Indian Food Guide: All You Need to Know About Indian Cuisine

What is Indian Food?

When you think Indian cuisine, the dishes that come to mind might be curry, or chicken tikka masala, or biryani – and you’d be right! However, much like how Filipino food in one region can be wildly different in another (see: pochero), Indian recipes can vary from region to region, too!

Some of the key features of Indian cuisine include the use of spices and herbs to create complex and aromatic flavor profiles, the use of a variety of cooking methods including frying, baking, roasting, and grilling, and the use of a variety of staple foods such as rice, wheat, lentils, and vegetables.

Indian cuisine is also known for its vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, and its extensive use of dairy products such as ghee or clarified butter, yogurt, and paneer, a kind of buffalo or cow cheese.

Table of Contents

• Common Indian Food Terms

• Basic Indian Cooking Ingredients

• Indian Kitchen Essentials

• Indian Curry Recipes

• Biryani Recipes

• Indian Chicken Recipes

• Indian Bread Recipes

• Chutney Recipes

• Indian Dessert Recipes

Common Indian Food Terms

Photo by Hans Fausto

Looking at the menu of an Indian restaurant can be quite intimidating, especially when you don’t know the terms! There’s one thing that’s certain though: whatever you order will be a masterpiece in flavor and texture. Here are common terms in Indian cuisine and their meanings:


“Biryani” is a popular Indian rice dish made with meat or vegetables cooked together in a pot, and seasoned with spices, often including saffron. Biryani can feature mutton, chicken, beef, or eggs, but it can also be prepared with just vegetables. In some regions, it can also be prepared with dried fruits and nuts.


“Chutney” comes from the Hindi word chatni which means “to lick or to eat with appetite.” Chutneys can be made with fresh or pickled fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and are usually used as a spread, sauce, or condiment in Indian cuisine.


Indian cuisine is best known for its curry, which is as diverse as the many regions in India. Curry is a dish made with a sauce or gravy, typically made with garam masala, onions, tomatoes, and featuring vegetables or protein.


“Dal” refers to dried split lentils or other legumes that can be cooked without soaking. It can also be used to refer to soups that are made with these legumes; they are usually pureed and seasoned with spices.

Garam Masala

“Garam” means “hot” while “masala” means “spice blend.” Though it varies from region to region (and even family to family), garam masala is typically made by grinding a combination of fennel, bay leaves, black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, mace, cardamom, cumin, coriander seeds, and red chili powder.


“Lassi” a yogurt- or buttermilk-based drink usually sweetened and flavored with fruits or spices.


“Naan” is a type of leavened bread typically cooked in a tawa or griddle or baked in a tandoor oven.

Roti/ Chapati

“Roti” is also known as “chapati” in English, and it is a type of unleavened flatbread that is traditionally cooked on a griddle. It is made with whole wheat flour, water, and salt.


“Samosas” are deep-fried pastries that are filled with potatoes, onions, lentils, ginger, and other spices. They can come in triangular or cone shapes, and are often served with fresh mint, coriander, or tamarind chutney.


“Tandoor” refers to large, urn-shaped ovens that are usually made with clay a cylindrical clay oven used for cooking bread and meat dishes. “Tandoori,” as in “tandoori chicken,” refers to the Indian cooking technique of baking food in a tandoor.

Essential Indian Cooking Ingredients

Cooking Indian recipes might sound intimidating as they usually include a lot of spices, but trust us: it’s totally worth it to use these spices! Bring home a taste of India with these Indian cuisine pantry staples.

spices whole and ground
Photo by Shutterstock


Indian cuisine is known for its use of spices, which include cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chili powder, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and fenugreek. Most, if not all, are available at the condiments section at the supermarket; harder-to-find spices like fenugreek and cloves can be ordered online or found at the Asian section of the grocery.


Fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, and curry leaves are commonly used in Indian cuisine to add fresh flavors and aromas to dishes. These are best bought a day before or on the day you’ll use them.

Lentils and legumes

Lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes are a staple in Indian cuisine and are used in many dishes like dal and samosas.

Basmati Rice

Rice is a staple ingredient in Indian cuisine; specifically, basmati rice is a long-grained rice that is commonly used in biryani recipes.

Ghee (Clarified Butter)

Ghee is used, sometimes in place of oil, to cook and season dishes.

Paneer (Cheese)

Paneer is a type of cheese commonly used in Indian vegetarian dishes. Paneer is a non-melting cheese, and is made by curdling buffalo or cow’s milk with natural acids, like lemon juice.

Indian Kitchen Essentials

Indian cuisine requires a range of kitchen tools and utensils to prepare its diverse range of dishes. While there are some specialized tools used in Indian cooking, there are easy workarounds or substitutes you can use to achieve the same effect.

mortar and pestle
Photo by Bianca Laxamana

Here are some essential tools and utensils commonly used in Indian cooking:

Mortar and pestle

Indian recipes use a lot of spices and herbs, which are usually ground together to make a paste or a masala (spice blend)

Tawa (Griddle)

Rotis, parathas, and other flatbreads are usually cooked in tawa or griddle! However, you can also use frying pans to make these Indian breads.

Pressure cooker

Even when you’re not cooking Indian food, pressure cookers are super useful as they can tenderize meats quickly and efficiently. In Indian cuisine, aside from cooking meats like mutton and beef, pressure cookers are handy in cooking lentils, rice, and other grains, too.

Masala Dabba (Spice Box)

This specialized tool is a small tray-like container with multiple compartments used to store different spices for easy access during cooking. Most Indian homes have this, but a regular spice rack can serve the same purpose.

Kadai or Kadhai (Wok)

A kadai is a deep, round-bottomed pan used to make Indian curries and stir-fry dishes. While it is very similar to a wok, it has a wider bottom and steeper sides. This is because they can also be used to deep-fry dishes.

Tandoor oven

A cylindrical clay oven used to cook tandoori dishes like naan and tandoori chicken. These tend to be quite expensive and difficult to source, so for dishes that call for tandoor ovens, regular ovens or even grills can work.

Chakla belan (Rolling Board and Pin)

“Chakla” means “rolling board” while “belan” means “rolling pin”. Chakla belan are usually made of wood, although some can be made of marble and are used to roll out dough for flatbreads like roti and paratha. Having a set is handy as it saves one from having to clean their surface after rolling, but a regular rolling pin and a clean surface to roll on will do the job just as well.

Hand blender

Hand blenders or food processors are handy tools to have when you’re preparing Indian cuisine as they can be used to blend spices, herbs, and vegetables to make spice blends, chutneys, and sauces.

Indian Curry Recipes

indian pork curry recipe
Photo by Majoy Siason

If you’re ever looking for a flavor bomb, Indian curries are one of the most flavorful ones you’ll ever eat. Though they are known for being hot, the burn you get from Indian curry that is made irresistible by the different flavors of the herbs and spices mixed in them. What’s more: they can be made with different ingredients, so whether you prefer meat or veggies (or both) in your curry, there’s sure to be a recipe for you!

• Indian Pork Curry Recipe

• Indian Chicken Curry Recipe

• Fish Curry with Dried Mango Chutney Recipe

• Tilapia Curry Recipe

• Aloo Gobi (Potato-Cauliflower) Curry Recipe

• Lamb Curry Recipe

• Shahi Paneer (Paneer Curry) Recipe


Biryani Recipes

vegetable biryani
Photo by

Biryani is the ultimate Indian one-pot dish. Imagine the warm, soft and fluffy basmati rice cooked in the spiced, savory sauce of the protein or vegetable of choice, balanced by the cool raita or spiced yoghurt dip; it’s a combination that will keep you asking for more.

• Beef Biryani Recipe

• Vegetable Biryani Recipe


Indian Chicken Recipes

two bowls of chicken tikka masala
Photo by

From baked or grilled chicken to hearty chicken stews, cooking (and eating) Indian chicken dishes is always exciting. Not only do the chicken in these recipes come out juicy; they’re marinated and packed with flavor, too.

• Indian Spiced Grilled Chicken Recipe

• Indian Butter Chicken Recipe

• Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe


Indian Bread Recipes

roti prata on a white plate
Photo by Miguel Nacianceno

Savory Indian dishes are big in herbs and spices, and it can be overwhelming for the taste buds. That’s why these Indian breads are usually paired with curries or tandoori dishes; their light texture and flavor provide the perfect balance to hearty stews and grilled food.

• Roti Prata Recipe

• Paratha (Flaky Flatbread) Recipe

• Naan Bread Recipe


Chutney Recipes

pineapple and pear chutney

Whether fresh or pickled, chutneys provide a spike in sweetness and sometimes tartness in otherwise savory Indian dishes. These chutney recipes are best paired with grilled food, but in a pinch, they can also be used as spreads for appetizers!

• Mango Chutney Recipe

• Jun Jun's Mango Chutney Recipe

• Pineapple and Pear Chutney Recipe


Indian Dessert Recipes

gulab jamon or gulab jamun stacked in a bowl
Photo by Majoy Siason

Have we mentioned that Indian cuisine is heavy on the spice? You’ll be surprised to find that even spices have a place in sweet Indian desserts.

• Gulab Jamon (Milk Balls) Recipe

• Gulab Jamon Ala Mode Recipe




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