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. Gajar Halva (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!