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Learning East Indian dining

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Hello everyone,
Having moved west of the mountains a few years ago, I am over joyed at the availability of various ethnic foods here in Lynnwood as well as the Seattle ID.
Need your help with Indian dining.
What do you recommend? I am adverturesome and not afraid to try true homestyle foods. I've done curries and tandoories. Would love some recommendations on what the other really good stuff is, as in what do the restaurant folks eat for their lunch or what is eaten at home. In other words, "what do the real people eat?", not "what do the American customers want to eat?".
BTW, I am half Japanese and grew up in Japan and did High School in the Panama Canal Zone, so I am no stranger to appreciating local cuisine.
Also, would like to learn about the proper method of eating with all the Naans and the various flatbreads and all the condiments that are served.
I love soup, and noodle soups. Is there anything like a noodle soup in Indian cooking? And what soup do you recommend?
I have had the buffets at various Indian restaurants .... is buffet common in "real" Indian restaurants? I like to do the buffets because I can taste many dishes that way.
I understand that traditional Indian cooking is vegetarian. So I am confused when I see chicken and other meats at the restaurants....
And! there is Pakistani-Indian as well as Indo-Chinese cuisine.
Can someone explain the differences to me?
So many questions. Thank you for your help!
rita
Much appreciated!

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  1. Soup is not a traditional Indian course except for British East Indian. That said, there is a soup like side called "sambar" that gets served with the wonderful large (often filled) pancakes called dosa. Highly recommended. YOu can get them at the food court at Crossroads shopping center in Bellevue, as an example. Some Indians--particularly but not exclusively in Southern India--are vegetarians. Others are not. Pakistan was formed in the '40's I believe when many Muslin Indians were forced out of India (I could be wrong about the details). So Pakistani food has its roots in Indian food, but tends to be more meat oriented because Muslims tend to eat more meat than Hindus. They don't eat pork, but you can find pork dishes in Goa, which has a Portuguese influence. The tradition in Indian is NOT to have restaurants (this is back in the old days). Upper class Indians ate at home because they had cooks and the caste system and other social pressures militated against restaurants. However, there was (and I assume still is) a vibrant street food scene. For street type food, try Mayuri in Redmond/Bellevue in the same strip mall as the Eastside branch of Malay Satay Hut or Punjabi Sweets in Kent. Both places also have good Indian sweets--often milk based, where milk is boiled down with lots of sugar and turned into gorgeous looking confections that look like petit fours. Traditional Indian dining is not buffet per se. It's thali style--several small plates of various types of dishes all served on a tray. Or on a banana leaf ( in the South). Indians eat with the right hand. How much of your fingers you get into the food depends on whether you come from the north or the south. If you want to learn more about Indian cooking, check out some books by Madhur Jaffrey from the library--she's a wonderful writer about food and also has some great cookbooks. Most Indian restaurants in the US serve so-called "Moghul" style cooking from the North--heavy on meats and flatbreads like naan, tandoori, etc. Southern style Indian cooking is starting to arrive (one good reason for immigration) and it is primarily vegetarian, often using coconut milk, and rice. In addition to dosas, try iddlis--steamed rice cakes (caky--not like mochi) and uttapam, a sourdough pancake like snack Indian cooking is highly regional, but getting different types of regional styles in restaurants will be difficult. In addition, there is a whole style of cooking vegetables "dry" rather in a sauce, but you never find that in a restaurant to my knowledge.

    11 Replies
    1. re: PAO

      Great summary by PAO and I agree with all of it.

      Re: Indo-Chinese cuisine--this is a fusion cusine that has its origins in Kolkatta's Chinatown, but is now a trendy option in Indian communities everywhere, including locally in Redmond, WA. The cuisine is basically familiar Chinese items with additional strong spices, and it leans heavily toward the double-fried--Gobi Manchurian is a popular item. Here is an article that explains and reviews (unfavorably) a local Indo-Chinese restuarant called Inchin's Bamboo Garden. http://www.seattleweekly.com/2007-05-... Back east there was an Indo-Chinese spot I really liked, but the Indo-Chinese food I've had locally was dissapotining.

      In addition to Udupi Palace and Mayuri which PAO recommends, quality authentic food from around India--and especially the south--can be had at Curry Leaf and Spice Route, both in Bellevue. These two restauants and others in Redmond cater to an Indian clientele and are far superior to those in Seattle proper that favor a gringo customer base and tone down their spicing and menu variety accordingly.

      1. re: equinoise

        I agree with the recommendation for Spice Route and Udupi Palace. I like the Pakistani place in the same shopping mall as Mayuri and Malay Satay Hut as well. Can't think of its name. May have the word "kebab" in the name. Have not tried Curry Leaf.

        Cooking is not terribly difficult at least for basic things. The best Indian cookbooks besides Madhur Jaffrey's are by Julie Sahni and by a lady whose name I do not at the time recall but who used to be a chef for the Beatles. Her book is totally vegetarian and calls for no alliums (onions, garlic, shallots, etc). There are many Indian/Pakistani grocery stores in the area that carry a wide range of foods (including one right next to the aforementioned Mayuri) so we don't have to travel to Vancouver anymore for ingredients. Spices at such stores are generally less expensive than in super markets. I also like Pabla's vegetarian restaurant in Renton, which I find better than their downtown Seattle location.

        1. re: PAO

          Can I just say that this is a fabulous thread? Fantastic question ritabwh and thanks so much for the thoughtful, thorough responses PAO and equinoise. I've learned a ton!

          1. re: laurahutch

            My pleasure. The cookbook I couldn't remember is Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi Punjab Sweets is at Punjab Sweets - 23617 104th Ave SE, Kent, Kabab Palace - 15230 NE 24th St, Redmond WA . Mayuri Foods & Video. (2560 152nd Ave Ne, Redmond,

            1. re: PAO

              There's a famous resto in Vancouver called Vij's, and Vij has a cookbook too. Everything I've made out of it has been outtasite!!!

              1. re: allisonw

                You can find many of his recipes online - just search "Vij's recipes" ... his cookbooks are quite expensive!

                I actually emailed him once to tell him that I fell in love with his cooking ... and he kept writing me back. :-) He is very nice.

                1. re: boisenewbie

                  I was just recommending his resto and cookbook to a friend earlier today, and you can find his cookbook used for under $20 at Amazon.

                  1. re: boisenewbie

                    I took a friend who lives in Vancouver to Vij's....she had never been there and loved it (as did DH and I) and was so grateful for the "tip" that she sent me a copy of his cookbook as a thank you!!! I agree, its a beautiful book with lovely recipes....

                    1. re: janetofreno

                      We first discovered Vij when he and his mother were operating a little hole in the wall not too far from where he is now. Vij both waited tables and cooked. There were only 3-4 tables. I still think of this incredible rice pudding he served us--have never had as good before or since. Would kill for the recipe, which is unfortunately not in the cookbook. He considered the idea of opening a restaurant in Seattle, but eventually gave it up . . .

                2. re: PAO

                  Thank you, Pao and Equinoise and Laurahutch. I too hope to learn from all of you.
                  Right now, I am not so interested in cooking Indian cuisine...I need to learn what I want to eat and cook first! LOL.
                  Coincidentally, I have the good fortune of working in Bellevue, even if I live in Lynnwood. And now that it's been mentioned, I can see why all the good Indian restaurants are close by Bellevue.
                  I would like to expand on my questions about Naans, flat breads and the various condiments...
                  Do you eat the Naan by itself, or is it used like a tortilla to scoop up the food? I have noticed that alot of the Indian foods are "stewed".
                  The condiments/sauces, are they to be mixed with the other plates or do we eat them as we would the Korean Bancha?
                  Is there somewhere I can learn dining etiquette?
                  Pao, I printed out your reply. Thank you so much. "Moghul" style! I just learned something.
                  I have tried to ask the wait-persons at the various restaurants>>>"what did YOU have for lunch?" and I am always directed to the tandoori chicken.
                  <G>.
                  I had an excellent 'dessert', I think, at a buffet....milk with tapioca (?) and it was very sweet and tasty.
                  Another time in Porltand, I had a round, very delicate hollow "ball" about the size of a 50 cent piece, with "rosewater" and some green veggie "mash" that we were to place inside the hollow ball. It was delicious, but the cook behind the counter, could not explain to us exactly what we were eating.
                  I take it that no one here is a big fan of Mulgawanty stew/soup? I have not tried it, because it was British influenced.
                  Thank you so much for your help, information and PATIENCE!
                  Very sincerely yours,
                  rita

                  1. re: ritabwh

                    Vij's is indeed excellent as is his less expensive cafe next door, Rangoli's, which has a freezer full of pre-cooked food for sale from his cookbook, which is also very good. EVen if you don't cook from them, a really good cookbook is worth at least checking out from the library because of the information it contains. Jaffrey's A Taste of India is especially good. Here's an answer to your bread question from one of Jaffrey's first cookbooks, An Invitation to Indian Cooking:

                    "Indian bread must be eaten with the hands--or rather with one hand. A small piece of the bread is broken off, wrapped around a morsel of food and eaten."

                    The best rice pudding I ever had was at Vij's while he was just getting started and only he and his mom were running the restaurant . . . . .

        2. Madhur Jaffrey has a biographical book (something about Mango trees) that might give you an idea of what Indian cooking and eating was like 50 years ago. I haven't read it, but heard her talk about the book on The Splendid Table a while back.

          No Reservations and Bizarre Foods both have several Indian episodes which might give you more ideas of what it is like to eat in India.

          Naan is cooked in a very hot clay-pot oven; it is part of the Punjabi food culture that spread to other parts of India after many Punjabis were displaced to Dehli after the Partition. Thinner, tortilla like breads, are, I think, a more common part of home cooking (chapatti, roti, etc).

          The other day, when shopping at JDs Produce in Lynnwood (our main Indian grocery) I picked up a flier for an upcoming Diwali Celebration. This is a major Hindu festival. It is Oct 25, www.iahswa.org

          I may be wrong about this, but I suspect choosing food from a menu is no more 'authentic' than picking it from a buffet. Most Indian dining is a family affair; even eating out is most likely to be part of an extended family celebration of some birthday or aniversary.

          1. Since you asked about the ettiquette,I'm explaining this.All the vegetarian or non-vegetarian 'curries' that you find in the indian restuarants are eaten either with naans/rotis or with rice. You need to break a piece of the naan and then scoup up vegetables/chicken from the 'curries' and eat it with hand. Otherwise, you can mix these 'curries' with rice and eat them with the spoon.

            Some excellent and rich vegetarian curries are Paneer Tikka Masala, Malai Kofta, Vegi Kadai masala, Dal Makhani(this is made with lentils and goes well with rice).

            'Buffet' is the most common thing in India since 15 years now. Not only do you see this in restuarants, but you also see these in wedding lunches and dinners too. Even in homes now, if there is a party or even a casual dinner for friends, all the food is laid out like in a buffet.

            You should try the south-indian restuarant called 'Udipi' where you would find the taste and variety of 'curries' different than in other restaurants in Bellevue.

            In Indo-Chinese restuarants, try any kind of 'Manchurians'.They are great crunchy, spicey appetizers.In Indian restuarants, try 'Samosas' for appettizers.

            3 Replies
            1. re: anita.a

              Anita,
              Thank you for your advice.
              My apologies to all who have posted recently. I haven't checked this thread in a while.

              1. re: ritabwh

                What a great thread. I have learned a lot. I would recommend Raga in Kirkland as further research into the varied cuisine of India. This place is northern Indian, Punjabi I think. It also serves the best mulligatawny anywhere.
                The story that I have heard as to the origins of mulligatawny (which no doubt is detailed on wiki but I am too lazy to open another tab to confirm) is that it was created for the British because there was no soup in Indian cuisine. So it is, as I understand, made with Indian spices/ingredients/ etc.
                It is one of the greatest soups ever created and the British influence should in no way stop you from trying it, especially at Raga.

                1. re: xcatlkd

                  'Mulligatawny' is a British attempt at pronouncing 'millagu tanni', which is Tamil for 'chili water'. I think the basis for the dish is rasam, a light, tangy lentil soup. It's often eaten towards the end of the meal with rice, or sometimes just on its own from a glass.

            2. quote: Pakistan was formed in the '40's I believe when many Muslin Indians were forced out of India (I could be wrong about the details). So Pakistani food has its roots in Indian food, but tends to be more meat oriented because Muslims tend to eat more meat than Hindus.

              This is not correct. Pakistan was formed in 1947. When the British left India, there was a decision made to create more than one country. I am not trying to get into the controversial politics, but Pakistan was separated from India and was a Muslim homeland. Many Hindus in what is now Pakistan went to India and many muslims in indian territory went to Pakistan. The Partition was very violent and in plenty of places I am sure local communities "forced" the other religion to leave. But in India it was never official policy to "force" Muslims to leave. Important leaders such as Ganghi did not want Partition. Today, India is the second or third largest Muslim country in the world.

              Pakistan was carved out of the state of Punjab. Punjab is also home to the Sikhs, which are a subsect of Hindus but are visible because SIkhs wear the turbans mandated by their religion. The overlap between Pakistani and Punjabi food is strong. Their are definitely religious differences (who eats what meat), but you can argue they are lot more similar than north Indian to South Indian food. In the South, vegetarianism is higher, but there is also a strong tradition of a lot of fish cookery.

              It's hard I think to talk about what is "authentic" tradition in India or in any place with a long history. India has had a strong restaurant culture for many years. If it started with the Raj, it is still a couple hundred years. Not sure if that is traditional or not.

              1 Reply
              1. re: cocktailhour

                Don't forget that Bangladesh was once part of Pakistan. There was for a while an East and West Pakistan.

                According to some sources the word Pakistan comes from parts of the regional names: Punjab, Afghani (NWFrontier), Kashmir, Sindh, Balochistan. In that sense it is wrong, or at least incomplete to identify Pakistan with just the Punjab. Karachi, the largest city in the country is in the Sindh.

                I don't know, though, how those historic and political differences translate into culinary differences. Much of what we think of as Indian and Pakistani cooking has roots in a prepartition Punjab, and further back the Mughal court (especially the rich meat curries).

              2. We ate at Oh India today at Crossroads Mall in Bellevue. The food was good and the buffet expansive. It's in the spot formerly occupied by Udupi Palace and we both thought the food was better than Udupi. This was a Dawali special buffet so it might have had some special items... we don't know as this was our first time but we will be back. It was worth a trip across the bridge.

                I wasn't really sure what you meant by Indo-Chinese but I got to try it here! They had gobi Manchurian, chicken Manchurian, chicken fried rice, goat fried rice and a vegetable noodle stir fry. The buffet also included chutneys [coconut, mint and peanut were are great], raita, yogurt rice, idli, spinach pakora, fried bread, naan, sambar, rasam, chana masala, dahl, vegetable makhni, mutter paneer, tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, fish curry, fried plantain, carrot dessert, ras malai, gulab jamun. I'm sure I missed a couple, too.

                I tried to take a bite of most things. Everything I tried was at least okay. The fish curry was pretty weak, tilapia that could have been fresher. The vegetarian foods and southern indian dishes were very good at least some of the best I've had in my limited experience of South Indian. The Indo-Chinese dishes were good... unusual for me but tasty. The chicken Manchurian was quite good as was the gobi Manchurian. The goat fried rice was also good.

                I thought Oh India was better than many of the Indian restaurants I've tried in Seattle and was a nice experience for the great variety. The place is fairly new and they did a nice decor makeover on the space. The servers were attentive but it seemed like some were still new. I had to ask to get a copy of my credit card receipt. The price is higher than any of the other Indian buffets but I think in part due to the large number of items offered.

                If you are looking for Indo-Chinese then I think this place is worth a trip.

                1 Reply
                1. re: seattleviking

                  Just tried them last night. They're apparently still developing their menus, and so it's buffet all-day, all the time until then. The buffet had many items, and wasn't too shabby. They said they'll have all the Indian standard fare. I'll reserve judgment until they become fully operational.