How do you order Indian food in India for children?
We spent 17 days in India in April. It was the last Asian destination on our World Trip.
We sought advice from friends and family, as well as searched online to try to prepare for this Country. Much of what we heard was doom and gloom. One site we read said that ‘if you haven’t traveled to India before having children then don’t take them as a first timer’. Well we were determined to fulfil our desire to see this exotic part of the world and witness first hand the grandeur of the Taj Mahal. We also believed that our two girls’ previous few months of travel would help them adjust quickly.
Next concern was how to order food? We searched sites for information on what to order at restaurants. We found nothing particularly useful. Most of the sites just recommended refraining from eating meat. Advice received and implemented, we only ate vegetarian.
As soon as we arrived in Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum for short, in the state of Kerala, we tasted a variety of vegetarian dishes and noted foods that our children liked. We then traveled to Alappuzha or Allepey as it is known, also in Kerala, Mumbai in the central West and Agra, Jaipur and Delhi in Central India, taking notes and ordering from our lists all the way.
If you are travelling to India with children on a low to medium budget then this article is for you.
If you have a generous budget you can simply order more dishes and work out which suits your family best. It is very cheap to order food in India, check out our post on the 5 cheapest days of our lives.
Dosa – it is a large thin pancake that is rolled into a loose tube at the end of the cooking stage so that it hardens into shape. It comes with small accompaniments.
We ate this in: Trivandrum, they are uniquely Keralan.
Childrens comments: Crunchy and nice and the dips were not spicy at all.
Appam and egg curry – white pancakes that are soft plump and moist in the middle but with a wide, thin and crispy edge. Children can have these with butter and jam, which will sometimes be supplied but they are mostly served with whole egg curry.
The curry is made with a mix of spices including turmeric, coriander, cinnamon and onion and tomato but is not too spicy (for adults) and the sauce (which Indians call gravy) sometimes has chunks of crushed tomatoes in it. If your children find it too spicy ask the chef to add some coconut water, or coconut milk or in our case we had coconut beer added to reduce the heat by our hosts.
We ate this in: Trivandrum and Allepey.
Childrens comments: The girls really liked these but Autumn (13yr old) felt the eggs were more like dinner food. ‘The eggs were delicious’, said Spring (8yr old).
Idiyappam and egg curry – this is a dish that sounds like the earlier one but instead of the batter being fried into a pancake it is pushed through a siev and boiled in hot water and then shaped to resemble small pancakes. We tried a version with finely chopped coconut in it and it gave the plain tasking batter a sweetness and the grains some extra chew which was ideal for three of us but one, our 8 year old, tried to eat all around the coconut.
We ate this in: Allepey.
Childrens comments: The coconut was very sweet and Spring didn’t like them that much but they are a nice change from the appam. Autumn would order them again if she went back.
Side note: read about the Sri Lankan versions of appam and idiyappam, called hoppers and string hoppers, respectively, in our page on Sri Lanka.
Lunch and dinner
– some are even available at breakfast
Aloo Muttar (or muttor in some places) – potato and green peas in a non-spicy gravy. This was an early winner and we ordered it every time we saw it on the menu. It can be spicy, but just order the mild. One version even had spinach (palak) in it, at a highway restaurant we stopped at while travelling from Jaipur to Delhi, which we were fine with.
We at this in: Allepey, Mumbai, Agra, as mentioned above and Delhi.
Childrens comments: ‘It’s the best, my favourite’, says Autumn. Spring also chose this as her favourite dish but recommends, ‘have some rice or bread in case it is too hot’.
Below is a lunch bill from a lunch order in Delhi on 29 April; we ordered one aloo mutter for 120INR, 4 roti breads for 60INR and 1 serving of steamed rice for 70INR, totalling 250INR. This is lunch for four people for only $5.50AUD.
Paneer Butter Masala – cottage cheese cubes in a rich creamy, tomato butter sauce. We had a sneaking suspicion that this was a vegetarian butter chicken and when Winter slipped up and ordered a butter chicken in Allepey this turned into the perfect opportunity to compare the two dishes. They were identical in flavour and so with that we knew we were onto the right dish for us.
We ate this in: Allepey, Mumbai, Agra and Jaipur.
Childrens comments: Both girls thought this dish was ‘really nice’. If you have the chance to order this at the more expensive restaurants you will notice an improvement in the quality of the cheese, much softer. Cheap restaurants simply deep fry it and it becomes a bit chewy. Lots of travellers mistake this for tofu, as did we.
Channa Masala – chickpeas in a masala style creamy gravy, non-spicy or mild. The gravy is not as thick with this dish, sort of watered down. The chickpeas simply melt in your mouth, adding to the creamy texture of the sauce and would explain why it is not so thick, it would simply be too dry to eat otherwise.
We ate this in: Trivandrum (during breakfast), Allepey, Mumbai and Agra.
Childrens comments: The best was in Agra, the chickpeas were the softest we have had.
Mushroom mutter or masala – either gravy would be fine with mushrooms. The smokiness of the mushrooms used will determine the final flavour. We were in Delhi after two weeks touring India when we realised we were craving meat, so we started to order mushrooms and this was a perfect change.
We ate this in: A highway restaurant stop while traveling from Agra to Jaipur and in Delhi.
Childrens comments: The masala version was nice but the portion size was too small (could be just our restaurant). Autumn thought it was ‘awesome, because it was kind of meaty’. Spring loved it too.
Steamed rice should be ordered at every meal. Our 8 year old summed it up, ‘if you don’t know how hot the food is going to be you can always mix heaps of rice in and then the taste is not so strong’.
– this needs its own section.
The bread you will order in the South will not be called the same name in the West or the North. I will tell you what we tried, where we tried it and how they were different but I know we didn’t try all the varieties.
Porotta or parotta – we found these in Trivandrum and Allepey (see picture above). They are flat light layers of bread that are easily pulled apart with one hand and dip in any gravy with ease. This bread looks and tastes just like the roti I order in Sydney.
Paratha – is very similar to porotta but is not found in all parts. We ordered one in our hotel in Agra and it was great but not quite the same as porotta. In Mumbai we found paratha to be the same as porotta.
Chapati or chapatti – we ordered this in Trivandrum and Allepey only. It is a flat dense bread that has a stronger taste than that of porotta but does not soak up the gravy but rather it helps you scoop up the food like a spoon.
Roti – In the South they do not know this name. They looked at us in a stange way when we ordered it and then nodded happily when we asked for porotta. We were able to find roti in all other locations we visited. It sits between paratha and chapatti in that it is capable of soaking up a little bit of gravy and can be used to scoop up the food. It puffs in the centre leading it to have two layers. We especially liked flavoured roti and ordered tandoori roti when we saw it on the menu.
Naan – We could order naan everywhere. It is large and very filling, great for kids.
Childrens comments: Autumn’s favourite was porotta. She liked how easily she could pull it apart with one hand and soak up her gravy. Spring’s favourite was naan bread, ‘I like the puffy big bread’.
FOOD THE CHILDREN WILL NOT EAT
Biriyani – No matter how many times you order it non-spicy, it will always come out with enough kick to get an old motor running. We adults love spicy food but had to give this up after about three orders because it was never eaten by the girls and ordering a steamed rice on top was just too much food.
Kerala sadya – this is a traditional lunch dish served on a banana leaf or in a silver serving platter.
The girls ate as much as they could of the sadya featured in the title of this post but most of it was eaten by their poor suffering mum and dad. Ordering a sadya is heaps of fun and the rice comes out nice and hot but the many cold portions are hit and miss with kids. If you are lucky they will like two of the possible six to eight different vegetable curry’s. Again you have to eat the rest and so you are just wasting time and money.
If you do travel to India with your children and they order any of the food above I hope they will enjoy it as much as ours did. Also we never got sick in India, as much as we had heard many scary stories, we found the vegetarian food to be good quality and the flavours fantastic.