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Indian food for beginners-what to order?

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On a recent trip to England I visited an Indian food restaurant, and loved it. I had only had Indian food once before but ordered the wrong things and didn't like it. In England we had quite a few wonderful dishes, including chicken in a tomato based sauce, not creamy though, and some chickpeas that were excellent, though our English friends did the ordering. I didn't like the chicken korma very much, but i am not a fan of coconut flavored dishes or light cream sauces. I would like to have Indian food again soon but want to know what to order. I do not eat red meat and try to avoid too many carbohydrates or fats, so light dishes would be best. What are the standard things to order in an Indian restaurant. Also, any recommendations for restaurants in the SF valley or westside?, i've heard Bombay Cafe and Gaylord are excellent.

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  1. I've recommended Akbar before on this board (I've yet to try Bombay Cafe and am meaning to). There's one on Washington (south side) just west of Lincoln in Marina Del Rey. There's also one on Wilshire (north side) near 26th street in Santa Monica. I think you'll like the chicken Tikka Masala (tomato sauce, not sure if there's cream in it), and the chicken Akbari. They also serve a delicious and light Chilean Sea Bass. I love the okra as a side dish when they offer it.

    1. I recommend Chicken Tikka Masala as well. It is a tomato base with some cream in it. I also recommend Lamb Sag (or any other kind of sag). Sag is a very flavorful spinich dish.

      Many indian places have buffet lunches on the weekends. Although the quality of the food it's always terrific, it's a good way to try a little bit of everything.

      I liked Gaylord a lot (it's now called Taj), but there are many here who would disagree. I haven't been there since it's changed to Taj and I don't know how much has changed.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Muhlyssa

        Warning:
        Chicken Tikka Masala is loaded with cream, that's the point of the dish.
        When did Lamb stop being considered a red meat?
        I Suggest:
        Aloo Gobi (potatoes and calliflower)
        Dal (stewed lentils)
        Masala Dosa (huge crepe filled with potato, served with soup and coconut chutney)
        Idli Sambar (steamed rice cake served with the same side dishes as the Dosa)
        Aloo Saag (potato and spinach)
        Samosas (Potato and peas wrapped in a thin fried dough)
        Pakoras (mixed vegetables dipped in chick-pea flour batter and fried)

        These are all veggie and not creamy as well as being delicious. Dosa and Idli Sambar are not offered everywhere.

        1. re: Larry

          Sorry I missed the part about her not eating red meat.
          I also then suggest Sag Paneer (if you are a spinich fan).

          1. re: muhlyssa

            I didn't suggest dishes with Paneer because she mentioned that she didn't want dishes with too much fat. I am not sure but Paneer is cheese and usually the translates to high fat.

            1. re: Larry

              gee I must have missed that part too. Anything else you want to pick on me for? ;)

              1. re: Muhlyssa

                No, that's it for now.

                1. re: Larry

                  Ironically, my older brother's name is Larry, so I'm used to being picked on by one.

                  1. re: Muhlyssa

                    Hi again, now I'm going to be the mom and break up your fight. Regarding the Paneer, it was ordered when I was in England, but I don't like cheese so I didn't have any. I can handle a bit of fat but I don't like cheese or cream sauces. I've heard mixed things about Indian buffets, some say to go as a way of sampling more of a variety and some say to avoid this. what do you think? Where are some decent Indian buffets, preferably for lunch?

                    1. re: Sara

                      This isn't exactly buffet, certainly isn't fancy dining, and might be too conventional for some, but in the valley or on the westside the thing I do is just go to India Sweets and Spices, order the #2 and point (you don't have to finish it all). Then of course take some desserts to go. You can also just get whatever they have available in plastic cups, or if you want to wait a little longer, the masala dosa is pretty darned good, for my taste at least.

                      Also if you go to the one on Venice you get the added bonus of meeting the most interesting cast of characters at the tables outside that I've ever seen anywhere.

                      1. re: C. Sprouse

                        India Sweet and Spice on Venice Blvd is an excellent selection. The Masala Dosa is perfect for your requirements. It comes with a tasty soup and a "runnier than I prefer" coconut chutney. It only seemed like a 5 minute wait. The fried snacks are hit and miss. Some I have loved and some were not at all to my taste. Last week I tried the Peas with Mushrooms. Very good. Their food is a bit hotter than most Indian places but proper heat for the cooking from their region of India. Their Jelabis were the oiliest I have ever tried, don't bother. The last time I saw what looked like the shape and color of a brownie. I don't know what it was but it tasted of good caramel and had nuts and maybe dried fruit in it. If you recognise it in the case I do recommend it. The cast of characters is quite entertaining.

      2. r
        R Gould-Saltman

        I'd try Nizam on Pico in WEstwood; working eastward, I'd consider India's Oven (an old standard, where many Angelinos first tried this cuisine) and India's Tandoori, (an I.O. clone, now a chain) and for completely different food (still working eastward) the vegetarian Chameli, which is in the Alhambra area. Once you've gotten your bearings, if you're a true chow hound, there are all those places in "Little Bombay" along Pioneer in Artesia.

        I must say, on my family's trip to the UK last year, Indian food was the most consistently good food at reasonble prices....


        rfgs

        2 Replies
        1. re: R Gould-Saltman

          I second the India's Oven. Brought my parents there for their first taste of Indian and they liked it very much. The food isn't as spiced as other places so it's easier on the palate the first time 'round. Plus, the combo dinners are large, well-priced, and have enough variety that you'll enjoy a bit of everything. My favorite non-meat dish is sag paneer, which is a cheesy spinach dish, somewhat like cream of spinach but much, much better. Another place on the Westside that is good is Jaipur, right next to the Westside Pavilion. Terrific service too.

          1. re: R Gould-Saltman

            Just visited Nizam again for the first time in ages. The things I like are opposite of what the original poster likes, but here goes anyway.

            We ordered Crabs Goa, Chicken Makhani, their house specialty, Sag (plain), and Benghan Bharta (eggplant).

            The Crabs Goa was good, but not orgasmic by any stretch. Crab (real) smashed up (no shells, they did a good job!)with some sort of sauce to hold it together. It was served with those spicy/crispy tortilla thingys. What are those called, by the way?

            The Chicken Makhani, by contrast, was possibly the best indian dish I have ever eaten. Rich yoghurt based sauce, very flavorful, with chunks of the most perfectly tender chicken. Orgasmic.

            The Benghan Bharta (pureed eggplant with spices) was orgasmic as well, just as it always has been. Tons o' garlic accomplishes this feat, I think, and I will keep going back for this dish. I do not know how heavy this dish is - does anybody know what the ingredients typically are?

            The Sag was the least interesting thing, pretty bland.

            Their Nan (by which I often judge an Indian place) was perfect.

            Service was excellent, until I think they had a mixup in the kitchen and totally forgot about our check - I would chalk that up to a fluke, however, as up until that point the service had been truly excellent, with the owner out chatting with the customers and everything.

            I usually order those creamy/yoghurt based dishes, so can't help with the "light" indian fare.

          2. As with earlier discussions with Chinese food ordering, One thing you have to remember about Indian food is that it is not a generic one cuisine situation. It is intensely regional and what you should order should correspond with the regionality of the restaurant you are at. Unfortunately this is made simpler by the fact that there are usually only 3 sorts of Indian restaurants generally represented in the US:

            1. Mughlai cuisine (which actually is not really served in ANY indian home being "court" or restaurant cooking) and is what you see in almost any indian restaurant in the US, especially those not in a an mostly indain commercial area. This is instantly recognizable by the heavy cream based sauces and some of the rec's here (chicken tikka masala) are representative. palak panner or sag paneer (spinach/greens with home made cheese) will also show up here and is usually the most reliable veg. dish avoid any "mixed veg." dish, sometimes the "aloo gobi" (cauliflower and potatos) is also decent. AVOID THE BUFFETS, espcially tandoori chicken which drys out and is terrible, if you do choose to hit these for the variety factor stick with lamb or goat curries, dal makhani (lentils in creamy sauce) which actually do get better from longer stewing. A way to get variety without the reheated long-standing food is to check the menu for a "thali" which is a platter of a number of small portions of different dishes usually served with rice or on some occasions with naan.

            2. South Indian dhosa/idli places. These will usually be indian commercial areas and usually specialize in lunch/brunch fare. Often these are vegetarian only. You should generally order dhosa (a large crispy crepe made from chick pea flour-stuffed with potatoes/onions in a turmeric heavy rendition will be called masala dhosa, plain is sadha dosa, if you are lucky you might see "rava dhosa" with a slightly different flour, extra crunchy - this will also come with the sadha/masala variations) Dhosas are traditionally served with smabar a spicy soup slightly thickened chickpea flour and containing eggplants and other vegetables and cocunut chutney (the quality of these two side dishes go a long way for me in determining the quality of the place. Also you a dish to order in these places are "rasam" another soup which is spicy and also a little sour from tamarind, idli, and veg. thalis. I also enjoy if its on the menu these places mysore coffee

            3. Chaat places (only in indian commercial areas) these are invariably small storefront places with a few tables to eat at, sometimes they can be a little grungy and are aimed at the indian customer. These are not really restaurants per se but are snack shops often these places are also sweet shops which have a variety of sweets for takeout in display cases along the counter. At these places (which in my opinion are the best places to sample indian food because they are cheap and because they are aimed at indian the tastes are not dumbed down as much) look to see what others are ordering. Some of my favorites are pani puri (little hollow puffs you fill with potatoes, lentils, other assorted fillings and dip into a pungent tamarind water and throw into your moth whole; bhel puri a puffed rice salad with lots of raw onions, cilantro and other varieties, halva puri

            sorry I haven't elaborated on all the dishes here and I am sure others will have specific dish favorites that I haven't included here, but it would take a long, long time to sum all of this up.

            1 Reply
            1. re: zim

              Thanks Zim, for the info. I hadn't known about the mughlhai category.

              To add:

              Some of the places that have been mentioned, Westside, I find sort of terribly Americanized. For example: Jaipur. It tastes almost as flavorless as what comes out of my kitchen when I make attempts for Indian cuisine.

              A good place for dosa's that does happen to be Westside is Madhu Dasprakhash. My spelling is probably incorrect. I hear it is currently closed for remodelling (?), but it's on Santa Monica a little west of the 10.

              My favorite chaat place so far is Jay Bharat, down in Artesia. I've been about five time now, and tried each of the thali combos - some of which are only available on Saturdays and Sundays - and each combo has been sterling. This may be one of my two favorite Indian places in the US, though I haven't been to all the places in Artesia.

              A friend of mine who'd just come back from touring the precise area of India that Jay Bharat serves the cuisine of (Ghujarati, I think) says this was the closest he'd seen seen in the states, and very very fine in any case.

              Be sure to nab some hot-mix on the way out, for home.

              Any other suggestions?

              -thi

            2. l
              lonesome hobo

              Zim's response was so good, I don't know if I can add too much more. In my travels in India I have had cuisine so radically different from region to region that it is hard to condense an answer to your question. In the far North in the Punjab you find food that is so different from the far South, say Chennai, that it is like comparing Vietnamese to Thai...yeah, they're both Asian. I think the best advice I would offer would be take a leisurely Saturday late morning and drive out to Artesia and walk along Pioneer Blvd and look and smell and ask some of the proprieters and they'll steer you in the right direction. Indian people are about the most hospitable in the world. Also, I think it was already mentioned, what you find in Indian restaurants is far different than what you eat in Indian homes. Have fun.

              1. Don't go to Bombay Cafe or Gaylords. They are too overpriced and are very americanized. The best Indian restaurant I have been to is Rocky's Tandoori in the San Fernando Valley. Specifically it is in Northridge on the corner of Parthenia and Lindley. Their phone number is 818-709-8692. As far as trying something to eat. You should try chicken tikka. It is low in fat and carbs and tastes great, especially at Rocky's.