South Indian cuisine is mostly based on rice. In most dishes, rice is combined with lentils to make dosas (kind of crepes with sour fillings), idlis (small rice-flour balls), or uttapams (kind of omelette), that are served with sambar (a vegetable stew), rasam (like sambar, but more diluted), dry and curried vegetables, and/or yogurt.
My absolute favorite is a paper dosa, which is a very long (at least 2-3 feet!) and very thin dosa usually served with spiced potatoes. I order it every time we go to an Indian restaurant, as it is one of the very few dishes that I can not make myself at home (I do not have a frying pan large enough). Needless to say, I had to have it in India too! (Below you can see a photo of Anil with a paper dosa we shared.)
Also, I am proud to report that I might be the only Western person that traveled in India and did not get any stomach problems. Here is my secret:
(1) I did not eat anything raw. No fruit, no salad. (I ate bananas as they can be easily peeled.)
(2) In restaurants I always picked vegetarian dishes that I knew had to be cooked for a long time (like all lentil dishes).
(3) I only drank bottled water and sodas, and moreover, I drank them directly from a bottle.
(4) Even though I love Mango Lassi, only in one restaurant I dared to try it. The waiter there reassured me that it was made on pre-boiled milk and that also mangoes were properly cleaned before peeling.
(5) I washed my teeth and face with either bottled or pre-boiled water. (Actually, the whole family of Anil does it. They also boil milk before they drink it.)
All these recommendations were given to me by Anil and they worked perfectly, so I am passing them on. I am convinced that if you follow them, you will also manage to have a problem-free trip. I would also recommend that you carry with you Loperamide (in the US sold over the counter under the brand name Imodium), which helps to relief the symptoms of diarrhea.
I am not sure if Anil's family can be considered to be a typical Indian family, but since I had a pleasure of staying at their house and sharing meals with them, let me tell you about their eating habits.
Anil's family sits down for three meals:
1. Breakfast at around 8 am
2. Lunch at around 12 pm
3. Dinner at around 7 pm
For breakfast, Anil's parents usually had English-style wheat toasts with jam, whereas Anil and I had cereal with milk.
Lunch and dinner were similar and usually consisted of 3-4 vegetable dishes (e.g. carrot, eggplant, potato, cabbage, squash etc.), a soup (sambar or pulusu) either mixed with boiled lentils or not, a spicy relish, yogurt, and lots of rice. Four of us together were eating six cups of rice a day! (For comparison, in my two-person family two cups of rice usually last 2 days.)
Rice is not only the primary ingredient of the main course, but it is also used in desserts. For example, Anil's family ends each meal with a dish that consists of rice mixed with yogurt and a pinch of salt. Simple, but tasty.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that all dishes are eaten with bare hands - or rather with a right hand only. The left hand is only used to serve and pass food around.
Anil and paper dosa:
Thali, another typical Indian dish:
One delicious and refreshing drink that is safe to have is fresh coconut water: