What Defines a good Indian Buffet for a Chowhound?
The typical sprawl is
- saag paneer
- curry chicken
- tandoori chicken
- butter chicken
- tikka masala
- a dish made with chick peas
- either really good naan that's in short supply, or plenty of bad naan.
- doughnuts and/or rose water desserts
thanks in advance,
In addition to your list, for a great Indian buffet, I'd add
- more than a half dozen chutneys (including a couple that are very hot)
- lamb curry, korma, or vindalu, etc
- goat curry
- hot fresh naan replenished every 10 minutes or less, or, preferably, not even on the buffet, but brought to your table as it comes out of the tandoor
Are you referring to content or execution?
A great buffet should have all dishes well prepared and presented. No poor cooking or substandard spicing. Hot and fresh naan or other breads.
About content: the two posters above seem to only like North Indian / Punjabi style buffets. Those are excellent too, but I like variety, and would seek out different restaurants with other regional foci (e.g. South Indian buffet, Gujarati, etc).
A resto in our area has a great South Indian buffet: dosais brought out fresh for the diners, and on the hot table:
chutneys, sambar, aviyal, poriyal, koormas, other dishes sometimes, eg special occasion dishes.
I prefer restaurants that specialize (i.e. don't combine different regions of food and do them poorly) and do one thing well.
To me it is not only the region of the spread (as mentioned above, the dishes in the prompt are N. Indian/Mughlai, Punjabi), but the quality of the food. Everything should be well seasoned and well made. No lumpy gloopy glop. Far too many Indian buffets just taste like flavorless mush to me. The seekh kababs are hard and have food coloring, the dishes are all too creamy and under seasoned. Yuck. A good buffet has well cooked food, period.
I don't generally like buffets of any kind, but I think many Indian dishes are very suitable for buffet style serving because they can sit around for a long time and the taste develops more. It doesn't have to be piping hot fresh for many Indian items. So one can often find good Indian buffet items as opposed to buffets of other cuisines.
The best buffets I have been to have all of the dishes that can sit around on the buffet table sitting, but the best-fresh items served fresh. The naan, roti, or in some cases baati (for Rajasthani buffet/thali) or some Gujarati breads, or dosa (a S. Indian buffet) or whatever bread is served fresh to the table. This makes a huge difference then picking up old stiff naans at the buffet table. Also, some places do a buffet/thaali combo where you pick up some foods, but they serve some things to you.
Also, the fried items like fried fish or samosa or pakora are done in small quantities and frequently replaced so you never get an old one. Same with fresh barbacued/tandoori meats.
I love a buffet place that does a varied menu, even if it is varied by day of the week only. So you get to try different things everytime you come. Also, for N.Indian, Punjabi,-Pakistani, I love it when they have a chaat and salads table, too.
If it is a regional buffet, I love it when they have extra special touches like a special drink included. Some Gujarati and Rajasthani buffets have special chutneys and also buttermilk or smoked buttermilk. Another place I go has excellent naans served fresh to you while you eat, both roghni and qandahaari, none of that stiff cracker white flour stuff. It really makes you feel like you are having something different and interesting, and you go backto the resto again for those signature things.
I think strategic placing of the food is important. There is this well known buffet place near to me which serves pretty good food and good naans, but they keep the naan basket next to the fish fry. The naans taste like fish. I have mentioned this to them, but they never change it.
I never like buffet gulab jamun. It is always milk powder or boxed mix stuff. You have to get real good gulab jaman at a sweet shop, really. Sometimes they have okay jalebis. But I prefer when they don't do those milk powder jaman and instead do home cooked type sweets like kheer or shaahi tukray. That kind of stuff always comes out better in the buffet context. The N. Indian-Pak buffet industry should leave the gulab jamans to the halwais.
It seems to be a standard thing around these parts (Marin County) for lunch to be an AYCE buffet for $8 - $9. At those prices you don't get high end stuff -- you see lots of rice and gloopy curried whatever and several chicken options, but you're lucky to see any lamb, and never any shrimp.
My favorite things from these lunch buffets are saag in any form - if they have it - and battered deep fried vegetable tidbits of one sort or another (cauliflower is especially good.) One local buffet has a soft-serve mango ice cream which I like a lot.
Also, I like to see them come around with nice fresh hot bread for our scooping pleasure.
That typical sprawl sounds like a whole lotta chicken. Luckily, I have a few decent standby Indian Buffet joints near me. They usually only offer the buffet for lunch. I would consider more varied meat options "good:"
Chicken Makhani (butter chicken)
A non dairy chicken dish (chili chicken, or chicken kerahi, perhaps)
A lamb dish (rogan josh, vindaloo, kerahi)
A beef nihari
A dal dish
rotating fried things / tandoor offerings
Hot buttered naan
I would much more enjoy the buffets that would actually use a decent amt of chile heat in the dishes they label as "hot." I understand that they have to dumb the food down for many ppl, but it would be nice to actually get that bite of heat from dishes that are typically served kind of spicy, and that the restaurant labels as (hot/spicey) on their buffet. Also, as long as the dishes are prepared with pride, and not just slopped out. I'd rather have
fewer dishes of decently prepared stuff than a sprawling buffet full of garbage.
Gernally, I don't usually rate buffet meals too highly. But I think sub-continent ones can be divided into two.
First there is the exclusively buffet all-you-can-eat sort of place. These are almost universally vile, catering to the lowest common denominator. I know of only one place in our metropolitian area that is worthy of me spending money. And, as they are catering to a limited budget, dishes are either vegetarian or chicken. The key to the success of this place (and it is very successful) is freshness. The chefs work on view immediately behind the serving area and are constantly replenishing the dishes.
The second type of buffet is the Sunday lunchtime/afternoon buffet that quite a number of restaurants offer. Again, catering to a budget means lots of chicken and vegetarian but a good sign for me is a dish (or dishes) of something other than this (and I'm not really fussed what it is). Have to say I rarely eat these buffets as a large lunch on Sunday isnt our thing.
Inevitably in our part of the world, food is generically Punjabi/North Indian (although the vast majority of places are owned by people of Bangladeshi heritage)