The eating habits in India differ greatly from Europe and adjusting can prove tricky. People usually sit on the floor and eat with their right hand from a metal plate. Hands and face are washed before the meal. Eating breakfast or drinking tea or coffee before brushing your teeth is seen as dirty. Water is drunk during meals and should you order a coffee without further instructions, it will be brought to you after the meal. Talking comes before the meal; people rarely talk during it. If you are invited out to eat, chat amiably before the meal but leave after it. Women and children eat separately and only after the men have finished. Guests are often the only ones to eat, while the host concentrates on your service. This is a sign of politeness, but can make Europeans feel uncomfortable. Indians eat three warm meals per day.
Many Indians are vegetarians for religious or moral reasons. Even eggs are often avoided. For a long time the Indian diet was restricted to fish. Vegetarians are well catered for. Meat was not part of the Indian diet until the Moghuls and Europeans stepped in. The amount of meat used in Indian curry is small compared to European tastes. Of the meat dishes, we recommend tandoori and tikka.
Breakfast: Cornflakes, toast, jam, butter and eggs are the standard fare in hotels and restaurants. Indians eat idlis (rice cakes), dosas (pancakes), puri badji (fried bread with veg) or different types of bread with curd.
Lunch and dinner: In India, warm meals are eaten in the afternoon and evening. There are regional differences, but in the large cities you can find places specialised in a wide range of foods although the variety is difficult for westerners to notice at first. Indian meals consist of rice and different breads, with curries and dal. Curry is the name given to all vegetable, fish and meat dishes which are prepared using the most complex spice combinations in the world (up to 25 per meal). Dal is the name of dishes made from lentils and is the most important protein source . Other than Indian cuisine, western and Chinese food is also available in the large cities, although some of the attempts to replicate western food have rather poor results. One reason why the food often disagrees with tourists is that they often take too much curry in relation to the bread and rice. Curries are often spicy and fatty and should be eaten in relatively small amounts, as flavouring to the rice or bread.
Snacks: Apart from the meals there are the snacks. Poor Indians often nibble puffed rice, dried chickpeas or peanuts. Belpuri is a snack favoured by people in and around Bombay. It is made of lentils, crunchy vermicelli, tomato, onion and fresh coriander. For a few rupees you can buy a small plate. Besides there are various fried snacks which are invariably vegetarian. Only in the more expensive restaurants such snacks are prepared with a meat filling. Some of the names of these snacks are pakoras, fried balls kept together by potato starch, samosas, small pastries with a potato and vegetable filling, and cutlets, snacks coated with breadcrumbs, filled with a varying vegetarian mixture and fried.
Tap water: Tap water is not suitable for drinking. You will have to buy mineral water or use the drinking water produced in middle-class and expensive hotels and restaurants. This water is boiled or filtered with a bacteria filter. Mineral water is relatively expensive. For this reason, it sometimes happens that bottles are filled up with unreliable water. Always take care that bottles are properly sealed. Only in good restaurants are ice cubes made of clean water.
Other drinks: At a temperature of 30ºC or over, our moisture requirement shoots up. If we exercise as well, the requirement can mount to over 5 litres a day. Part of this is contained in food; the rest of the intake must be drunk. When sweating, you also get rid of salts that have to be refilled. In case of heat, make it your habit to eat soup as a starter. Chai or tea is India’s national drink. It is always served with a lot of milk and sugar. If you want it differently, visit a good hotel. The same applies to coffee. Soft drinks are now available throughout India. The local brands are sweeter than what we are used to. A fresh choice is the drink called fresh-lime soda: soda water with fresh lemon juice. You can order it sweet, salt or without any further addition. The same applies for another tasty drink, lassi, comparable to buttermilk. Lassi can be a source of harmful bacteria, so it is better to order it only in good restaurants. Ice-tea and ice coffee are also delicious drinks, the latter may be served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Also, there are fruit juices such as orange juice, mango juice, grape juice, papaya juice and pineapple juice. Mango juice and pineapple juice are sometimes hard on the stomach and it is best not to drink more than a little bit of them. You can also buy a coconut and have it opened for you to drink the milk.
Alcohol: Beer is available almost everywhere, although many smaller hotels are not officially licensed. In this case it will only be available on room service. It is mostly sold in small bottles, although increasing numbers of large hotels have beer on tap. The best brands are Kingfisher, Black Label and Pelican. Beer is relatively expensive here, varying from 35 rupees in a shop to 100 rupees in the large hotels. Spirits are available in bars and wine shops, and are usually cheap imitations of whisky, gin and rum. Wine lovers would be better off bringing a couple of bottles from home, as it is rare in India.
Restaurants and other eating places: In every Indian village you can find a small eating place with nice food. The ones frequented by Indians are very cheap. Sometimes you can eat there for as little as 35 pence. They will not appeal to everybody, as hygiene is not a strong priority. In practice, however, conditions are usually not too bad if many people are eating there. However, many westerners’ appetite is dampened by the décor in these places. In tourist hotels, Indian food may be served which is more adapted to foreign palates. The best food is prepared in the kitchens of local families. If you are lucky enough to be invited for a meal with locals, be sure to grasp this opportunity.
Fruit: One of the greatest attractions of India is the nearly infinite offer of the most exotic fruits. They come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, but they outdo each other in taste. To explore this region is to surrender wholly to the strangely looking fruit piled up along the road or sold by women who make a living out of fruit selling on the beach or in the street. Some of the most delectable fruits are mango, rambutan, papaya, pineapple, royal coconut, sour sob, jackfruit, mangosteen, durian and the many types of banana.