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Feb 20, 2009 08:19 AM

Healthy Indian?

I've a craving for Indian food that I've supressed for a couple of years now because I haven't found a place offering healthy food. By my definition, this means 'not swimming in oil or cheese'. I haven't really been actively looking, so it's more a random sampling of places I just happened to be passing, when hungry, and with enough time to consider a meal.

In India, I've found places - not many - that offer such fare, both Northern and Southern Indian styles, so I'm convinced that the spicy-ness and flavor of Indian food is possible without the oil. As an aside, I'm also vegetarian/vegan, but that's much easier to deal with than what I perceive as the health issue.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts.

(Edit: Optimally, East Bay)

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    1. The oil is a necessary and central component of any masala based curry. What you need to focus on is the nature and quality of the oils, and the skill of the preparation. (I also find the fear and loathing of oils and greases to be silly. There is nothing unhealthy about oils and fat in the right propotions and the quality of the ingredients are good.)

      Two places that immediately come to mind are S Indian: Vik's for lunch and Dosa for dinner.

      I have only been once to the Udupi Palace in Berkeley. I didn't love what I got, but the men was intriguing and worth another try. They feature a vegetarian menu and seem to deliver a good quality/price.

      Finally I'll mention Chaat Cafe on University in Berkeley, not because I love it, but because I think they do a good job in terms of fresh quality ingredients. I have been there a lot, but have not delved too much into their vegetarian dishes. Love the nan. The prices are on the steep side for what they offer.

      Vik's Chaat House
      2390 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

      995 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Udupi Palace
      1901 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

      Udupi Palace
      1007 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Dosa on Fillmore
      1700 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

      Chaat Cafe
      1902 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

      1 Reply
      1. re: BernalKC

        I feel the need to backpedal here. Sure, I've often been revolted by clumsy, oily bad Indian food. Especially when the dish has been sitting too long, either at a buffet or take-out. So I hear ya about the problem of low-quality greasy Indian food. But I also think many people are way too sensitive about oils in their foods.

      2. Rotee in the lower Haight is pretty restrained with the oil. I agree with other posters that some dishes require a minimum amount of oil, but I don't think Rotee overshoots the mark. We're especially fond of the tandoori chicken, which seems particularly healthy, but I understand meat isn't on your short list...I assume they have some sort of veggie options that would compare.

        400 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

        1 Reply
        1. re: SteveG

          Portions at Rotee are beyond chintzy. I had a Chicken Tikka Masaala there with literally 4 pieces of chicken swimming in a sauce that was soupy, and oil thick. Prices didn't seem so bad, but the portions were cut so small, it ended up costing us $40 for very little food. It was one of those bills where you're adding it over and over because it doesn't seem right. Only the spinach was an entree portion, enough for two to share as is customary, and we were only eating it because we needed to fill up. The food wasn't any better of healthier tasting then what you get at one of the various Naan-N-Curry type places but the decor and menu are obviously trying to appeal to a certain clientele. On top of it, we were neglected by the waiter who was visiting with a female friend, sharing her meal with her. We were the only other people there, and there wasn't enough food on the table to keep us occupied for an extra half hour.

        2. I share your concerns about the overwhelming amounts of butter, ghee, cream and oil that often accompany 'restaurant style' Indian food. And while I know that you were looking for restaurant recommendations, I'd like to point out that once you have the requisite spices required, it's remarkably easy to make really really good Indian food yourself - and when you do, you can obviously control the amount of oil you're using.

 and are both excellent resources for instruction and recipes.

          I've largely given up on going out for Indian food, unless a craving for dosas or biryani strikes. I get often better and always healthier results from my own kitchen.

          6 Replies
          1. re: jpancake

            Same here. I gave up on restaurant Indian food because it always seems to have a puddle of oil in it that give me an upset stomach. The Indian I try to make at home probably isn't very authentic, but it satisfies the cravings I get nicely.

            1. re: jpancake

              THANK YOU for taking the time to make the distinction between 'restaurant style' [Indian] and [Indian] in general. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. There is a whole subcontinent that subsists on their own regional variations of this food where obesity is not a problem. And, to BernalKC for pointing out that fat is needed in the creation of the spice base to "cook" the spices. To minimize the amount of oil in my own cooking, I will add water to the masala mix during the bhuna process if the masala gets too dry as it cooks. Or, one could always just skim the oil off the top after you're done cooking. Just because it's there doesn't mean you have to eat it. :)

              To the OP: Cafe Raj in Albany advertises themselves as being healthier and although they're technically Pakistani, they have the typical North Indian standards. It's gotten mixed reviews and I tend to think that because people are used to fat-laden restaurant food, that the lack of fat in Cafe Raj's food makes the same dishes unfamiliar and less pleasing. This is not to say that their food is amazing (I'd say their food is a bit heavy on the onions), but it is healthier and throughout college, I would often go there and order their chicken vindaloo (spicy) as it was the closest thing in a restaurant that I could find to my mum's cooking. Their lamb biryani - although not like any other version I've ever had - is also nice. Vegetables are clean and simple.

              1. re: adrienne156


                Cafe Raj
                1158 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

              2. re: jpancake

                Good post. I'm with you on this, though I don't often cook Indian food at home. I look forward to the youtube videos.

                Excellent topic, Unk. Thanks for starting this.

                My interest in Indian food is equalled by the disappointment I usually have when I eat at Indian restaurants, even highly touted ones. I've only been to the much maligned Breads of India once, mainly because I live in the South Bay, but I liked it because of its ingredients and not so heavy handedness.

                1. re: maigre

                  Taste Buds in Sunnyvale is perhaps the South Bay winner for Indian places with lots of flavor but less oil. Although the menu looks familiar, the food seems homier than at many other places. It's a tiny place but a local gem.


                  Taste Buds
                  673 Grape Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94087

                  1. re: mdg

                    I went recently and liked it quite a bit. Not greasy in the least and nice flavors just like you described it, mdg. Great call. The owners are nice people, too. I'll be back. I'm happy this place is less than ten minutes from my house.

              3. Huh? I swore I saw an interesting reply from someone claiming to be the owner/founder of Breads of India. Was it removed by the author? Or is there some rule against posts by restaurant employees/owners/investors? As long as people state their relation to the restaurant clearly, I think it would be really useful to hear from these people.

                And I will chime in that I think Breads of India does offer very high quality dishes. You pay a premium, but you get what you pay for, certainly in terms of quality ingredients.

                Breads of India
                2448 Sacramento St, Berkeley, CA 94702