Indian food: A quick guide

12 06 2007

A friend laid down the gauntlet to me and another friend of hers a couple of weeks ago, after reading Scott Adams’ (of Dilbert fame) post “900 comments and counting“:

“For those of us who are not familiar with Indian or Thai food, where would we start on the menu? What would be the best dish (or kind of dish) to use as an entry point into these ethnic categories?”

Here’s my response:

Where to start with Indian or Thai? hmmm… that got me thinking! It’s a while since I’ve eaten Thai, so I’ll just do Indian!

Both cuisines use herbs, spices, and flavours that may be unfamiliar to you or very hot (various varieties of chilies), so for many people, these new tastes put them off. Start mild and work up!

If you’re unfamiliar with the tastes, here’s an easy entry into Indian ‘heat':

  • Anything with “korma” in its title is mild and creamy. The creaminess comes from yoghurt.
  • Anything with “rogan josh” in its title is fairly mild.
  • Anything with “madras” in the title is medium.
  • Anything with “vindaloo” in the title is hot.

“Tandoori” is meat (usually chicken) cooked in a Tandoor oven. The chicken is rubbed/marinated in a yoghurt + some sort of reddish spice for a time, then cooked in this special earthen oven. The result is quite a reddish looking chicken piece, which, if overcooked, can be quite dry.

Naan bread is also cooked in an earthen (Tandoor?) oven. Like a tortilla, but thicker and breadier, it is slapped on to the inside of the oven for a few minutes. It should come out nice and crispy on the edges, a bit like a good crusty pizza base.

Pappadums traditionally are cooked for a few seconds in very hot oil and drained, but many people now microwave them (I do – it takes seconds and they’re much healthier for you, and there’s a helluva lot less cleaning up!). They are a very crisp ‘bread’ (think tortilla chips), and usually served with dips and sauces.

Dahl (daal?) is cooked-to-almost-mush lentils + spices. Looks like crap, tastes great! Very healthy vegetarian. Eat it with rice. Good accompaniment.

Here’s a couple of decent looking websites:

Personally, I like *hot*. I’m a chili fiend and use it – or some variety of it – almost daily in my own cooking. So when we “do” Indian, it’s the hot stuff we go for!

Update: While wandering the web searching for something completely different, I came across this entry by Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull fame for those of us old enough to remember…), on the official Jethro Tull website. It’s a good run down of the types of dishes – and their effects!


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4 responses

12 06 2007
Whitney

Excellent, Rhonda! Thank you. A friend has been wanting to try an Indian restaurant in our hometown and I’ve been putting her off. We’re both new to Indian food, and not being as adventurous as her when it comes to food, I’ve been unwilling to go in “blind”. Madras sounds like it just might be my speed.

Now we just have to get Carolyn to write about Thai food over on her blog!

12 06 2007
sandgroper14

You know, for a first-timer and not being too adventurous, I’d go for a korma or rogan josh first. Madras can be ‘hot’ to a palate not used to Indian food – for me, it is very much ‘medium’.

Of course, a lot depends on how authentic the restaurant is. Many ‘ethnic’ restaurants in the US/Australia/wherever deliberately tone down the spices for the blander tastes of their market, especially if they know that market is not used to the cuisine. For example, I’d bet you’d find more authentic Indian restaurants in San Francisco and New York, than in rural Connecticut. The palates of the citizens of those cities have been exposed to more culturally diverse tastes, so I’d expect greater authenticity there. I’ve eaten so-called “Indian” in rural California and it was horrible! What we were told was an 8 or 9 on a heat scale of 10, was maybe a 3 to us.

13 06 2007
Kirsty

I think Chicken Tikka Masala can be a good place to start. I think it’s not meant to be “real” Indian (created in Scotland or England), and many restaurants serve it mild. My favourite Indian here in Brisbane can do all dishes mild, medium, hot, Indian hot, Double Indian hot, and Double Double Indian hot (I think that’s the full scale – my old boss used to always order Double Double Indian hot ….).

16 05 2013
Indian Restaurant in Panama

well to start with i would always go for tandoori chicken..I love Indian foods and love experimenting with different cuisines.i love Indian food rather than Thai dishes..

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