Are you going to an Indian restaurant for the first time and need a basic idea of what the main dishes are and how they taste? Or maybe you've been once or twice but don't know all that you should. After eating Indian food for the first time, I gave up because I didn't like it. It wasn't the American food that I was used to and my mind didn't stay open for very long. But then I decided to give it another try and that's what started my love affair with Indian food.
My advice to you is to never, ever give up after the first try. At least give it a few tries before you decide it's not for you. Start with the popular dishes first, because if you start with something only Indian food lovers can appreciate, the chances of going back are slim. In this article I will discuss the dishes I've tried and still love to this day, and also some tips to try while you're eating or ordering.
Chicken Tikka Masala
This is the most popular dish among non-Indian people, and it is the first one their friends will tell them to try. I am going to say that they are right. This entree is made with chunks of tandoori chicken (mostly breast pieces) that are combined with a tomato and coriander sauce with cream and bold Indian spices. I usually do not stray from this dish every time I go out because it's my favorite.
There are different versions of chicken tikka masala depending on where you go, with some places using more cream or less, but it's mostly the same line of spices. You can order this dish as mild, medium, or hot, but as a beginner, stick with the mild. Some say it's more tastier as it gets hotter, but I prefer not to burn off my tongue!
If you would rather try something other than chicken, most places have different meats or vegetables in the same sauce, like lamb tikka masala, fish tikka masala, etc. On a side note, I really don't like rice, so I will eat the chicken and either dip a naan in the sauce, or pour everything onto a naan. I usually will get a specialty naan, like coconut and raisin filled, and it just adds another level of flavor to the dish.
This dish is very similar to tikka masala, and you may not even truly taste the difference, but there are differences. Chicken makhani (also called butter chicken) is a true Indian dish, whereas tikka masala came from Britain. This sauce is a tomato cream sauce as well, but has butter and can have a nutty flavor if cashew paste is added.
The chicken in this dish is marinated for several hours with cream and spices, and usually is made with thigh meat. Both dishes are cooked in a tandoor (clay oven) before being added to the sauce. A key spice in this dish (I think in both dishes) is fenugreek, which cannot really be described unless you taste it. I don't make these dishes at home without it because it elevates the dish to a whole new level.
I've found the makhani to be more smooth and lighter than the tikka masala, and so your choice will depend on which you prefer. If you don't necessarily like sauces, you can always order Tandoori Chicken, which is the chicken without the sauce. It is flavorful as well, and you really get the clay oven aroma and taste even more.
This is a vegetarian dish made from pureed spinach, spices, and paneer. Paneer is a cheese that is common in the South Asian countries, is similar to cottage cheese and is cut into little chunks. It has a nice mild taste that you can enjoy while you get in your vegetables (in this case, spinach). This dish is usually found on Indian buffets and you have it as a side dish, unless you are a vegetarian.
There are a variety of dishes paneer is used in, one of them being Mattar Paneer, which is made with peas instead of spinach. I have gotten this dish alone instead of chicken tikka masala, not only as a nice change, but because it has such a great flavor. Usually, it is not on the buffets I go to, so I have to order it.
Pakora are little fried Indian fritters, and are often found on buffets as a great side snack or appetizer. They are made with a chickpea batter, cauliflower, spinach, potatoes and onions. You can have them plain or dunk them in yogurt, sauces, or chutneys (which I will also be discussing). There can be different variations of pakora, like paneer pakora and palak pakora.
Also to be included in appetizers is the samosa, a fried pastry filled with potatoes, cauliflower and spices. It's not something I enjoy, but we all have different tastes, so go ahead and give it a try. It's on most buffets so get at least one.
Malai Kofta are vegetable balls that are deep fried and added to a creamy curry sauce and is one of my favorites that I strongly suggest trying. If you aren't sure of any dish, ask to try a little of your friend's dish or go to a buffet to sample different things. Usually I can't find this dish too often on a buffet, so it has to be ordered once you know you like it.
The fried vegetable balls will get soft sitting in the sauce and fenugreek is a main spice in the dish. Indian is a very wise choice for vegetarians because the food is so beautifully made that you really don't miss meat here and there.
There is a very good chance you will see this dish on the buffet. It is simply potatoes, cauliflower and spices, with other vegetables possibly being added. It is very good dish to try, and the fact that it might be on the buffet gives you a chance to try a little before you decide if you like it or not. If you see anything that says 'Aloo', it means there will be potatoes in the dish. The same can also be said for 'Gobi' which means cauliflower.
There are different breads you can get either in place of rice or as an addition to your whole entree. I will name a few here that are popular. Roti (pronounced roh-tee) is a flat bread made from wheat flour and cooked on a griddle. Paratha are wheat flat breads that are thicker than rotis, and are fried and can be plain or stuffed with vegetables.
Batura is made with white flour, oil and yogurt and fried until they puff up and become soft, fluffy bread. Kulcha is the non-fried version made from the same dough. And finally, the most popular bread is naan, which is sold in many grocery stores next to pitas. It is a thick flat bread resembling pitas and is cooked in the tandoor. It can be plain, topped with garlic and/or butter, or stuffed with various things like vegetables, meats, cheeses, or coconut and raisins!
Chutneys are sauces you can have with your breads, on rice, with samosas, or even on your entree. There are different kinds, from mango to coriander to other fruits like figs and pineapples. The sweet ones pair well with fried foods, or they can be used to balance the heat of a dish. Tamarind chutney is brown in color and is seen on Indian buffets and has a sweet taste, while coriander chutney (which is also on buffets) can be quite spicy.
These chutneys should be tried a tiny bit at a time to get used to the flavor or to see just how hot or sweet they are. Raita, a yogurt that can be mixed with cucumbers, tomatoes and/or onions, is very popular and can be poured over your entree to tame the heat your dish might have.
In the next article, I will write about Indian drinks and desserts. The keys to your Indian food journey are to give it a few tries and start with buffets so you can sample each dish and side. You will soon discover what goes with what, according to your taste. You'll also discover new things to try on different buffets, because they are not all the same. So make sure you try different Indian restaurants as well and keep an open mind. This is my favorite food ever, and it might become yours too!
Indian desserts are very different from the popular U.S. desserts, but they can be equally as delicious in their own way. There is one dessert I will list on here that puts most of our best ice creams to shame, and I say this from personal experience. These desserts vary from sweet and bread-y to milky to actually making a vegetable taste like dessert. Here are 5 desserts you should try when you dine in at an Indian restaurant, or see them on a buffet. Most of these are the most popular ones you will see.
Let's start with the dessert that I said can put ours to shame. This Indian ice cream is more creamier and rich than other ice creams, so much so that you might never go back to your regular one. It's often infused with spices and can be made with different fruits, the most popular flavors being pistachio and mango.
Regular ice cream is whipped, whereas Kulfi is not, so it's rich and it remains a dense block that takes longer to melt. It's made by heating milk until it's evaporated halfway, stirring constantly, so it thickens and the fat and lactose are increased. The sugar and lactose in the milk caramelizes, creating a sweet, thick milk that is then frozen slowly, avoiding the formation of ice crystals. It's one of the best desserts you will ever try!
2. GajarHalva (or carrot Halwa)
There are many types of Halva (and different spellings), but this one is made with shredded carrots. It's basically carrots boiled in milk, sugar, ghee (or butter), condensed milk, and cardamom powder. Almonds or cashews can also be added for a little savory bite to the sweet flavor, or raisins if you want it even sweeter. Some people make this more upscale, using fresh spices instead of powders, and I'm not sure how they do it at the Indian restaurant, but I always look for it on the buffet.
3. Gulab Jamun
These dessert balls are on most buffets, and if not, then at least on every Indian menu. They are made from heated milk that has boiled long enough to remove almost all of the water, leaving behind milk solids. These solids are then mixed with flour, rolled into balls and fried, then are left to soak in a delicious sugary syrup. The syrup usually consists of rose water and cardamom and might have saffron in it as well. They can be served hot or cold, but I've found they are much better hot.
Kheer is a rice dessert like rice pudding, but is not always as thick as a regular pudding, depending on where you go. It's made from rice that is cooked in milk and sugar and flavored with different spices, and sometimes with the addition of raisins and nuts. Some Indian restaurants don't have it with raisins and nuts, but in my opinion, it's so much better with them than without. The flavor is still nice either way, but those additions really kick it up a notch.
5. Sheer Khurma
This dessert might not be found at every restaurant, but it's extremely delicious, so if you can find it, you'll know what I mean. It's made with milk and dried dates, along with cardamom, butter, and vermicelli. Yes, there is another dessert starch besides rice, and although it might seem weird at first, the other flavors take over and you won't mind the pasta thing so much. The sauce will remind you of the syrup in Galab Jamun, and the milky sauce will resemble Kheer, like a perfect combo of the two, taste-wise. There are different varieties made, some with nuts, raisins, or saffron and different spices, or all of the above at once.
Getting to know Indian desserts will have to be on a trial basis. Try a different one every time you eat at an Indian restaurant, or try the ones on the buffet. Some you will love, others you might not, and yet others you might grow to like. Become familiar with the flavors and appreciate them for their unique tastes. Keep an open mind and you will be surprised at how delicious this food is and how fast it will grow on you. Enjoy!
There are over 40,000 varieties of rice in the world, but there are only certain kinds you can find to buy in the store. It's the main diet of many cultures of people, whether they eat it by itself, in a stir fry, in biryani, or as an accompaniment to other foods (especially saucy dishes, like Indian curries). It's also used in different desserts and drinks, as well as turned into a milk that is seen on most grocery shelves.
Different rices have different nutrients and flavors, so it depends on what you're in the mood for and what textures you like. The longer the grain of rice is, the less it will stick together when you cook it. That's also mostly true with rices that still contain layers of bran, like brown rice. Below are popular kinds of rice and what they're all about.
This is the most popular and common form of rice, at least for non-ethnic groups. The husk is removed and the bran layers are milled until they turn white. This process removes most of the vitamins and minerals found in brown rice. Although it's good for desserts or to have as a side of carbohydrates, it doesn't provide much in the way of nutrients like other rices do.
The hull has been removed from this rice, but not the bran layers which contain the vitamins and minerals. It is kind of chewy with a nutty flavor and requires more cooking time, but the nutrients you get are well worth it.
That's not too much of a difference, but brown rice also contains a lot more fiber, potassium, and B vitamins (which provides us some energy). There is a significant amount of omega-6 fatty acids, as well as omega-3. It is also rich in magnesium, manganese, and selenium, as well as other minerals. All of this you would miss out on by eating only white rice.
This rice is very aromatic and is unique compared to other rices. India is the main producer of basmati rice, followed by Pakistan, and it is the main rice used in Indian restaurants. In the United States, there is a rice that is made with basmati in mind, called Texmati, but if you want the good stuff, you have to be willing to pay more and maybe go to an Indian grocery store. If you can find it in a regular grocery store, look for it to be sold in a bag made of cloth or something similar. Also make sure it's made in India or Pakistan.
People compare the smell of jasmine rice to popcorn, but it loses its aroma after a few months, so you want to make sure it's fresh. It is grown mainly in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia and clings together when cooked, more so than basmati or American rice. There are brown versions of both jasmine and basmati, which will retain essential minerals and vitamins, just like regular brown rice.
This rice gets its color from pigments called anthocyanins that can also be blue or purple, depending on their pH balance. It can be partly hulled or unhulled and it has a nutty flavor. Red rice has about the same nutritional value as black rice, but with red, you get additional antioxidants, which is what fights bad free radicals in your body.
Black rice turns a dark purple color when cooked and has a nutty flavor much like brown rice. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and has more antioxidants than blueberries! It also has the most protein and fiber when compared to white, brown, and red rices. Black rice takes longer to cook than white rice, so it would be good to soak it for hours ahead of time.
After reading about these rices, it's clear who the winner is in terms of nutrients, but they all have their place in one way or another. If you can make black rice or buy it somewhere already cooked, go ahead and do your body a favor. At the very least, try to opt for brown rice when you're out.
Sweet childhood memories when we would come out of the school and run up to the vendors right outside. One of my favourite streets foods used to be golguppa. So delicious but such a messy food to eat! I randomly came across this video and thought it was hilarious. The water from the golguppa is so spicy but you can't help but want more, more, more!