While traveling by an Indian Train, in general you have options to buy food.
Medium to large size stations have restaurants and many food stalls attached to them. This is a good place to buy food, especially if it is your arrival or departure station.
The next two options are for while traveling in the trains.
There are food vendors (the Railways authorized and otherwise) traveling in the train.
Then there is this army of vendors on the platform that attack the train when it is stopped at each station. They sell through the train windows or you can briefly get down on the platform to fetch what you are looking for quickly.
In any case the food available to you while traveling is the same irrespective of the class.
Many long-distance express trains have pantry cars attached to it. In general they offer modest but reasonable variety of choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menu varies with the train, route etc . In some trains the quality and variety are better than the other. For all these trains there are nothing called an attached restaurant or a coffee-bar. The staffs approaches you and take the order for the meals. Later they serve as per your order. This is more likely the scenario for the lunch and dinner supplies. Of course they sometimes carry the food packets and you can buy your choice directly.
Cost for the food in Indian Trains is nominal. Say for about 1USD , you can but a decent meal. In case of premium trains like Shadabdi Expresses, the cost of food is included in the fare. They serve the standard food are regular intervals, more or less like in a flight.
In general in India food is categorized into vegetarian ( VEG) and non-vegetarian ( Non-VEG) . Vegetarian food doesn’t contain meat, not even egg. But they are the staple food and safer especially while traveling.
Food in Indian trains are typically packed and served in aluminum foiled containers.
Let us have a look at the typical menu available
Tea - Chai as it is called in India - steals the show. This is the De facto national drink. In India tea is made with milk and sugar added to boiling water in addition to the tea powder. Tea is then filtered and served piping hot.
Tea ( Chai ) is a favorite drink during train travel in India.
You can easily spot these tea vendors who carry tea in kettles and shot perpetually “Chai ….Chai….”. For five rupee you can get a cup (about 150 ml). Some places they supply it in disposable earthen clay cups and at other in paper cups.
Some times the spiced version of the Chai too is available called the Masala Chai . The concoction is the same but a bit of mild spices too is added while boiling the tea.
Coffee too is sold the similar way. Like tea coffee also contains milk and sugar.
Tea and coffee is available practically round the clock in a train. The exception may be during the middle of the night. Even at these odd hours you can spot the tea vendors on the platform vying for a sleepless customer.
There are no particular time or reason to order a tea. For example you are a bit bored: you order a tea or your co-passenger orders a tea, the temptation makes you too get one. The last tea you’ve ordered is some one hour back, so now its time for the next tea. In other words, as long as the tea vendors keep coming, you keep ordering. That seams to be the norm.
Now let us see the typical breakfast menu on Indian Railways.
Poori : This falls in the category of what is called Indian Breads. Poori is made of wheat. The wheat flour dough is made into a disc of palm size before fried in vegetable oil. Poori is typically served with a thick curry made of boiled potatoes, onion and with a tint of spices.
Dosa : Dosa is predominantly a South Indian breakfast item. A batter is made of the overnight fermented rice and black lentil. The barter is cooked over pan with a touch of oil, like a pancake. Dosa is served with a vegetable curry called Sambar and Chutney (thick paste made of coconut , green chilli and mint leaves )
Masala Dosa : This is a larger (and thinner ) version of Dosa rolled with Masala inside. The Masala consists of potato mash, onion, and a few other vegetables and spices cooked together into a thick paste.
Idly (white) , Vada (doughnut) , Sambar ( reddish curry) and Chutney.
Idli : While Dosa is cooked on a pan, Idli is steamed into a cake form using similar batter as Dosa. Like Dosa , Idli too is served with Sambar and Chutney. Vada (fried doughnut made of black lentil batter) is a complementary combination of a typical Idli breakfast.
Different varieties of Vada are sold separately as snack too.
Upma : This is a semi solid breakfast item made of wheat rava ( semolina ) , a springle of mustard seed , green chilli , chopped onion and a bit of oil. Upma too is served with Chutney.
Braed Omelette : Okay now it is time to try this bit of western themed item in the Indian trains. The bread in question is the typical white bread used for making sandwiches.
Egg is beaten with chopped onion , green chilli and a bit of salt. This is fried on a pan. The omelette is then spread between two bread pieces ( a bit toasted with some butter , may be) .
General Meals ( Supplied during the lunch and dinner hours) : As the vendors approach you , they ask if you need the vegetarian or non-vegitarian meals.
The vegetarian meal is packaged with cooked rice, a few rolls of Indian bread ( Chapati/Poori/Parata) , a dish of Dal ( stew made of split beans) , Curd (yogurt) and a little pickle.
In addition an Egg Meal contain a dish of boiled egg curry in place of a vegetable dish. So is the Chicken Curry meal.
The dishes are packed in an aluminum foil tray.