Vegetable dishes are more common than in Europe, particularly in the fruity, coconut dishes of southern India, while northern India has an entirely different but equally satisfying cuisine to sample. Breads like paranthas, chapatis, naans and rotis are also part of the main diet in several states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Achars (pickles), relishes and chutneys again vary by region and add more resonance to amazing meals.

Sweets or mithai too have regional specialties. They tend to be milk based and some are syrupy and fried. Well-known northern sweets are gulab jamun, jalebi (it’s worth watching how these syprup-based confections are made in the street), kulfi, kheer, halwa and laddu. From the east are rasgulla and rasmalai. The south has several burfi and halwa-type desserts like coconut burfi and badam halwa made from almonds.

While care should be taken in where one eats, exceptional food can be had in the humblest surroundings such as food at ashrams as can be found in 5-star restaurants. Non-vegetarians will find fabulously spiced mutton dishes according to regional specialities including fish dishes typical to coastal areas.

Specialties:

• Dhal (curried lentils).

• Kulfi (firm Indian-style ice cream).

• Gulab Jamuns (deep-fried dough balls in sweet syrup).

• Jalebi (circular-shaped deep-fried batter in sweet syrup).

• Dosa (fermented crepe stuffed with vegetables, meat and sauces, originally from the south).

Things to know:

Bottled water is recommended for visitors but make sure the bottles are properly sealed. Alcohol is mainly served at mid- and upper-range restaurants in the larger towns and cities known as “resto-bars”; in budget eateries, it's usually only found at non-vegetarian restaurants which have a liquor license.

Regional drinks:

• Chai (tea) is India's favourite drink. It will often come ready-brewed with milk, sugar and other spices usually at minimum cardamom and ginger unless 'tray tea' or 'separate tea' is specified.

• Coffee has long been popular in the south. South Indian coffee made and poured in a particular fashion is a specialty. Nowadays most large cities and towns have cafés serving cappuccinos, lattes, espressos and more.

• Nimbu Pani (lemon water) served sweet or sweet and salted.

• Lassi (iced yogurt/buttermilk beverage) also flavoured with fruits like mango or banana or sweet and salty.

• Indian beer (in many varieties, with Kingfisher the most popular brand).