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I'm Afraid of Indian Food.

t
thursday Sep 26, 2009 11:29 AM

Naan is not scary to me. Everything else is.

Here's the problem - I can't eat ANYTHING spicy. I mean anything. I finally worked my way up to being able to handle black pepper about three years ago - and by handle, I mean, if someone has put pepper on my eggs for me without asking, I can swallow it quickly. I have very sensitive taste buds. Anything with capsaicin or pepper-related is out.

I'm also not a huge fan of curry, but having never had Indian food maybe it's just because the curry I have had has been in subpar dishes...so I'm open to it, but don't think curry dishes are the place for me to begin.

So what's left? I hate to ignore such a huge country's cuisine, and it smells good when I walk by restaurants, but what can I eat? I live near Little India and am planning a journey to make the plunge... What do I begin with?

  1. g
    gentlyferal Jan 21, 2010 04:44 PM

    I haven't read more than a third of this thread - great ideas, folks - but you don't say whether or not you cook for yourself. You might want to raid the library for Indian cookbooks and see what *other* spices are traditional in Indian cuisines. Cook a few of the less intimidating recipes yourself, to see which spices you like best. Most recipes are pretty complicated, I have to admit, but even taking a list of spices to the grocery store and *smelling* them might tell you what you might enjoy in a restaurant.

    1. Paulustrious Dec 28, 2009 10:54 AM

      Trying to read this thread is like trying to reassemble a dinosaur when many of the bones are missing.

      All said and done, it has been interesting and informative. Thursday's child has far to go, as have I. I will have to re-evaluate my chuck-the-sauce-rice-and-meat-in-a-pot technique. My thanks to soupkitten, AlanB for their discourse, and to Scrofula for the links to the indian vahchef.

      Somehow, I never expected to say "I would like to show my appreciation of scrofula".

      1. pikawicca Dec 27, 2009 05:27 PM

        I cooked an Indian meal tonight that was totally inauthentic, due to the DH's intolerance of heat and garlic. It was good food, but not real Indian. It's better than what many of my fellow Americans are eating tonight, so I'm cool.

        4 Replies
        1. re: pikawicca
          alanbarnes Dec 27, 2009 06:42 PM

          Indians who are members of Vaishnavist sects of the Hindu tradition avoid onion, garlic, and leeks because they're said to excite impure passions. (Which I think is a good idea, but that's another post.) Anyway, this has given rise to a distinctive and "authentic" garlic-free culinary tradition. In the US, members of the Krishna Consciousness Society (aka Hare Krishnas) follow these dietary restrictions, so there are quite a few good compendia of traditional Indian recipes that your husband might enjoy available in English. Here's one example:

          http://www.harekrsna.com/practice/pra...

          1. re: alanbarnes
            s
            soupkitten Dec 27, 2009 08:18 PM

            in order to understand it, you might want to look at the basis/origin of ayurvedic dietary traditions, not just look at relatively recent (500 years old) small sects that as of 40 years ago became more well known in the west. though you have a point that the hare krishnas have lots of accessible recipes in english, lovingly transcribed by hippies in the 1960's and 70's.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda

            1. re: soupkitten
              alanbarnes Dec 27, 2009 08:44 PM

              We could have a long discussion about the Ayurvedic notions of rajasic and tamasic foods. But if pikawicca just wants to cook traditional Indian food that doesn't have garlic, the theological underpinnings of those dietary restrictions don't matter much now, do they?

              BTW: some Ayurvedic traditions consider chiles to be rajasic, so that's another plus for DH's dietary requirements.

            2. re: alanbarnes
              pikawicca Dec 28, 2009 05:30 AM

              Thanks for the link. I will definitely give some of these recipes a try.

          2. r
            Rasam Dec 27, 2009 04:59 PM

            I've not waded through all the argy-bargy below, but in this globalized day and age, chances are you either have an Indian friend / neighbor / coworker, or are only about two degrees of separation from knowing an Indian.

            Ask their help: invite them to go with you to an Indian restaurant and coach you through dishes, or better still, to prepare a home style meal for you, spiced to your liking, and maybe to give you a cooking class or two.

            Kudos to your persistence and good luck!

            1. howlin Nov 21, 2009 09:35 AM

              here is the cure ,get a nice hot pepper ,habanero will do ,and take a big bite of it .spit it out if you wish but the burn will remain ,by the time it stops burning you will be desensitized enough to try anything indian.painfull but it works

              1. Midlife Oct 8, 2009 04:30 PM

                I'm not at all sure why, but I have always felt that I had an instant reaction to "curry" as I've tried it in Americanized-Indian curry dishes served at non-Indian restaurants. Goes right through me like the Bullet Train. So a business trip to New Delhi (a number of years ago) was not something I was looking forward to.

                But.......... 10 days including lunches at suburban restaurants, garment factories in far-off industrial cities, and the like never phased me at all.

                Whatever the spices and/ or oils are that are used in the Americanized meals are either not used, used differently, or in different amounts I REALLY enjoyed every meal I had there. I do think they laid low on the spiciness, in most cases, but the dishes that have put me down here were never really that spicy either.

                I've been told that 'curry' is so broad a term that I may not have been comparing anything at all with what I've had here.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Midlife
                  DallasDude Oct 8, 2009 05:07 PM

                  Ahh between your story there and having watched Owen Wilson in The Darjeeling Limited last evening I need to schedule a holiday in India soon.

                  1. re: Midlife
                    g
                    gordeaux Oct 9, 2009 05:08 AM

                    I don't think there is such a thing as an Americanized - Indian curry dish at a non-Indian restaurant. I think it would just be an american dish with some form of an American curry. An Americanized - Indian curry at a non Ind restaurant sounds like something that would have very little, if any roots in Indian cooking.

                    Also, curry just means sauce.

                    1. re: gordeaux
                      Midlife Oct 9, 2009 12:39 PM

                      I think that's the point of my post............. in a round-about way maybe. I suppose there are "Americanized" dishes and "Bastardized" dishes, what I've had here perhaps being the latter. No way to be sure, unless I knew exactly what was in what I've had.

                  2. b
                    BostonCookieMonster Oct 3, 2009 07:38 AM

                    OK, as long as the Indian-food-phobes are coming out of the closet, let me say that I enjoy spicy-hot food within reason but I fear Indian food because I hate cumin. Hate, hate, hate, loathe, cannot stand. I think it's pretty much the same for turmeric and that whole sweaty, musty, musky spice family. Don't like cilantro either. Any recommendations? I think I had a homemade Indian dish with lamb and ginger once that was delicious but I have no idea what it was.

                    That said, I may be coming around because I've tried random spoonfuls of this and that when my office has ordered Indian takeout. I think it is not destined to ever be my favorite cuisine, but I'm often with people who like it, and I live near an Indian restaurant that I know is supposed to be good (India Quality, for you Bostonians), so I'm open to suggestion.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: BostonCookieMonster
                      g
                      gordeaux Oct 3, 2009 07:50 AM

                      I'll betcha that lamb dish had cumin in it.

                      Raw cumin is also not one of my favorites - alittle goes a long way, and it's a fine line between the right amt and WAAAY too much IMO. That being said, toasted cumin or bloomed cumin is really f'ng good. Go try some Indian food. Like yesterday. Just go try some stuff. Forget about the cumin. Just go. Maybe you find some thngs you like, maybe you don't. At least you'd have given it a try. If you are that averse to cumin (even though when it's bloomed and or toasted like it is in Indian cooking, it tastes much different IMO than just using it from a spice jar) then ask a server to ask a chef which dishes either have none or very little. Some ideas on how to navigate through an Indian menu if you are not familiar here:
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/656304

                      Good LUCK!. Please report back. I used to be someowhat timid about Indian food as well, but I crave it now. I'd gather many ppl are timid as well, and threads like this can probably help. Indian food is flippin fantastic!

                      1. re: BostonCookieMonster
                        alanbarnes Oct 3, 2009 08:18 AM

                        >>"Go try some Indian food. Like yesterday. Just go try some stuff. Forget about the cumin. Just go."<<

                        +1.

                        Many ingredients can be pretty overwhelming when they're used improperly or injudiciously. In Indian cuisine, the spice that gets me is coriander seed. Grind it by itself and it's fetid, funky, and downright unpleasant. But it's indispensable in many sauces. Or consider Vietnamese food - most fish sauce smells pretty nasty on its own, but is a key ingredient in a huge number of delicious dishes.

                        When you walk past the door of an Indian place when things are cooking, is your response to the smell "yuck, cumin"? Or is it "wow, that smells good"! If the former, you may not be able to enjoy Indian food without acquiring the taste. But if it's the latter, there's a fair bet you're going to like the stuff, cumin and all.

                        1. re: alanbarnes
                          vorpal Oct 3, 2009 09:49 PM

                          Tell me about it. I love Indian food and Thai curries, both of which contain significant amounts of cumin, but after being sick a couple years ago and buying several large jars of organic soup to ride it out, I was dismayed to discover that they surpassed a heavy hand when it came to cumin, proceeding outright into cumin abuse territory! I forced myself to finish them and sustained a serious cumin injury from which I feared I might not recover. Fortunately, after about six months, I could tolerate a light smell of cumin and the taste in the proper context.

                          It really is simple to misuse cumin; don't give up and dismiss it entirely just yet, BCM.

                      2. m
                        mlgb Sep 29, 2009 12:14 PM

                        Most of the rest of the United States doesn't realize what type of Indian cuisine is served in Artesia (Little India). Hence you are getting recommendations for typical "Restaurant Indian" dishes such as Chicken Tikka and Saag Paneer which you probably won't even find on the menus of many of the places here!

                        If you go somewhere like Rhadjani or Woodlands (which are vegetarian Gujarati and pan-Southern) you will finds all sorts of subtly spiced things without hot peppers...just ask the server for recommendations!

                        Woodlands does label things on their buffet. I love their buffet...you get to try things you would never think to order, such as Payasam or Kesar desserts...yum!! They usually have veg korma on there, also.

                        For the rest of you, here's an example of what is on Woodland's Menu

                        http://www.woodlandsartesia.com/

                        32 Replies
                        1. re: mlgb
                          s
                          soupkitten Sep 29, 2009 12:56 PM

                          true. many indian restaurants in other parts of the country would certainly not have the indo-chinese fusion thing going on. apart from the "chinese style fried rice" and the tofu dishes, though, the woodlands menu looks like a pretty standard hindu/veg south indian menu. it lists saag paneer (as palak paneer), which is unsurprising, as this is a very standard and popular dish throughout india, and it doesn't list chicken tikka because it's a veg establishment. the thali menus look like they would be a reasonably good intro to this type (southern, veg, hindu) indian cuisine, but the op should be aware that when asking the staff for mild dishes, the servers may try to steer her/him toward the least authentic dishes or the chinese fusion stuff as a result, so s/he won't really be tasting indian food.

                          1. re: mlgb
                            g
                            gordeaux Sep 29, 2009 03:01 PM

                            This looks like a standard "vegetarian" menu at any of 100's of the Indian joints in Chicago. (which, by the way, has the 2nd highest concentration of Indian shops, restaurants and ppl in North America only to Toronto, I believe.) If you ever visit, and you enjoy all things Indian, you should try spending the better part of a day on Devon Avenue. You might be able to check out half of the shops if you plan well.

                            Tofu though?
                            That's a new one for me, but I'd definitely order it. Anyone know if Indian folks are tofu enthusiasts? I just don't think I've ever seen it on an Indian menu. It wouldn't surprise me one bit tho.

                            1. re: gordeaux
                              s
                              soupkitten Sep 29, 2009 09:54 PM

                              i've seen tofu on a couple of americanized indian restaurant menus--usually where the kitchen staff is not actually ethnically indian, and where you can "choose your protein" to be mixed with a premade catch-all sauce and heated quickly in a wok, rather than having the dish long-cooked using traditional methods. tofu certainly would not fly on devon ave or in toronto or other authentically indian areas, i'd agree. i never saw tofu prepared while i was in india, nor did i see it sold or advertised anywhere, and i know of no indian recipes, ancient or modern, that incorporate it. you'd think tofu would fit into the veg traditional food scene of india, but it doesn't seem to have made the leap. frankly, seeing tofu on an indian restaurant menu sets off warning bells for me, kind of like seeing it on the menu at a place that claims to be authentically lebanese or authentically cuban. i'd kill for a devon ave thali meal though-- i still remember the killer vegetarian one i had there over 10 years ago with my friend's southern indian family, though i don't remember the name of the restaurant.

                              1. re: soupkitten
                                m
                                mlgb Oct 1, 2009 10:43 PM

                                Wow one tofu dish makes you think a restaurant is Indian Chinese fusion and Americanized?

                                I can assure you that this particular one is not!

                                Indfian owned in Artesia's Little India which is primarily patronized by Indians from all over Southern California.

                                Maybe because it is a veggie restaurant they have a few creative dishes?

                                1. re: mlgb
                                  s
                                  soupkitten Oct 2, 2009 02:47 PM

                                  actually india has a broad spectrum of some of the most diverse and inventive vegetarian cuisines on the entire planet. i don't think an indian vegetarian restaurant needs to use tofu in order to be creative, as indian vegetarian food is not currently lacking creativity. not sure what you are trying to say about that.

                                  again, the menu posted above looks fine. it's full of basic south indian veg dishes, has the thali menus, the breads sound great. . . i'd be happy to have this restaurant around in my area. it sounds like if one knew how to order, one could get a good, authentically prepared meal at this place, no problem.

                                  the dissonance comes with the tofu dishes and the other dishes featuring soy sauce and obvious chinese stir fry/wok preparation such as "aloo manchurian" or whatever description i read the other night, and when you can begin to infer that (slow, traditional) cooking methods are being changed to quick-cook restaurant assemble-fry methods.

                                  for example there was a vegetable biryani on the menu, and below it a veg biryani with "fried tofu." yikes. biryani is a slow-cooked dish, and when prepared properly, the fragrant rice has had hours to absorb the sauce. all too often, americanized indian restaurants change the cooking method of a biryani and they prepare it to order like fried rice, with a premade sauce and a selection of proteins. a heavenly dish becomes heavy and greasy and horrible as a result. with other wok-preparations, plus a tofu biryani on the menu, my money would be on the inauthentic, americanized cooking method on both of these biryanis at this restaurant-- the tofu would be an add-in, or not, as the rice is quick-fried with the other ingredients. it just seems obvious when you know what to look for. then you sort of start to wonder what other short-cuts are being taken with other dishes and cooking methods, and what nontraditional items have been added to the menu to appeal to folks unfamiliar with indian food. i'm not saying that everything, or most things, or more than several things on that menu is tweaked beyond recognition. . . but if i were the op, i'd want to be sure i was tasting indian food at an indian restaurant, not getting steered toward a stir-fried tofu & soy sauce dish. the staff may rec these fusion-y types of dishes to folks who are unfamiliar w indian food because they are perceived to be more familiar, less challenging, milder, recognizable. . . that's my concern.

                                  1. re: soupkitten
                                    alanbarnes Oct 2, 2009 03:10 PM

                                    >>"biryani is a slow-cooked dish, and when prepared properly, the fragrant rice has had hours to absorb the sauce"<<

                                    Not according to Julie Sahni. Or Madhur Jaffrey. Or the owners of the Indian places I eat on a regular basis. They all cook the rice separately and combine it with the other ingredients immediately before serving. But what do they know, eh?

                                    As to your underlying point, Indian-Chinese cuisine is very popular in India and among the Indian expat community here. It's a well-established culinary tradition. Although it's not "classical" Indian cuisine, it's been around for more than a century and certainly isn't "Americanized." If you see anything "manchurian," you know you're in a place that serves Indian-Chinese food.

                                    Your claim that these items are put on a menu to "appeal to folks unfamiliar with indian food" is seriously misinformed. They're put on the menu to appeal to people (most of them from India) who want Indian-Chinese food.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes
                                      s
                                      soupkitten Oct 2, 2009 03:32 PM

                                      okay please cite your refs on that. . . the cooks in india used various cooking pots and handis to prepare biryani, often with a dough seal that was broken after hours of cooking the rice, meats and sauce together. but india is a big country and there is more than one style of cooking various dishes.

                                      otoh madhur jaffrey has developed lots of delicious, nontraditional "indian style" recipes, some of which even feature tofu, so i wouldn't be surprised if she had a quick-cook biryani-style rice recipe.

                                      1. re: soupkitten
                                        alanbarnes Oct 2, 2009 04:45 PM

                                        A little more research indicates that there are two types of biryani: pukki (where the ingredients are cooked separately) and kutchi (where they're cooked together). Pukki biryani is more common in the north, kutchi biryani in the south.
                                        http://ezinearticles.com/?Biryani---Food-Fit-For-Gods-and-Kings&id=2878870
                                        http://www.zeenews.com/news543920.html

                                        Given that Jaffrey and Sahni emphasize northern cuisine, and given that the places I frequent are run by northerners (including Pakistanis), my experience has been limited to pukki biryani. Sounds like what you've been exposed to is kutchi biryani.

                                        But that brings us back to my original point: separately-cooked biryani ingredients and things like soy sauce are not an indication that a place has dumbed down or americanized its menu. They're a function of the type of traditional Indian cuisine the restaurant is serving.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes
                                          s
                                          soupkitten Oct 2, 2009 07:20 PM

                                          sorry to be dense, Alan, but i thought the restaurant claimed to be southern indian, and most of the menu is southern indian, and specifically references the city of mysore? so i would assume that they wouldn't be making a northern indian style biryani, whatever you believe that to be. . .

                                          to be totally clear: separately cooked, then combined biryani ingredients-- i'm okay with that. what i'm not okay with is the quick-cook, assemble-and-stir-fry method done in a wok, fried rice style, where none of the ingredients are cooked together with the sauce, and the protein and other ingredients are interchangeable. it's a totally different cooking method, and it affects the final dish's flavor profile and texture. i think people should just say no to wok-fried so-called biryani, and i feel rather strongly about it.

                                          you've stated that this restaurant is doing a "type of traditional indian cuisine," and that soy sauce and tofu are a "function" of that cuisine. if so, i'm rather confused about what "function" these items serve-- and additionally, it's a traditional indian cuisine that doesn't seem to exist in southern india, where the restaurant claims some culinary connection. can you enlighten me about where, geographically, this traditional indian cuisine comes from? besides artesia, i mean.

                                          1. re: soupkitten
                                            alanbarnes Oct 2, 2009 09:46 PM

                                            Nobody said that kutchi biryani is exclusively southern, or that pukki biryani is exclusively northern. I certainly didn't, because I hadn't heard of either of them until today. I'd love to try both, and find out more about who cooks which and why.

                                            You're the one who came up with the notion that Woodlands is stir-frying biryani in a wok. If they are, then I have some reservations about their biryani. But seriously, don't you think it's just possible that they actually have **two** pots of veggies with sauce simmering in the kitchen that they can layer up with some rice?

                                            As far as soy sauce goes, it's an essential ingredient in traditional Indian-Chinese food. That cuisine originated in Kolkota in the 19th century, but is also fairly popular in other southern Indian cities such as Hyderabad and Goa and can be found in nearly every metropolitan area in India, as well as most European and American cities with a large Indian population.

                                            You've been to India. Good for you. I'm sure it was a lovely visit. But the country has about a billion people spread over more than a million square miles. Just because you didn't see something on your trip doesn't mean it doesn't exist there.

                                            Now that you're back in the US you may want to spend more time hanging out with Indian Chowhounds and listening to what they have to say about the food "back home." You'll learn a lot more that way than you will cluelessly disparaging places you've never been for serving food you've never tried.

                                            1. re: alanbarnes
                                              thew Oct 3, 2009 06:17 AM

                                              vindaloo is found in every "northern indian" restaurant, yet is a goan dish. sometimes people in new delhi eat a cocnut loaded "south indian" dish

                                              i assure you you can get new england clam chowder in atlanta, and southern fried chicken in seattle too

                                              1. re: thew
                                                alanbarnes Oct 3, 2009 07:26 AM

                                                Exact.

                                            2. re: soupkitten
                                              alanbarnes Oct 3, 2009 09:59 PM

                                              Okay, posts have been removed, but I'd like to reduce this to basic concepts. You started by making two claims.

                                              The first was that "biryani is a slow-cooked dish, and when prepared properly, the fragrant rice has had hours to absorb the sauce" and that doing it any other way is an "inauthentic, americanized cooking method." (Everything in quotes is your words.)

                                              This is indisputably wrong. In one type of traditional biryani (some would say the most traditional type), the ingredients are cooked separately and combined just before serving.

                                              Your second claim was that an Indian restaurant menu that lists Chinese cooking techniques or ingredients like soy sauce and tofu is an indication that "nontraditional items have been added to the menu to appeal to folks unfamiliar with indian food" and that the OP should avoid "getting steered toward a stir-fried tofu & soy sauce dish" even though "the staff may rec these fusion-y types of dishes to folks who are unfamiliar w indian food because they are perceived to be more familiar, less challenging, milder, recognizable."

                                              Again, this is demonstrably incorrect. Indian-Chinese food is a well-established cuisine. And, in fact, it has seriously limited appeal to those who haven't acquired a taste for it. But it's commonly served in restaurants in India and in most cities with a significant Indian expat community. But this food isn't Americanized. Far from it, it is enjoyed almost exclusively by people who live in (or grew up in) India.

                                              Sometimes our experiences lead us to conclusions that turn out to be incorrect (see my biryani post above). I've learned a lot from this thread. Please don't take my criticisms of your claims as anything other than a vigorous attempt to develop good info.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes
                                                s
                                                Scrofula Oct 4, 2009 08:58 PM

                                                I've never known anyone to make pakki biryani by combining the ingredients just before serving. To make pakki biryani, you layer the cooked meat and rice, seal it, and bake/slow cook it to finish it off, letting the rice absorb the flavours of the meat.

                                                If you cook meat and rice separately and just stir them together, you get a meat curry mixed with rice. This can be delicious, but it isn't biryani. This is, in fact, how most Indians eat normal meat curry.

                                                Vegetarian biryani is pretty common nowadays due to the large vegetarian Hindu population, but it's kind of a strange idea. Biryani is basically a Muslim meat-and-rice dish popularized by the Mughals.

                                                1. re: Scrofula
                                                  alanbarnes Oct 4, 2009 10:42 PM

                                                  According to Julie Sahni's recipe for murgh biriyani in Classic Indian Cooking, there are two methods of preparation: "Either all the ingredients are mixed and cooked together, or the chicken and rice are cooked separately and mixed just before serving."

                                                  Wouldn't the first method be a kutchi biryani and the latter a pukki biryani?

                                                  1. re: alanbarnes
                                                    s
                                                    Scrofula Oct 5, 2009 02:06 AM

                                                    The former is indeed katchi biryani, but the latter would be a very strange pakki biryani. I'm not familiar with Julie Sahni's background or qualifications, or how authentic she claims her food is. For all I know, her pakki biryani recipe might be a delicious meat-and-rice dish, but it's probably not something I'd recognize as biryani.

                                                    This is a more typical pakki biryani:
                                                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0e2CRw...
                                                    That last step -- layering and baking the meat and rice together -- is the main thing that turns this dish into a biryani.

                                                    1. re: Scrofula
                                                      alanbarnes Oct 5, 2009 07:27 PM

                                                      You are absolutely correct. The video cleared things up, although it would have been unnecessary if I'd read your previous post more carefully.

                                                      I totally agree that biryani has to be layered up and the ingredients cooked together for at least a little while. You can't slap korma on a plate with some rice, give it a stir, and call it biryani. The question is how long the ingredients need to spend in each others' company before the dish qualifies for the name.

                                                      The video you posted had the combined dish in the oven for half an hour. So does the Sahni recipe I referred to. That's what she means when she talks about mixing them "just before serving." I've made a pakki biryani with lamb a couple of times, and the time the ingredients spend together is a bit longer. But it's still far short of cooking everything in the same pot for hours.

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes
                                                        s
                                                        Scrofula Oct 5, 2009 09:52 PM

                                                        Ah, fair enough. Some would argue that even standard pakki biryani is an inauthentic shortcut, but it's a sufficiently widespread shortcut (and produces sufficiently awesome biryani) that I have no problem considering it a legitimate way to make the dish.

                                                        1. re: Scrofula
                                                          alanbarnes Oct 5, 2009 10:31 PM

                                                          More playing on the internet indicates that people in Lucknow might disagree with the notion of pakki biryani being an "inauthentic shortcut." Apparently it's its own thing, and there are claims that it predates kutchi biryani.

                                                          But in the inimitable words of Sgt. Schultz, I know nothing.

                                                    2. re: alanbarnes
                                                      luckyfatima Oct 6, 2009 09:59 AM

                                                      Kachi biriani is a Hyderabad specialty. The protein is marinated and the marinade is added raw to the rice, they are sealed together on "dam" and the protein slow cooks. This is a specilized way of making biriani.

                                                      Pakki biriani or dampakht biriani is the standard way to cook biriani. (although actual recipes vary greatly). The gravy (saalan) is fully cooked separately and layered with parboiled (not fully cooked) rice in a vessel, sealed (traditionally with dough but aluminium foil or a tea towel beneath the lid will do) set on a low flame for "dam".

                                                      Both kinds of biriani are "mixed just before serving." That means that one mixes the layers together before serving to distribute the gravy. At home biriani is made in a large vessel, but in some restos that do authentic dampakht birianis, they sometimes give you a small vessel sealed with dough and unmixed layers, and you mix at the table.

                                                      Far too many restos keep a generic pre-made biriani gravy and layer it with pre-cooked basmati rice just before serving to order. That is fake biriani, but not uncommon at all.

                                                      1. re: luckyfatima
                                                        s
                                                        soupkitten Oct 9, 2009 03:41 PM

                                                        <<
                                                        Far too many restos keep a generic pre-made biriani gravy and layer it with pre-cooked basmati rice just before serving to order. That is fake biriani, but not uncommon at all.
                                                        >>

                                                        right!!!--that's the method to avoid at all costs (unless it's the type you prefer, i suppose)--whether you order chicken, lamb, tofu, whatever-- it's either 1) stirfried with *added oil* plus the rice, plus the sauce-everything in a wok, or 2) simply combined in a dish before service. the protein is interchangable, & each biryani in these restaurants tastes exactly the same regardless of protein. the # 2 method is a little less offensive to me than type #1--that's the greasy disgusting fake biryani i can't stand, and it's all over the place, dangit :-P

                                                        so i personally try to avoid places that do biryanis in a short-cut way. and who take other shortcuts on their menu. this means i don't prefer americanized indian restaurants much, and also means indian-chinese restaurants don't appeal much. i think that if someone wants to be introduced to a cuisine, chowhounds should be rec-ing places that do the real deal and not a hybrid or shortcut type of food, unless there is really nothing else in the area the person lives. when someone said this woodlands establishment was a great , highly traditional indian restaurant, i tried to point out that tofu on a menu is not a good sign that a place is authentically indian. i don't think it's clear even after all of this confab whether this particular restaurant is an indian-chinese restaurant or an american-indian place, or whether it's an indian place with a few indian-chinese menu items, but i think that folks should rec a straight indian place, if possible, to the op, or *specific dishes* on a menu that also has inauthentic or non-indian dishes or cooking methods.

                                                        acting like indian-chinese food is a private club that's somehow better than indian food because it has a very limited number of aficionados, to me, is wrong-- a little like saying italian-american food is better than italian food-- no, hybrid cuisines are their own thing. people should acknowledge the difference between an italian restaurant and an italian-american restaurant, a chinese restaurant and a chinese-american restaurant, etc. there is nothing wrong with liking gloopy red sauce or general tso's chicken or whatever-- and people can like the hybrid cuisine and the traditional cuisine at the same time-- but it's important to acknowledge cooking methods, ingredients and so forth and have some concept of what the traditional cuisine is like, and how it might change when the menu is translated. painting an inaccurate picture of a restaurant as totally authentic doesn't help a newcomer to the cuisine-- people shouldn't think olive garden is italian food or taco bell is mexican, for extreme examples.

                                                        -----

                                                        to the biryani subthread, i think that the confusion over "mix just/immediately before serving" could be coming from a misunderstanding stemming from 3 different things

                                                        1) unfamiliarity with the real dish/the restaurants the posters are familiar with are using the short-cut method
                                                        or
                                                        2) the recipe referred to instructs, at the end of the cooking time, for the layers of rice, meat, gravy to be cut through and mixed, usually done ime with two serving or cooking spoons. this is going to be a common step in traditionally cooked biryanis. veg biryanis are a different thing and their recipes might vary. ((is this a linkable recipe btw? apparently it says to combine the ingredients "just before serving" and then Alan says that J.S. meant a 30 minute cooking time interval by that phrase, so it sort of leaves us all in the dark unless we can look at the actual recipe. in any case i don't believe there is an all-powerful biryani recipe, by J.S. or M.J. or anyone else, & i certainly saw the dish prepared in different ways and there naturally will be regional variations and riffs. however the essential cooking method should be the same--long cooked, ingredients together, closed pot/casserole/handi/dutch oven/whatever))
                                                        or
                                                        3) it *could* also be a confusion stemming from a recipe for the more formal presentation of a biryani, with the fried (onion & spice, etc) garnish which is added right before service? the biryani's preparation is exactly the same, but this garnish is quick-cooked and poured over the mixed meats and rice when it is on the serving platter, just before service. this is a long-shot guess but i just don't know what else the confusion could be. to me the idea of a quick-combined or wok-fried biryani is like the mental/tastebud/associative whiplash one experiences when contemplating "coq au vin, quick fried in a wok", or "separately cooked ingredients, combined just before serving" gumbo-- these concepts doesn't really work because they are by definition incorrect. method of preparation is essential to the identity of many dishes/foods. a lot of people would want to know whether an establishment serves brick oven pizza vs microwaved pizza, so why should this "anything goes as long as it tastes good" attitude wrt cooking method be reserved for indian food? i'm bothered by this. when people stop looking at cooking traditions and stop caring about method of preparation, i think that's when food starts to get very dumbed-down and you wind up with a menu that looks big but it's just a limited assortment of premade sauces, proteins, and other ingredients that are quick-combined for service. you get pretty, but soulless non-traditional foods with homogenized tastes. that's why i don't like seeing evidence of wok-cooking on indian restaurant menus, particularly menus of the southern indian cooking with which i am most familiar.

                                                  2. re: alanbarnes
                                                    s
                                                    soupkitten Oct 5, 2009 01:52 AM

                                                    more deletions? i miss all the fun while i'm working :(

                                                    2nd paragraph: well, no Alan, that's not quite what i said. folks can read my posts re: biryani. again, i have a problem with making a so-called "biryani," fried-rice style-- in a wok. it's the method of cooking that is primarily at issue here.

                                                    4th paragraph: you are very invested in this idea that your local restaurant is an authentic expression of a calcutta/kolkata-based indian-chinese cuisine. while simultaneously being a hindu-southern-indian veg place. featuring northern indian/pakistani-style mughal biryanis. . . only hindu-veg style, um. . . with chinese tofu instead of meat. so if you are correct, this hindu-chinese-mughal-mysore-veg place is a little spread out as far as regional indian food goes, to say the least. additionally, its menu features none of the kolkata area dishes one might expect such a restaurant to have.

                                                    another reason that leads me to think that your local restaurant is not in fact an indian-chinese restaurant of the type you refer to, is its ownership. i believe another poster who frequents this restaurant assured us all that the owners of this particular restaurant are ethnically indian. maybe this local poster was incorrect, since s/he also swore that this place was a straight indian restaurant, and not indian-chinese. in any event: since *chinese* cooks, living in india, developed this cuisine, indian-chinese restaurants of this type are generally owned by ethnic chinese families, and much more rarely by ethnic indian folks. when i looked at the menu, it seemed as if it had an extremely traditional, standard southern indian hindu foundation, (as if this was the clear geographic/ethnic/religious origin of the restaurateur's family, and fwiw i spent about a month in southern india)-- but then there were odd items on the menu, as if certain offerings may have been added or tweaked to be geared toward "american" (whatever that means) diners--including, i'd assume, the chinese, korean, filipino and other asian ethnic groups that make up a large proportion of the local population, who probably patronize the restaurant, and who may or may not be employed as cooks in the kitchen. so i apologize that you seem to have zeroed in on "americanized" in my post, when i meant to include the *pan-asian*- american local population as much as any other ethnic group. but as you say, i'm probably way off-base with my assumptions & inferences, in any event.

                                                    on at least one point, i agree with you-- that for many folks of the privileged classes in india, there's nothing like going to the local indian-chinese restaurant, and i also agree that this is a perfectly legitimate and well-established cuisine, just as american-chinese and anglo-indian cuisines have emerged as legit and w-e. i absolutely don't think that indian-chinese or chinese-indian cuisine is in any way better than indian cuisine *or* chinese cuisine (and it's arguably less interesting)-- just that it is its own thing and it has its own legitimacy. but even if we assume that this local restaurant is an indian-chinese place, as you are so stridently stating that it is----what does that have to do with the op's request to be guided through an introduction to ****indian**** food? it just seems like such a strange jumping off point and potentially confusing? why not rec a straight indian place (whatever region, but a grounded tradition would be nice)? isn't this whole sub-thread about indian-chinese restaurants pretty unhelpful to anyone interested in tasting the subcontinent's food for the first time? what in the world is the point of any of this, if this restaurant is of little use to the op?

                                                    i'm tempted to just leave it there, but there's just one more (important, i think) point i'd like to make about indian-chinese cuisine: it's primarily a restaurant phenomenon, just like chinese-american cuisine and anglo-indian cuisine. ****it isn't something that people eat in their own homes.**** the whole idea is for one (ethnic minority) group of people to sell food to a wider populace. the cuisine is designed and tailored to meet the tastes and sensibilities of the customer group, with enough identifiers of the seller group to make the food seem different, exotic, and desirable, though non-intimidating. the folks that prepare this food in the restaurants go home and fix a very different type of food for their families. the folks who eat this food go home and prepare very different food too. the food exists only in restaurants and doesn't translate or travel well. hence very few of these types of restaurants make it outside of their country of origin. (a chinese-american restaurant would have a hard time in hungary--though chinese-hungarian restaurants are doing fine-- an anglo-indian place would be odd in paraguay, etc. even in areas that have very large indian expat populations, like chicago, there are very very few of these transplanted restaurants)

                                                    in india, access to this type of restaurant food has a lot to do with wealth, ethnicity and geographic location. although many upper-class indians who emigrate to the west are somewhat familiar with this food, the vast majority of indians living in india will sample it perhaps once or twice in their lives, or much more likely, never. pound for pound, the amount of indian-chinese food consumed in india is so negligible as to be practically insignificant, and the overwhelming majority of indians eat (traditional indian foods) at home and very rarely or never at restaurants. although street food and takeaway meals are relatively common in india and geared toward travelers, shoppers and business folks, restaurant meals as we know them in america are a luxury and out of reach for most average indian citizens. however it's very common in india for households (which often consist of large extended families) to employ cooks and other servants. because poverty is so widespread in india, it's possible for people of very modest means to employ an even poorer person to prepare meals for their families. perhaps it's for another thread, and getting too sociological for a food board, but this non-restaurant oriented, insular, home-meal, class-divided social reality means that recipes continue to be very traditionally prepared & contributes to india's overall very stable culinary purview. (broad sweeping generalizations, of course, grain of salt and all that). yeah. so i'm probably done with this thread now. i don't see how it's helping the op or anyone else. it's really late & I just get this weird feeling that if everyone went out and got themselves a really good biryani (not from woodlands! ;-P) that we'd all suddenly be on the same page. i have a totally skewed faith that food can bring people together though. it's probably stupid.

                                                    1. re: soupkitten
                                                      alanbarnes Oct 5, 2009 08:25 AM

                                                      First off, Woodlands isn't my "local restaurant." It's 400+ miles from where I live. That said, I have spent some time in Artesia's Little India, where it is located. You very evidently have not. The restaurants there are predominately owned and patronized by ethnic Indians. The notion that any of them is cooking Americanized food is just silly.

                                                      But just because the place isn't Americanized doesn't mean it limits itself to Mysore-style home cooking. Nobody claimed it did. And who knows, the biryani may be terrible. But you're claiming that as an indisputable fact. Dontcha think a better authority on that subject might be somebody who's actually tried the dish? Or at least eaten at the restaurant? Or set foot in the city where it's located?

                                                      Finally, it's hard to parse your ramblings, but are you really criticizing a restaurant for serving restaurant food?

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes
                                                        s
                                                        soupkitten Oct 9, 2009 03:40 PM

                                                        are you telling us that you haven't eaten at woodlands either, and yet you've practically worn out google trying to defend the cuisine they offer? *sigh* from the tone of your comments i assumed that i'd accidentally wounded a relative of yours by pointing out that based on its menu, woodlands may not have the most authentic south indian cuisine. look, i'm used to ball-busting competitions, Alan-- **i work in kitchens** but all this ridiculous bickering--how very unhelpful to the op.

                                                        i don't think the notion that the food in artesia is inauthentic is "silly" or terribly far fetched. wasn't there a big deal made about calling artesia "little india" because there are so few (relatively speaking) ethnic indians living there? i believe all the koreans, filipinos, vietnamese, chinese, and other pan-asian ethnic groups were not in favor-- since they greatly outnumber ethnic indians in artesia (and that's not even mentioning the large latino population). why would anyone assume that the huge population of non-indian asians living in artesia wouldn't influence the food, either by consuming it or cooking it?

                                                        you also seem to think it's impossible to tell anything about a restaurant's food by reading the menu-- but someone who's familiar with traditional chinese food could probably tell you that the restaurant doing the chop suey sandwiches (see boston board) probably is a better example of chinese-american hybrid cuisine than any regional chinese cuisine. someone who's spent time in italy would hopefully comment if somone rec-ed an italian-american joint to someone looking for traditional italian-- point out the hot dago sandwiches on the menu, etc. since my point of reference is the food in southern india, i can tell you that this restaurant's menu looks. . . askew, by those standards, and, it doesn't seem to have enough calcutta or chinese features on its menu to be an indian-chinese place. i would expect to see chili dishes, chop suey and chow mein if this was the case, just as in american-chinese restaurants. i don't know what you've got there--and i don't really care at this point. but nobody's offered a good rec to the op in her/his area, and nobody seems the least bit concerned about the authenticity of the food, which is sad.

                                                        menus from real indian-chinese restaurants:
                                                        http://www.indianchopsticks.com.au/menu.htm
                                                        http://www.calcuttachinesefood.com/Me...

                                                      2. re: soupkitten
                                                        s
                                                        Scrofula Oct 5, 2009 02:50 PM

                                                        I agree that tofu in Indian cuisine is unusual, but it's not as big a warning sign as you might think. Various soy-nugget-type foods are pretty widely used in middle-class India, as a cheap, vegetarian meat alternative. The texture is quite different from tofu, but tofu might be the nearest widely-available ingredient in the US. In any case, even 'authentic' vegetable biryani is a non-traditional adaptation. Who's to say whether tofu biryani is a better or worse approximation of real biryani?

                                                        I don't think the tofu and Indian Chinese food on the menu is an attempt to appeal to a non-Indian customer base. Plenty of Indians in the US have a hard time finding Indian Chinese; they are probably the intended target for these dishes. The menu seems centered on south Indian breakfast food, with a few north Indian and Chinese items thrown in just to offer some variety. I wouldn't expect much authenticity from these dishes, just as you wouldn't have high hopes for a New York hot dog stand's Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches. But if you're a Chicago native living in New York, sometimes even an inauthentic Italian beef is welcome. Obviously, if you are introducing someone to Italian beef, this wouldn't be the ideal place to do so, but that doesn't mean that the hot dog stand itself needs to be avoided. You just need to stick to what they specialize in -- NY style hot dogs. (Or, in Woodlands' case, dosas and such.)

                                                        Also, most Indian Chinese places in India are, in fact, owned and run by ethnic Indians. This might not be as true in Kolkata (due to the large Chinese population there), but I haven't spent much time there.

                                                        By the way, I seem to remember going to a Woodlands in Devon. Do you happen to know whether it's affiliated to this place?

                                            3. re: soupkitten
                                              thew Oct 3, 2009 06:15 AM

                                              which is it, americanized or chineseafied?

                                              there has been trade between india and china for a long long time. there is chinese food in india. it would be pretty increadible to think no indian ever cooked with chinese ingredients, no chinese food had ever been "indanized" or indian food "chinafied." there is no such thing as a pure culture, food, or language that has never had an outside influence.

                                              1. re: thew
                                                c
                                                caliking Oct 7, 2009 12:58 PM

                                                Indian-Chinese food is kind of its own entity - Chinese immigrants have been living in Calcutta/Kolkata for 200+ years (possibly longer than they have been in the US) and are known primarily for their ownership of tanneries, leather goods shops, and dry cleaning shops. Kolkata is the only city in India that has a "Chinatown" (known as Tangra) as far as I know. I know of at least 2 neighborhoods in the city where you will only see signage in English or Chinese (no Bengali, Hindi, etc). If you wake up at 5am, you can go get street dim sum in the morning Chinese market (everything wraps up by 9-ish). Techincally, Indian-Chinese is fusion food, but by no means new or a passing fad (for Indians at least).

                                                I have to agree that tofu on an Indian menu is not the best of signs to me. I'm sure it can be made into tasty Indian dishes, so if that's your bag then go for it. Of the soy products generally available in India, Nutrella/Nutri Nuggets are a brownish, dehydrated soy protein item that is often loved by vegetarians and eaten by nonvegetarians only under threat of serious bodily injury.

                                                And its only natural for Indian food to become Americanized in the US. Even though ownership of Indian restaurants is mostly Indian, the cooks usually are not, and customers are not all Indian. For those who live in Chicago, note the difference between food on Devon and the cab driver joints (Baba's Palace, Zaika, Kababish, etc).

                                                In the end it shouldn't really matter - eat what you like, who cares whether it is "authentic" or not - unless of course the authentic version tastes better.

                                                1. re: caliking
                                                  thew Oct 8, 2009 04:36 AM

                                                  or the "inauthentic" one does

                                                  1. re: caliking
                                                    h
                                                    Harters Oct 8, 2009 06:44 AM

                                                    "And its only natural for Indian food to become Americanized in the US"

                                                    Absolutely. I've never eaten Indian food in the US - but I've eaten Chinese and it's
                                                    quite different from the Chinese we see in the UK - even dishes which have the same name taste different, let alone the dishes whcih have names unfamiliar to me. I assume that it will be the same for Indian food - for example, caliking mentions that most Indian restaurants in the US are owned by people of Indian origin, whereas in the UK, most restaurants are owned by people of Bangladeshi origin (and, even then, they are mainly Sylheti). It is bound to make a difference as will the development of that cuisine in our different cultures.

                                                    I've just returned from lunch at our city's "curry mile" (actually about 0.5 mile but with the largest concentration of "Indian" restaurants in the UK, with about 40 on the "strip"). For a main course, I had what the menu only described as "authentic Punjabi lamb". I have no idea whether it is authentic as I have never been to the Punjab (nor would you ever get Lancastrians agreeing what is an "authentic" Lancashire Hotpot) - but I can tell you it was absolutely delicious - which is all I care about.

                                                    J

                                              2. re: mlgb
                                                lulubelle Oct 8, 2009 09:54 AM

                                                Wow one tofu dish makes you think a restaurant is Indian Chinese fusion and Americanized?

                                                I just watched a show on Discovery Channel where the host went to Chinese restaurants in Calcutta and talked about how Chinese food is India's best loved foreign food, and how like American=Chinese food it has little resemblance to Chinese food. So it doesn't surprise me at all that your Indian restaurant has tofu.

                                                1. re: lulubelle
                                                  m
                                                  mlgb Oct 8, 2009 04:18 PM

                                                  Yes, it really is presumptious, I think alanbarnes said it best

                                                  Now that you're back in the US you may want to spend more time hanging out with Indian Chowhounds and listening to what they have to say about the food "back home." You'll learn a lot more that way than you will cluelessly disparaging places you've never been for serving food you've never tried.

                                                  The place I posted the menu for caters to Indians in Artesia's Little India. The lunch buffet has a range of everything (S. Indian veg mostly) with made to order dosas included in the price. The last time I was there I had a delicious Payasam made with vermicelli...so does that make it Italian Indian fusion? There was also a mildly seasoned dahivada...with curry leaves.

                                                  Now there will probably follow pages of posts about how vada can only be made a certain way and only spicy.

                                                  1. re: mlgb
                                                    s
                                                    Scrofula Oct 9, 2009 01:16 AM

                                                    Actually, vermicelli ('semiya') is pretty widely used in India. It's different from the Italian stuff, and was probably introduced from China. Semiya payasam and semiya uppma are the first two Indian vermicelli dishes that come to mind.

                                                    And I don't think I've ever had a really spicy dahi vada. :)

                                        2. j
                                          Janet from Richmond Sep 29, 2009 06:43 AM

                                          I'm afraid of Indian food for a different reason. I don't know my way around the menu. I have found that most Indian restaurants don't give good descriptions (at least in my area) on the menu or on the buffet, so I feel awkward and lost. I am considering coming in armed with my iPhone so I can look up descriptions of various dishes.

                                          14 Replies
                                          1. re: Janet from Richmond
                                            a
                                            anakalia Sep 29, 2009 07:38 AM

                                            Janet, I could see that being a problem, sometimes, depending on who has translated the menus. I often see paneer, for example, referred to as "cottage cheese" in the menu: which makes me think of the stuff we buy in containers, which is not AT ALL like paneer.
                                            I think the iphone could be a very good idea!

                                            1. re: anakalia
                                              g
                                              gordeaux Sep 29, 2009 11:40 AM

                                              I see that cottage cheese thing too which has to be some kind of translation snafu type thing. I wonder sometimes if it's an extremely loose translation of "farmer's cheese" which I've seen as a homemade medium hard (not melty) very mild cheese. But paneer is nowhere close to what an American would call cottage cheese.

                                              1. re: gordeaux
                                                s
                                                soupkitten Sep 29, 2009 11:49 AM

                                                i think it's a very unfortunate translation--i've seen it too. it should be "house-made cheese," since paneer is generally made in house, from fresh yogurt, both in indian households and in indian restaurants. farmer's cheese or farmer's style cheese is another type of fresh cheese, that's not necessarily made in-house. seems like at some point a well-meaning person thought the familiar term "cottage cheese" would work for "home-made cheese"/paneer, but on menus it just creates confusion and probably keeps a lot of delicious paneer dishes from being ordered! ;-P

                                                1. re: soupkitten
                                                  DallasDude Sep 29, 2009 12:36 PM

                                                  i have made paneer many times (and other cheese) and never used yogurt. It is simply milk curdled with citric acid. Just wrap in a cheese cloth, apply some sort of heavy weight, press and allow to drain properly then slice into cubes. Should take about an hour, and ready for palek paneer!

                                                  Mozzarella isn't much harder, and can take equally as much time. Just requires a bit more intervention and rennet to make the curd.

                                                  Technically, paneer is a dry curd cottage cheese.

                                            2. re: Janet from Richmond
                                              h
                                              Harters Sep 29, 2009 08:41 AM

                                              Ah, yes, the naming of dishes can be a bugbear. In my experience, it tends to be worse in takeaways, than restaurants.

                                              Of course there are the "standards" - say like tikka masalla - that are going to be pretty much the same wherever you go (regional and national adaptations aside). But then you get the dishes that the menu describes as "authentic Sylheti" or whatever- so you order it just to try. And like it. Then you come home and Google the name and zilch, nada, nowt, nothing. A completely invented name by the restaurant/takeaway.

                                              It's a lottery with my local place - but quite good fun (I've never had anything I really didnt like)
                                              http://www.gatleytakeaway.co.uk/takea...

                                              1. re: Janet from Richmond
                                                DallasDude Sep 29, 2009 08:55 AM

                                                Janet... not fond of the buffet, but this is exactly why I would try one. To get your feet wet with various dishes.

                                                1. re: Janet from Richmond
                                                  k
                                                  Kagey Sep 29, 2009 11:28 AM

                                                  That's a difficult one. Is there someone you can go with who knows his/her way around an Indian menu? That's how I learned, and I really think there isn't a better way!

                                                  1. re: Kagey
                                                    j
                                                    Janet from Richmond Sep 30, 2009 05:16 AM

                                                    No there isn't. I had hopes back when my daughter was a freshman in college and became friends with a girl from India and before I had the chance to take her with me to an Indian place and show me the ropes, the friendship ended.

                                                    1. re: Janet from Richmond
                                                      thew Sep 30, 2009 05:54 AM

                                                      find a chowhound to go with

                                                      1. re: Janet from Richmond
                                                        coney with everything Oct 1, 2009 05:48 AM

                                                        Janet, I think you're on the right track. My intro to Indian food came when I worked with Indian programmers...went to the buffet with them and got the skinny on the dishes. They enjoyed introducing me to the food as much as I enjoyed eating it!

                                                        But why not try the buffet? It's only one meal, you'll probably find something you like, and then you can get more adventurous especially if you have any Indian grocers around.

                                                    2. re: Janet from Richmond
                                                      g
                                                      gordeaux Oct 1, 2009 07:00 AM

                                                      I went to an Indian Restaurant for the first time ever about 5 years ago. I had NO CLUE whatsoever. The proprietor came to our table, and asked for our order, or if we needed any help. I told her I was completely clueless. She asked if I had ever had a curry before. I was so clueless that I said "No, but I love coconut milk!" The proprietor laughed and said, "No, that's THAI food." She then helped us choose the most wonderful meal I think I had ever had at a "first time" joint. It was amazing and eye-opening. Since then, I pick up little tidbits at any place I go to, and ask as many questions as I can about a any item that I've never seen on a menu before. Actually, we should create a glossary of sorts as a lot of restaurants have the same-(ish) dishes, but their menu descriptions are lacking, and sometimes a language barrier prevents us from communicating how the dish is prepared. I'd be honored to start a sep thread for this, as I've been on a never ending Indian food kick ever since I first tried it. My sushi cravings I got under control after a few years, but Indian food is insanely addictive to me.

                                                      1. re: gordeaux
                                                        HillJ Oct 1, 2009 07:43 AM

                                                        but Indian food is insanely addictive to me
                                                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                                        I couldn't agree more gordeaux! Which led to my shopping for ingredients at Indian grocers, stopping at Indian bakeries and traveling to India. It's a vast culture and food is a great lesson planner.

                                                        1. re: HillJ
                                                          g
                                                          gordeaux Oct 1, 2009 09:25 AM

                                                          I too make lots of Indian foods at home now. LOVE going to Indian grocers every chance I get. Especially love the ones who sell homemade treats (samosa, vada, etc)

                                                        2. re: gordeaux
                                                          j
                                                          Janet from Richmond Oct 1, 2009 08:21 AM

                                                          I think this is the way for me to go. Go in and boldly but humbly declare I am here and ready to learn and put myself in the owner's hands.

                                                          The irony is when I was a little girl (whose Mom was not a good cook) a family from India lived next door to us and I was friends with their three daughters. I always thought their house smelled soooooo good and would hint to stay for meals (and usually did) and loved everything their Mom made. I should have asked questions instead of just gobbling down :-)

                                                          I also have never met a curry I didn't love, so I am good to go there :-)

                                                      2. s
                                                        saacnmama Sep 29, 2009 04:51 AM

                                                        With the preferences you list, I think you'd do fine with saag paneer, aka palak paneer. "Paneer" is cheese curd, about as 'unspicy' as one can get. "Saag" and "palak" both mean spinach. Someone else mentioned a similar dish made with peas and curd. Either one can be made spicy hot, spicy flavorful, or absolutely bland, depending on your request.
                                                        You might want to have dal with it. Made of split lentils, dals also cover a wide range of flavors and levels of spice, but they tend to be less fiery on the whole.
                                                        A couple of people have mentioned buffets. Many Indian places have them (there's a board chow somewhere re: why that is) and the food doesn't suffer at all. Our local Indian place gives us the choice of 3 dishes on its buffet, but the place around the corner from us in Fairfax Va had at least 20 different things.
                                                        Enjoy!

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: saacnmama
                                                          g
                                                          gordeaux Sep 29, 2009 06:35 AM

                                                          Totally splitting hairs but I was under the impression that saag was a generic term for greens of any sort (including spinach) while palak means spinach. That's neither here nor there, because for the most part, when you get a saag dish, more than likely, it going to be mostly if not all spinach - probably with a bit of methi.

                                                          Anyway, for the saag aloo, or saag paneer suggestions, just remember, it will depend on who is making it. I live in Chicago, and have access to a myriad of regional Indian restaurants. I love going to as many as I can. I've had saag aloo as mild as no chile, but also, the saag aloo from one of the total dives in my current rotation is FIERY hot complete with bits of dried red chile scattered throughout. Whatever you decide to try, it would be wise to ask multiple times for mild dish with no chile. I'd be sure to ask, and re-ask a few times.

                                                          1. re: saacnmama
                                                            Paulustrious Dec 28, 2009 09:32 AM

                                                            I just had one of those 'duh' moments.

                                                            I was wondering what aka palak paneer was.

                                                            1. re: Paulustrious
                                                              DallasDude Dec 28, 2009 09:57 AM

                                                              Same as saag paneer. Paneer is a fresh pressed Indian cheese, similar in texture to a firm tofu but made with nearly identical ingredients as a mozarella. Saag paneer can be made with a variety of greens (like mustard), including spinach, but palek paneer is always spinach. Also, palek is very runny. Near baby food.

                                                              For saag, think creamed spinach with the small chunks of cheese.

                                                          2. Jetgirly Sep 28, 2009 09:32 PM

                                                            Maybe try some of the rich and creamy dishes? I looove palak paneer (soft cheese in creamy spinach) and dahl makhani (super-creamy lentils). Have it with some saffron basmati rice, naan and mango chutney. And drink with a mango lassi. And then go to the gym.

                                                            1. HillJ Sep 28, 2009 12:57 PM

                                                              Don't forget to try Indian baked goods and sweets as well. For instance, ladoo pastry is a wonderful dessert that comes in many styles.

                                                              1. alanbarnes Sep 28, 2009 11:53 AM

                                                                If you like the smell, you'll like the food. And while most dishes are fairly spicy (as in, they use spices - cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander seed prominent among them), the notion that everything is fiery with chile peppers is a misconception.

                                                                Yes, there are dishes that are traditionally very hot (eg, vindaloo), and there are others that were invented solely to test the palates of testosterone-poisoned westerners (eg, phall). But Moghul cuisine, which is considered by some to be the most sophisticated Indian cookery, tends to be fairly subtle. Be aware, but don't be afraid.

                                                                1. Soop Sep 28, 2009 09:20 AM

                                                                  Saag aloo is a good one. I don't think that's spiced. And sweetmeats.

                                                                  1. Kajikit Sep 28, 2009 05:41 AM

                                                                    If you want to try curry without any heat in it, make your own Thai-style... I loathe chilli, so I always made my own curries and just left the hot out of the mix. The asian grocers should supply you with tamarind, galangal, lemongrass powder etc so you can make a wonderfully aromatic but non-hot green curry.
                                                                    DH won't touch curry with a bargepole, so when we went to an Indian restaurant he enjoyed a basic tandoori chicken and left the curry to me...

                                                                    1. k
                                                                      Kagey Sep 27, 2009 09:03 AM

                                                                      Well done to you for wanting to expand your horizons, but I really believe that once you've given food you don't like a real chance, there's no obligation to keep torturing yourself. It's not a crime not to like something; if we all had the same tastes life would be boring.

                                                                      Having said that, you sound like you're not ready to give up, so I'd suggest sag paneer, the spinach dish with cubes of mild cheese. It's not usually strongly spiced or hot.

                                                                      Good luck!

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Kagey
                                                                        s
                                                                        soupkitten Sep 28, 2009 09:36 PM

                                                                        i agree that saag paneer is a great choice for a gateway dish. think of it as a (waaaaay) more flavorful and delicious version of creamed spinach, with delectable, mild chunks of fresh yogurt cheese. many people who "don't like indian food" really enjoy this dish. trying a little mild korma sauce over lots of basmati rice would be a logical next step.

                                                                        northern indian food (gosh this is a horribly general statement, but perhaps useful to you) is generally mild compared to southern indian food. look for kashmiri or moghul dishes, avoid hyderabdi, etc. order raita and mix with rice and spicier sauces until you achieve an enjoyable (or at least tolerable) flavor/heat profile. some authentic indian restaurants specialize in thali meals-- you get many various small dishes, relishes, and pickles (you will certainly probably want to skip indian pickles)-- kind of, ummm. . . like an indian bento box? does that make sense? anyway--if you get a thali meal, you and a friend can split it and try a variety of small tastes. i really hope this works out for you & you can develop a love for indian cuisine, or at least find one or two dishes you can enjoy with your friends at indian restaurants. good luck.

                                                                      2. MikeG Sep 26, 2009 04:26 PM

                                                                        My mother is similarly hypersensitive and I think unfortunately, your only choice is to make it yourself and "suffer" the inauthenticity of leaving out what you can't deal with. Mom can tell if there's a dash of Tabasco in a whole dish, whereas I wouldn't notice that little if I licked it off my fingers. She can't deal with more than a little horseradish, but has no problem with black pepper unless she does something like bite into a whole peppercorn in a dish.

                                                                        I'm sure there must be the occasional hypersensitive South Asian, too, but there is a basic level of heat that's taken for granted that's all but certainly going to be unpleasant for you. Wait staff in restaurants seem rarely to even grasp the concept of "zero heat" and even well-meant advice is unlikely to work out well. Their concept of "mild" will be way past your tolerance and it will be hard to find meal-type dishes that have zero chili and truly minimal spicing in general.

                                                                        If you try cooking it yourself, stay away from the commercial spice mixtures and pastes, and most commercial chutneys and especially the pickles! The last would likely blow your head off, and even spice mixes you wouldn't expect to contain chile - let alone black pepper - usually do.

                                                                        1. greygarious Sep 26, 2009 03:38 PM

                                                                          I dislike more than the tiniest bit of capsaicin, but like the smolder in milder Indian dishes, like kormas, biryanis, saags, and chicken tikka masala. It comes from black pepper, ginger, and other spices. Chicken Tikka Masala is an English creation, designed to appeal to a populace not raised on highly spiced food - it's the kiddie pool of Indian food, as Pad Thai is for Thai food. I am not ashamed to say I love both. A sweet or mango lassi - think yogurt smoothie, or raita (cucumber/yogurt) close at hand will come to your rescue if you are in danger of pepper overdose!

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: greygarious
                                                                            thew Sep 29, 2009 09:10 AM

                                                                            side note:
                                                                            pad thai is not a dish created for foreigners and kiddies. it is a thai dish created for thai people and enjoyed by them all over the country. I've heard that it was invented during war induced rice shortages, but don't know if that is true or not.

                                                                            1. re: thew
                                                                              greygarious Sep 29, 2009 09:43 AM

                                                                              I never said Pad Thai was inauthentic, just that it is analogous to CTM in that it's often an "entry level" dish that serves as an introduction to the cuisine.

                                                                              1. re: greygarious
                                                                                thew Sep 29, 2009 08:20 PM

                                                                                fair enough - just wanted to be clear

                                                                          2. Emmmily Sep 26, 2009 03:18 PM

                                                                            Why not try cooking some yourself, so you know exactly what's going into it? October's COTM is indian, so you'll have some great guidance here if you decide to try it.

                                                                            1. q
                                                                              Querencia Sep 26, 2009 02:37 PM

                                                                              Try tandoori chicken and plain rice. The chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices but in my experience it isn't spicy to eat the way the curries are. Also, many Indian buffets have lettuce, tomato, cucumber etc as a relish and some cut-up fruit, melon etc on the dessert end. If you live near an Indian neighborhood you can also take advantage of the produce markets and buy lovely mangos and other good things. If you have an Indian supermarket, look for the ice creams and kulfis (unchurned ice cream) in flavors like rose, cashew, mango, and pistachio---also basmati rice at a good price and big bags of whole cloves that you can use to make hot spiced cider or baked ham.

                                                                              1. s
                                                                                smartie Sep 26, 2009 02:05 PM

                                                                                there are also passandas (lamb is nice), kashmiri chicken (mild with fruit), onion bhajis can be flavourful and often not spicy, ask for a mild dhaal, anthing with yoghurt, a mango lhassi drink (delightful), pillau rice (no spice or heat), chicken korma, and a mild chicken tikka masala. Maybe go with friends so that you can taste a lot of different dishes and find ones you like. Tell the waiter it's your first time and you want mild, mild, mild.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: smartie
                                                                                  c
                                                                                  caliking Sep 26, 2009 02:26 PM

                                                                                  Indian food is "spicy" at many levels. Cayenne/chili powder is but one aspect. Before you take the plunge, you should check whether you can handle cumin and coriander (ie. the seed, not to be confused with the cilantro, the leaf). Many vegetarian options may be palatable for you, as veg dishes are often simple but flavorful since many folks in India are vegetarians and don't eat certain ingredients (like onion, ginger, garlic). Most meat items will be spicy if made right (korma, biryani, rogan josh, pasanda, kababs, tikka, etc).

                                                                                  Sadly, tandoori chicken at many places means it was doused in red food color, but on the other hand it may be just right for you. Chicken tikka masala if made mild may be okay as it usually has alot of tomato and cream. Be careful with chaat - make sure there is no chili powder, they often include cumin/coriander, and ask for any sauce/chutney on the side (chaat is meant o be a savory spicy snack).

                                                                                  Have you tried Persian/Middle Eastern food? The basic foods often appeal to folks who dig Indian food (kababs, pilafs, etc), but the "spiciness" is not as 'in your face'. Maybe it could be a stepping stone in your culinary journey?

                                                                                  I would hold off on plans to go to India for now :) - you would not be able to eat much besides an American breakfast and "continental" food.

                                                                                2. t
                                                                                  thursday Sep 26, 2009 01:56 PM

                                                                                  Thanks for all the replies!

                                                                                  I love flavorful food made with herbs, etc. (rosemary, cinnamon and the like) and garlic, onions, even horseradish and wasabi in small doses I can handle, just not peppery stuff.

                                                                                  But this is how ignorant I am - I didn't even really know "curries" were a kind of dish. The only curry I know is curry powder that my mom used to put in casseroles...so I guess I haven't ever tried curries!

                                                                                  I've avoided trying Indian food my whole life because of my inability to eat anything that burns my tongue, but I'd like to try it - friends love it and it keeps me from going out with them, and I'd really like to go to India some day and would like to be able to eat SOMETHING while I'm there. As my Little India excursion gets closer I'll search the L.A. boards, but I'm just looking for rec's now in general, in case I feel like experimenting...

                                                                                  Thanks, 'hounds!

                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: thursday
                                                                                    h
                                                                                    Harters Sep 26, 2009 02:14 PM

                                                                                    The word "curry" is anglicised from the Tamil "kari" - meaning sauce or gravy. It's how we in the West tend to think of food from the sub-continent - but you'll find there are national variations in cusine between Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - and regional variations within that. Many dishes are not swimming in sauce.

                                                                                    As with any immigrant cuisine, you'll no doubt find that it has adapted to local tastes - so a dish where you are may not taste the same as the same dish where I am.

                                                                                    1. re: thursday
                                                                                      g
                                                                                      gordeaux Sep 26, 2009 03:28 PM

                                                                                      As has been stated, curry just means "sauce." Curry powders like the "McCormick" brands you can buy at large grocery stores next to chili powder and garlic salt have NOTHING to do with Indian food. That dirty/smoggy flavor will not be found in any type of food in any self respecting Indian restaurant. That stuff is just gross.

                                                                                      1. re: gordeaux
                                                                                        Kitchen Imp Oct 9, 2009 09:17 PM

                                                                                        That's not entirely true. Generally "curry powder" is made of a combination of spices often found in Indian food (coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, etc). The wikipedia page on curry powder has a good explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curry_po...

                                                                                    2. soypower Sep 26, 2009 12:29 PM

                                                                                      Perhaps you should try one of the many indian lunch buffets to see what you can handle? Most buffet dishes are spiced pretty mildly, and you could try a number of things without spending too much money. Off the top of my head, I would think you could eat naan (as you mentioned), dosas, raita, saffron rice (pulao) and possibly tandoor chicken/beef/lamb.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: soypower
                                                                                        a
                                                                                        Anne Sep 26, 2009 12:33 PM

                                                                                        Excellent idea, soypower!

                                                                                        1. re: Anne
                                                                                          h
                                                                                          HotHead Sep 26, 2009 01:05 PM

                                                                                          I agree with soypower, and the recommendations they gave. Also saying Indian food is not for you, to me, is like saying American food is not for you. It is varied. Just as food in America (specifically United States) is varied from north to south, and east to west, so is Indian food.

                                                                                          Also try matar paneer, Harters mentioned kormas this is a good choice too. I have not found this too spicy. I concur tandoori chicken is a fairly safe choice too, they pretty much keep it mild. I think if you find a reputable buffet somewhere, you will find something to eat. Most Indian restaurants try to have spice levels for everyone.

                                                                                          Finally you say you have not had good curry....my question is what kind of curry have you had? That also is variable from cuisine to cuisine. Thai curry is different from a Mid-East or even African curry. Good luck, and enjoy!

                                                                                      2. a
                                                                                        Anne Sep 26, 2009 12:27 PM

                                                                                        As the others have pointed out, there is a big difference between "spicy" and "hot". Indian food uses MANY spices---a typical Indian dish will use cumin, coriander, ginger, and garlic. It may also have cardamom, turmeric, safron, fennel, fenugreek, cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices. You probably want to avoid dishes with chilies (red or green) and black pepper.
                                                                                        "Curry" actually menas many things. There are wet curries (think consistancy of gumbo), and dry curries (just moist enough to absorb the spices). Curry powder is a COMBINATION of spices ( like "Italian seasoning") that may or may not contain chilies or black pepper.
                                                                                        I find most NORTHERN Indian dishes to be less hot than those from the south. You may even want to start with Pakistani food. Look for dishes with cream or nut (usually cashew) bases.
                                                                                        The other posters offer some good starting points---vegetable briyani and/or tandoori chicken. If you find you like the tandoori chicken, then try chicken tikka masala or butter chicken. If you like the briyani, move on to the chicken or lamb versions. Most of the breads and rice dishes aren't hot, either. Just in case, always get a yogurt-based raita to go with---it cools things down in a hurry. Under no circumstances should you try Indian pickles, though!!!
                                                                                        When in doubt, ASK at the restaurant. Most Indians are eager to share their native food with others and understand that many cannot tolerate hot food.
                                                                                        I encourage you to experiment with this. I LOVE Indian food now---and I grew up in a Polish/Irish household!

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: Anne
                                                                                          m
                                                                                          mlgb Sep 26, 2009 12:50 PM

                                                                                          Since OP is in Los Angeles it's probably best to ask on the Los Angeles board to avoid generalizations based on other places.

                                                                                          Little India (Artesia) may be different than other parts of the country, in terms of which ones serve the hotter dishes.

                                                                                          You will definitely find mild dishes at Woodland's lunchtime buffet, and it includes a choice of Dosas, ask for the least spicy one. All for the grand price of $7.95. (Tuesday thru Friday). Most of the heat is in the sambars and chutneys, which you can avoid.

                                                                                          So you will be able to sample many more things than if you are ordering off the menu.

                                                                                        2. m
                                                                                          mlgb Sep 26, 2009 12:08 PM

                                                                                          Try one of the South Indian buffets such as Woodlands in Artesia. Ask them to point out which items are not spicy. (In general this restaurant and similar ones don't use a lot of heat).

                                                                                          It's the Punjabi/English/Pakistani style restaurants which cater to the Vindaloo set. They are not that prevalent in Little India.

                                                                                          1. m
                                                                                            mojoeater Sep 26, 2009 11:57 AM

                                                                                            Most Indian restaurants can adjust the spice according to personal tastes. If you ask for very mild, they will accommodate. You could start with mild Tandoori Chicken, which is baked in a clay oven and doesn't come sauced.

                                                                                            If you simply do not like strong flavors, this might not be the right cuisine for you. Indian food incorporates many seasonings. Is your aversion just to peppers or to anything overly flavorful? How are you with things like garlic and rosemary, or other strong tasting herbs? Have you ever had tumeric or saffron?

                                                                                            1. b
                                                                                              BustedFlush Sep 26, 2009 11:39 AM

                                                                                              Sorry, but given the constraints you have described, I don't think Indian is going to be your bag.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: BustedFlush
                                                                                                h
                                                                                                Humbucker Sep 26, 2009 11:45 AM

                                                                                                I concur. If you find black pepper a challenge, then eating Indian cuisine is going to be like crossing a minefield.

                                                                                              2. h
                                                                                                Harters Sep 26, 2009 11:39 AM

                                                                                                Maybe it's a just a cuisine you should pass on., Why feel under pressure to enjoy something that you don't really want to enjoy? There's no rule that says you have to like everything.

                                                                                                When you say "spicy",do you mean "spicy" or do you mean "hot"? The food from the sub-continent uses a lot of spices - it's where many of them grow. Almost impossible to avoid such a rich use of spices and flavourings. Presumably by "curry" you mean dishes with a lot of sauce?

                                                                                                However, if you're determined to try, then you might want ot start with a biryani. This is a dry dish - basically rice with meat of veg in it. It is not usually very challenging to eat and is usually served with a sauce separately so you can taste this if you wish. If made well, it is one of the most exquisite things to eat from that part of the world; made badly it's just rice and stuff.

                                                                                                If you want to try a wetter dish, but one that's mild then look out for things like kormas which use a lot of cream

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: Harters
                                                                                                  vorpal Sep 26, 2009 01:17 PM

                                                                                                  I second korma. I'd be hesitant to recommend biryani precisely because so many places do it disastrously badly to the point where it's just rice and meat that's not very good.

                                                                                                2. SaltyRaisins Sep 26, 2009 11:39 AM

                                                                                                  Fortunately for you, "Indian Food" is a major catch-all category that includes whole cuisines that you'd find totally acceptable to your sensitive palate. For a start, you could try a chaat or snacks restaurant that isn't entirely curry or Vindaloo-based: idli sambar is a dish of steamed rice and lentil-flour cakes that are eaten for breakfast in Southern India (but great anytime) and are accompanied by sauces or chutneys that are often not spicy. Channa, or stewed chickpeas, are great with some bread, and can be made without chili. Just avoid masala since it most always contains red-pepper and be sure to tell the person at the counter about your chili-hatred: Indian chefs are accustomed to dietary restrictions in a way that a Chinese or even an Italian chef would have trouble accepting.

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