The world has grown smaller—which, when it comes to food, is often a good thing. This is certainly true for Indians abroad who find themselves craving a taste of home. As cities become more diverse, it’s become easier than ever to find ingredients for Indian cooking outside the country, not to mention restaurants featuring Indian cuisine.
But as you move farther away from the major metropolitan areas like New York in the USA, London in the UK, or Sydney in Australia, certain Indian foods become harder to find. Sure, you can eat pani puri in Los Angeles or Chicago—but what about in a small American town? Or the English countryside?
I go back and forth between Pune, India, and Memphis, Tennessee, and based on my experience, plus consulting with friends and family, I have compiled this list of twenty Indian dishes that are often hard to find outside of India.
20 Popular Indian Foods that Are Unusual Outside the Country
Originally, I thought it’d be easy to make a list of specific dishes. But let’s be honest: India is diverse. And depending on what city you live in abroad and the local Indian population, the available dishes may change. Sure, most restaurants will serve chicken tikka masala, naan, samosas, biryani, and a selection of Mughlai or vegetarian dishes. You may even be able to get dosa and uttapam. But others may serve more specialty items.
That said, most Indian food abroad is primarily generic North Indian, Mughlai, or South Indian. Sometimes you’ll get all three at the same location. You’re unlikely to find numerous regional variations, especially from more remote areas of India.
From street food to the main course, there are several Indian foods that can be almost impossible to find abroad. Here are some of our favorites:
Nothing is quite as refreshing as unprocessed paan, which is often chewed (and spit out) after meals to improve breath and digestion.
If you’re missing paan when you’re away from home, never fear. You can make your own with betel nuts and leaves, sugar, spices, and dried coconut. Of course, finding the ingredients can be tough. If you’re not living close to an Indian grocery store, try searching online for what you need.
Usually filled with your choice of meat slathered in chutney and finely cut veggies, this hot wrap is a mainstay of Indian fast food.
You aren’t likely to find this restaurant attraction outside of India, at least not with the same flavors. This pan-friend meal, usually with chicken or vegetables served with rice, gets its name from the sizzling sounds the pan makes when it’s served.
Idli, a soft steamed rice and lentil cake, is great on its own. But this Indo-Chinese version of the traditional South Indian favorite is finger-licking good.
These idlis are friend along with onions, capsicums, and green chilis before being glazed in red or green chili, soy sauce, and ketchup.
In general, eating chaat is an experience. And with dozens of variations, it can be hard to define. But chaat is simply a type of savory snack, with pani puri being one of the most popular versions.
Whether you’re standing at a stall eating these stuffed flatbreads, or grabbing a few while on an errand, there’s something special about pani puri. Also, of all the chaats you might find outside of India, it’s probably one of the hardest to find.
From West Bengal, we have these fish egg fritters fried in flour and various spices. Deep-fried in besan with ginger and garlic paste, onions, green chilis, and poppy seeds, this is a traditional favorite of the region. It’s also one you can’t easily find outside certain Bengali or Bangladeshi restaurants.
While most Indian meat dishes are thought to be mutton and chicken, much of Northeast India also eats pork. Jadoh, which simply means “rice” and “meat” in the Khasi language, is one such dish. This Meghalaya red rice and pork mix is a delicacy you won’t often find abroad.
Murg saagwala is an Oriya dish (from the state of Odisha) combining chicken and spinach curry. It pairs well with roti or rice. For the signature texture and as a distinguishing feature from other spinach dishes, the spinach is puréed.
This hearty and healthy meal is one of the quicker Indian dishes to prepare, too, making it an easy favorite to replicate at home.
This Assamese dish combines banana flowers, potatoes, and pigeon meat for a distinct flavor. It can be time-consuming to make and requires hard-to-find ingredients. Most laborious is peeling the banana flower and cutting the pigeon meat small enough. That’s if you can find pigeon meat for sale, that is!
Known as the “King of Indian Street Food,” this Mumbai-based snack isn’t often on the menu in overseas Indian restaurants. This mashed vegetable dish served with onions and toasted bread rolls is the ultimate comfort food.
A Goan treat of a rice cake steamed in turmeric leaves, this Indian food is especially popular during major holidays like Independence Day and Ganesh Chaturthi.
Number twelve on our list is a Punjabi dish in which a fish is marinated in spices, fresh ingredients, and flour before being deep-fried.
While you’re unlikely to get this prepared with singhara or sole fish abroad, you might find this dish made with other white boneless fillets like tilapia, cod, or trout.
From Sikkim, phagshapa is a traditional Indian pork and radish dish. This hot dish pairs perfectly with rice. The tender meat is stewed with dry red chilies and radish for a unique, tangy taste.
This soft mutton kebab that melts in your mouth is common street food in Lucknow. Served with pudhina chutney and onions, galouti kebabs were intentionally designed for those with delicate teeth who still want a hearty meal.
A classic Bengali treat, this sweet curd is often served after festive events like Pohela Boishakh, Durga Puja, or Diwali.
This sweet flatbread is made by stuffing whole wheat dough with jaggery, chana daal, cardamom, nutmeg, and saffron. Sometimes, coconut or nuts are added depending on regional differences.
From Mizoram, this simple yet delectable Indian seafood dish is prepared by grilling marinated shrimp on a banana leaf over charcoal.
A fish curry from Kerala, this dish pairs wonderfully with rice or kappa. Seasoned with mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, and other spices, it requires many ingredients that aren’t widely available in smaller towns outside the subcontinent.
Another Indian pork dish, this time from Nagaland, anishi with pork is usually served on rice. This recipe combines fermented yam leaves and chilies with tender meat.
From Arunachal Pradesh, this soup-porridge is made with water, millet flour, vegetables, and meat. A popular dish among the Monpha tribes, it’s often paired with rokpi takeng—the local egg and ginger chutney.
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