatbread that can be eaten for breakfast lunch, or dinner. Plain parathas are mainly made with whole wheat flour that is kneaded using salt, oil, and water. The dough is then rolled and cooked on a hot griddle with some ghee or oil until both sides get golden brown spots. Stuffed parathas on the other hand have a combination of savory filling in them like these
Paratha vs naan: What’s the difference?
While naan is baked in a clay tandoor oven, parathas are pan-fried. They’re thinner than naan and flakier.
To eat them, tear the paratha apart with your fingers. It’s delicious on its own. Or use the torn pieces to scoop up your curry sauce.
Raita is a must!
A side dish made from yogurt and cucumber, raita is used to cool the spicy heat from curries. Try putting a little on each forkful.
You can also dip your naan into it.
Raita is so creamy and delicious, though, that you might just want to lap it up on its own!
Make raita at home:
Mix the following ingredients in a bowl. Chill. Enjoy!
- ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
- ½ cup cucumber (grated)
- 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt to taste
13) Roghan Josh
Deep red in color, rogan josh (also spelled roghan josh) is an aromatic lamb or beef curry dish, made from chili peppers.
Then, add whole red chillies, cumin seeds and asafoetida in the pressure cooker and fry for a few seconds. Afterwards, add the mutton pieces in it and stir well. Cover with the lid but don’t close it and cook the mutton for 5-6 minutes on medium to high flame. You will notice the meat will turn light brown in colour. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and add 1/2 cup of water in it and stir well with the spices. This will help the mutton in soaking the flavours of all the spices. Then, lower the flame and cook the mutton for 10-15 minutes.
The meat is first browned then slowly stewed in a thick gravy of garlic, onions, ginger, chili pepper and spices.
Roghan josh is usually eaten with plain basmati rice and/or naan.
14) Saag Paneer
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons canola oil in the same skillet over medium heat; add cumin seeds and fry until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add onion; cook and stir until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and stir to coat. Stir in tomato, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne pepper; cook until tomato breaks down, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
The soft spinach is thickened with cream or coconut milk, spices are added and cubes of fried paneer cheese are stirred into the stew
You can eat this as a side dish, or serve it with rice for a healthy vegetarian meal.
The most popular Indian food in the world? Samosas are right up there!
Eaten as an appetizer, a samosa is a fried or baked pastry filled with spiced potatoes, peas and onions. Meat varieties have ground lamb, beef or chicken too.
They often come with mint sauce or tamarind chutney on the side.
They’re such a hit that you can usually find frozen pre-made samosas in your grocery store.
But they won’t compare to what you can get from a good Indian restaurant.
Or you can try making your own – here’s a great recipe for.
16) Tandoori chicken
You’ve probably heard of tandoori chicken?
The chicken gets its characteristic red hue from either lots of fiery chile or the addition of red food dye.
We’re not that big on food dyes here, so we’ve skipped it, but if you must have your chicken bright red, feel free to add a bit of red food dye to the marinade.
You don’t need a tandoor oven to make tandoori chicken!. You can cook it over a grill (charcoal preferred) or just in an oven with a broiler.
The chicken is prepared by marinating it in yogurt and spices like turmeric, cardamom, coriander, fresh ginger, garlic, red chili and lime juice. Then it’s grilled in a tandoor clay oven.
17) Tikka masala
The BEST part about this recipe and just like our you may already have these ingredients in your kitchen. If not, they are so easy to find in any grocery store, you won’t need to go searching high and low to find them! Authentic Chicken Tikka Masala is usually made with yogurt marinated chicken, skewered and chargrilled for incredible bbq flavours. For the sake of making this recipe much easier for us to make at home, we are using a skillet or pot to cook it all in, while still keeping those amazing flavours.
Roast over charcoal in a tandoor oven. Then mix the chicken with a creamy orange-colored sauce made from tomatoes, paprika and red chili.
Say hello to chicken tikka masala!
One of the most popular Indian dishes, tikka masala is a good choice if you don’t like hot food, as it’s a mild curry.
Okay, but it looks similar to butter chicken. So what’s the difference between tikka masala and butter chicken?
Butter chicken is usually less tomatoey and creamier than chicken tikka masala. Also, butter chicken comes from Delhi.
Chicken tikka masala, on the other hand, is supposedly an Indian food dish invented in Britain in the 1960s.
Not sure what to choose? Go with butter chicken.
Bring on the heat! Vindaloo (shown on the right in the above picture) is a classic hot curry, made with diced chicken or lamb, garlic, hot chilis and wine or vinegar.
Before you get started cooking your Indian vindaloo, you’re going to have to have the right ingredients! Typically, vindaloo is made up of vindaloo sauce, which is usually made from caramelized onions, curry paste, coconut milk, vinegar, ginger, chilies, jalapeno, garlic, chickpeas, lentils, and other spices like garam masala, salt, pepper, paprika, and turmeric.
Franciscan priests then adapted the dish – they couldn’t get wine-vinegar in India so they got inventive and made their own from palm wine.
Like Madras curry, vindaloo is one of the hottest Indian curries.
(Don’t say we didn’t warn you!)
5 More tasty Indian food dishes
A thin unleavened flatbread made from flour, salt and water (break off pieces to scoop up the food from your plate).
A mushy dish made with split peas, lentils or beans, served on the side.
Fried or stewed minced beef (or pork, chicken or lamb), often used as a filling for samosas.
Fried fritters, stuffed with potatoes, onions, cauliflower and other veggies, enjoyed as an appetizer or snack.
This is street food, the Indian way! Sold as snacks on the streets of India and as popular appetisers in Indian restaurants elsewhere, pakora are crispy, bite-size vegetable fritters. They’re loaded with gorgeous Indian spices before being fried until crunchy.
A mild curry sauce made with cream, coconut milk and almonds, originally served with lamb, but now often accompanying prawns or chicken.
So now you know the best curry dishes and top Indian foods to order at an Indian restaurant! You know your dal from your dosa, your Madras from your masala
Okay, you get the picture! Enjoy!
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