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Last updated : Nov 2009
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Food & Drink

The outstanding aroma of India is not only the strong scent of jasmine and roses on the warm air. It's also the aroma of the spices very important to Indian cooking – particularly to preparing curry. The word ‘curry’ is an English derivative of kari, meaning spice sauce, however, curry does not, in India, come as a powder. It is the subtle and delicate blend of spices such as turmeric, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and poppy seed.

Like an artist’s palette of oil paints, the Indian cook has about 25 spices (freshly ground as required) in order to mix the recognized combinations or masalas. Several of these spices are also known for their medicinal qualities, and, like the basic ingredients, vary from region to region.

Although not all Hindus are vegetarians, vegetable dishes are more widespread than in Europe, especially in southern India.

Meat dishes are more common in the north, particularly, Rogan Josh (curried lamb), Gushtaba (spicy meat balls in yogurt) and the delicious Biryani (chicken or lamb in orange-flavored rice, sprinkled with sugar and rose water). Mughlai cuisine is creamy, rich, deliciously spiced and liberally sprinkled with saffron and nuts. The ever-popular Tandoori cooking (meat, chicken, or fish marinated in herbs and baked in a clay oven) and kebabs are also northern cuisine.

In the south, curries are primarily vegetable and tend to be hotter. Specialties to look out for are Bhujia (vegetable curry), Raitas (yoghurt with grated cucumber and mint), Dosa, Idli and Samba (rice pancakes, dumplings with pickles, and vegetable and lentil curry). Coconut is a primary ingredient of southern Indian cooking.

The west coast has a wide variety of fish and shellfish: Mumbai duck (curried or fried bombloe fish) and pomfret (Indian salmon) are just 2. Another specialty is the Parsi Dhan Sak (lamb or chicken cooked with curried lentils) and Vindaloo.

Fish is also a staple of Bengali cooking as in Dahi Maach (curried fish in yogurt flavored with turmeric and ginger) and Malai (curried prawn with coconut). One regional difference is that, whereas in the south rice is the staple food, in the north this is supplemented and often times substituted by a wide variety of flat breads, such as Nan, Pooris, and Chapatis.

Common throughout India is Dal (crushed lentil soup with various other vegetables), and Dahi, the curd or yogurt, which accompanies the curry. aside from being delicious, it is a good ‘cooler’, more effective than liquids when things get too hot.

Sweets are mainly milk-based puddings, pastries and pancakes. prevalent throughout India is Kulfi, the Indian ice cream, Rasgullas (cream cheese balls flavoured with rose water), Gulab Jamuns (flour, yogurt and ground almonds), and Jalebi (pancakes in syrup).

In addition to an exquisite choice of sweets and sweetmeats, there is an abundance of fruit, both tropical – mangoes,melons and pomegranates – and temperate – apricots, strawberries and apples. Western confectionery is available in major centers. It is common to complete the meal by chewing Pan as a digestive. Pan is made of spices such as aniseed and cardomom wrapped in betel leaf.

Besides the main dishes, there are also endless irresistible snacks at the ready on every street corner, such as Samosa, Dosa, Fritters, and Vada. Western cuisine is also available, Indeed, the best styles of cooking from throughout the globe can be experienced in the major centres in India.

India’s favorite drink is tea (or chai) and many of the varieties are enjoyed throughout the world. It often comes ready-brewed with milk and sugar unless ‘tray tea’ is requested. Coffee is also gaining popularity. Nimbu Pani (lemon drink), Lassi (iced buttermilk) and coconut milk straight from the nut are refreshing and cool. Soft drinks (usually sweet) and bottled water are widely available, as are Western alcoholic drinks. There's also a wide variety of excellent Indian beer,. Indian-made gin, rum, wine and brandy. Bottled water, essential for visitors, is available everywhere in India, but be sure the bottles are properly sealed.

Restaurants have table service and, depending on the area and establishment, will serve alcoholic beverages with meals. Most Western-style hotels have licensed bars. Visitors can be issued All India Liquor Permits on request by Indian Embassies/High Commissions, Missions or Tourist Offices. Various states enforce prohibition but this may change; check with the Tourist Office for current information. In almost all big cities in India certain days of the week are observed as dry days when the sale of liquor is not prohibited. Tourists may contact the nearest local tourist office to obtain the prohibition laws/rules that apply in any given state where they happen to be travelling or intend to travel.

Nightlife

India has generally little nightlife as the term is understood in the West, however, in major cities a few Western-style shows, discos and clubs are being developed. In most places the main attraction will be cultural shows featuring Indian music and dance.

The Indian film industry is the largest in the world, now producing 3 times as many full-length feature films as Hollywood. ai and Kolkata (Calcutta) are the country’s 2 ‘Hollywoods’. Nearly every large town has a cinema, many of which will show films in English. Music and dancing are an important part of Indian cinema, mixing with several other influences to produce a rich variety of film art. Larger cities may have theatres showing productions of English-language plays.

Shopping

Indian crafts have been perfected throughout the centuries, from traditions and techniques handed down from generation to generation. Every region has its own specialties, each town its own craftspeople and its own particular skills. Spices, Silks, jewellery and many other Indian products have long been acclaimed and are widely pursued; merchants traveled thousands of miles, suffering the hardships of a long journey, in order to make their purchases.

Nowadays, the marketplaces of the subcontinent are a mere eight hours away, and for fabrics, carpets, silverware, antiques and leatherwork; India is a shopper’s paradise. Bargaining is expected, visitors can check for reasonable prices at state-run emporia.

Fabrics

1 of India’s main industries is textiles. Its cottons, silks, and wools rank amongst the best in the world. Of the silks, the brocades from Varanasi are among the most prominent; other major centres include Patna, Kanchipuram Murshidabad, and Surat. Rajasthan cotton with its distinctive ‘tie and dye’ design is brilliantly colorful, while Chennai cotton is well known for its attractive ‘bleeding’ effect after a few washes. Himroo cloth, a mixture of silk and cotton, can be found throughout the country and is often decorated with patterns. Kashmir sells beautiful woollens, particularly shawls.

Carpets

India is 1 of the world’s largest carpet producers, and many examples of this ancient and beautiful craft are on display in museums throughout world. Each region has its own specialty; such as the distinctive, brightly colored Tibetan rugs, available mainly in Darjeeling.

Clothes

Clothes are inexpensive and can be quickly tailor-made in some shops. Cloth includes cottons, silks, himroos, chiffons, brocades, and chingnons.

Jewellery

Jewellery is typically heavy and elaborate. Indian silverwork is world-famous. Gems include diamonds, lapis Indian star rubies lazuli, star sapphires, aquamarines and moonstones. Hyderabad is a leading pearl center.

Handicrafts and leatherwork

Each area has its specialty; these include bronzes, brass work (often inlaid with silver), pottery and cane work. Woven rugs and papier mâché (some decorated in gold leaf) is a characteristic Kashmir craft. alabaster and inlaid marble are specialties of Agra. Rajasthan is known for its colourful silks and fabrics. Leatherwork includes slippers and open Indian sandals.

Woodwork

Carvings made from sandalwood from Karnataka, rosewood from Kerala and Chennai.

Other goods

Spices, Pickles, perfumes, Indian tea, handmade paper, soap, Orissan playing cards and musical instruments.

Shopping hours: Monday-Saturday 09:30-18:00 in most large stores.

Note

There is a veto on the export of antiques, and art objects more than 100 years old, animal skins and objects made from skins.

Special Events

For additional information, contact the Government of India Tourist Office (see Contact section).

Below is a selection from the hundreds of Indian festivals celebrated throughout 2006:
January Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra Initiation (religious ceremony), Bodh Gaya; Bikaner Camel Festival.
February Goa Carnival; Desert Festival, Jaisalmer.
March Holla Mohalla (ancient Sikh festival), all over the Punjab.
April 6 Ramnavami (anniversary of Lord Rama’s birth), nationwide.
May 23 Buddha Purnima (celebration of the birth of Lord Buddha), nationwide.
June Summer Festival, Mount Abu.
July Birthday of the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala.
August-September Gogamedi Fair.
September Ganesh Chaturthi (festival of the elephant God Ganesh), nationwide.
September-October Navarati (Hindu festival of dancing), Mumbai.
October Dussehra (Hindu festial), nationwide.
Novermber 1 Deepvali (Hindu festival of lights), nationwide.
Novermber Pushkar Camel Fair, Ajmer; Ganga Mahotsava (washing in the Ganges River), Varanasi.
December 24-January 3, 2006 Christmas Parties (beach parties), Goa
Note

In addition to the above listed festivals there are hundreds of fairs and festivals of regional significance, which are celebrated with equal pomp and color.

The most authentic of these are the following:

The Temple Festivals in southern India; a listing is often available at Government of India Tourist Offices.

Festivals at Ladakh, in Kashmir.

Festivals in Rajasthan; a visitor will be unlucky to visit Rajasthan when a festival of some kind is not either happening or about to take place. The visitor may also be lucky enough to witness dancing at a private wedding or a village festival.

Social Conventions

The traditional Indian Hindu greeting is to fold the hands and tilt the head forward to Namaste.

Indian women usually prefer not to shake hands.

All visitors should remove footwear before entering places of religious worship. Most Indians remove their footwear before entering their houses. Because of strict religious and social customs, visitors should show the utmost respect when visiting someone’s home.

Many Hindus are vegetarian and many, particularly women, do not drink alcohol.

Parsees and Sikhs do not smoke.

Small gifts are appreciated as gestures of gratitude for hospitality. Women are expected to dress modestly. Short skirts and tight or revealing clothing is not acceptable even on beaches.

Businesspeople are not expected to dress formally unless attending meetings and social functions.

English-speaking guides are available at fixed prices at all important tourist centers. Guides speaking French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, or Russian are available in some cities. Contact the nearest Government of India Tourist Office. Unapproved guides are not allowed entrance to protected monuments. Tourists are advised to request guides who have certificates from the Ministry of Tourism or India Tourism (see Contact section).

Photography

Formalities mainly apply to protected monuments and the wildlife sanctuaries. Special permission from the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, is required for the use of a tripod and artificial light to photograph monuments. Photography at numerous places is allowed with a prescribed fee, which varies. Please contact the nearest Government of India Tourist Office.

Tipping

Taxis and restaurants don't expect tips however, hotel and airport porters should be tipped about Rs20, and guides and drivers Rs100 per day where service is not included (equaling roughly 10% where appropriate).
Useful travel links
FestivalsInIndia upcoming festivals in India
Happy Cow India guide to vegetarian restaurants in India
World Restaurant Guide restaurant guides in Asia