Exploring Indian Food On A Low Budget
Image Credit: Indian street food is delicious and affordable | Unsplash

Eating out in India is an adventure for any gastronome. The local food is unique and often cheap in every state. Travelling across the country, I realised that the most authentic food is available in small food joints. The food quality and the value for money one can experience in the local inexpensive food places makes exploring India worthwhile for a food explorer.

1. Dhabas

A boon for all travellers, Dhabas are the lifeline of Indian road travel. Truckers take refuge and refresh at these dhabas lined across the Indian highways. A simple meal at an authentic, inexpensive dhaba with sabzi, dal, rotis and salad may cost around 50 to 70 rupees. The extended time one spends on their cots (charpais) to relax, or a short nap is not chargeable.

Dhabas with a humble set up of mud floors and thatched roofs to the ones with fancy dining halls with air conditioning, the food at a Dhaba always brings back nostalgia. Tandoori Parathas served with a mountain of white home-churned butter, Dal Makhani, Baingan Ka Bharta, Chole, Rajma, Palak Paneer, Saag etc., are some of the loved Dhaba dishes. Dhaba cuisine is based on the most easily procured seasonal ingredients, thus, providing cheap, healthy, and delicious food to travellers ever since their inception in the 20th century.

2. Tiffin rooms / Udupi Hotels / Darshanis

As we travel across South India, affordable breakfast options are plenty. Dishes like dosa, idli, uttapam, Upma, Appam, Puttu, etc., are commonplace in eateries like the tiffin rooms, Udupi hotels, or Darshnis.

A dosa meal can cost between 50 rupees to 80 rupees, depending on the kind of dosa you are eating. Idlis can cost anywhere between 20 rupees to 30 rupees a piece and is served with traditional accompaniments of chutney and sambhar. A multi-dish vegetarian lunch meal can cost around 100 rupees, including unlimited servings of rice, sambhar and rasam. In Bangalore, you can visit Darshanis, a common name given to vegetarian eateries serving traditional Karnataka-style tiffin items. Try local specialities like Bisi Bele Bhath or a Chow Chow bath, and finish the meal with a cup of hot filter coffee.

3. Tea Stalls

You can find small tea shops in every nook and corner of India. Tea brewed with milk and spices, like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and tulsi, can be commonly found in tea stalls selling at 10 rupees per cup. Small snacks like samosa, bread pakoda, bhajjis, and other fritters are cheap yet delicious. One can also opt for a Matthi, biscuits or Khara puffs at these small tea shops. In 20 to 30 rupees, one can enjoy a good cup of masala chai, served in a kulhad, along with a snack to fill oneself with a small grub.

A kachori shop | Unsplash

Chaat, Kachori, Chole Bhature, Idli, dosa, and Paratha. These are just some of the delicious dishes one can enjoy in India from small hole-in-the-wall shops, dishing out regional specialities. Be it Kebabs and Haleem, Tikkas and Soups, or Shawarma meat roasting in public view, delicious food doesn’t need a vast fancy place to be liked by the patrons. Many famous and legendary food joints still shell out from the tiny little shops they started from. Specialising in small plate foods, served in disposable plates or donnas.

Chaat items form a sub-cuisine of their own, with food items like aloo tikki, gol gappas, paapdi, Bhalla, laccha tokri, tamatar ki chaat, Matar ki chaat, fruit chaat, aloo chaat, and many other unique food items are served with enticing masalas and chutneys. Enjoying food at these old and famous places gives you the true culinary essence of the region, and these hole-in-the-wall places do not burn a hole in your pocket.

10. Street Carts

Real innovation and craftsmanship can be experienced at street food carts across India. Not just the unique ingredients and cooking styles of India on exuberant display in the bright streets of India’s many bazaars, but the sheer craftsmanship of the food vendors lights up the culinary landscape of Indian street food. A guy on the cart may have dishes like Pao Bhaji, Dosas, a Vada pao, an omelette, soup or a curry. In Southern India, dishes like chicken 65, parottas, bhajjis, and idlis can all be enjoyed on the cart, with many other food lovers looking to fill up delicious street food at a low cost.

Indian food will introduce you to many flavours, as the taste and style of cooking differ from state to state. As you travel across India, you will have many options for trying authentic flavours without having to worry too much about the expenses. A culinary exploration of India requires your will and a big appetite for delicious cuisines, and you will have the time of your life. Keep exploring!

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration.