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Mar 15, 2014 08:23 AM

Indian Restaurants: UK vs. US

For those lucky souls who have eaten in Indian restaurants both in the US and the UK, what differences--if any--have you noticed between the restaurants in the two countries?

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  1. By the by, the majority of "Indian" restaurants in the UK are actually Bangladeshi owned. What's the general ownership situation in America? I'll be interested to see if possible different ethnicity has a bearing on food differences.

    As a further aside, that may prove to be interesting, I can't recall seeing an Indian restaurant on trips to the eastern side of the pond, whilst here pretty much every small community will have one. FWIW, the village where I live (population about 5k) had three Indian restaurants (and one Italian) together with another three Indian takeaways (and two Chinese, two kebab/pizza and one fish & chips). By the by, none of the three are any good to my mind and its some years since I've eaten at any.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      Yes, outside of a few places with good-sized Indian immigrant communities (NYC, New Jersey) Indian restaurants are nowhere near as common in the US. Now Canada as a former Commonwealth nation has a much larger Indian immigrant population and thus more Indian restaurants. The "Indian takeaway" is not common here either. Most Indian restaurants in the US are sit-down restaurants.

      1. re: Harters

        In my city of 230K people, there are two Indian restaurants. The owner of one--and, I think, the better of the two--is from Hyderabad, and I gather there are quite a few Hyderabadis in this college town. The owner of the other is a Sikh, but I'm uncertain from whence he hails. More generally, my guess is that Indian restaurants in the US tend to be owned by Indians.

        1. re: Harters

          I'm a lifelong New Yorker who also has been to London dozens of times. For a long time the gap was extremely large. (1980s through the 1990s.) NY Indian restaurants were barely adequate. Occasionally a decent one would open and you'd grab on to it like a drowning man would clutch on to a life preserver.

          On the positive side things have gotten a lot better in the last 10 years in NY. Part of that is based on demographics. From Wikipedia -

          "The New York City Metropolitan Area is home to approximately 600,000 Indian Americans, representing the largest Asian Indian population in the Western Hemisphere."

          Income levels are rising so these folks can afford to spend a reasonable amount on dinner. The result has been that the number and quality of Indian restaurants has really increased.

          In absolute terms the Indian restaurants in London are still better but the gap has started to narrow. The better Indian places here now match the quality of a good London neighborhood place. The top London restaurants still blow the NY places out of the water but the overall quality level continues to rise.

          If you were traveling to NY I'd never recommend that you go out of your way to eat at an Indian place. You've got better at home. But if you had a craving I could send you to some places that are respectable. That's progress.

          1. re: Bob Martinez

            We figured we'd start in London with the usual over the top names such as Tamarind and Benares. The flavors are so much clearer and we agree that there isn't that style or level anywhere we've been back home. (And, no surprise, the London prices so much higher.)

        2. Where to begin? First, a lot depends on where in the USA you are. You pretty much need to be in a fair sized city so that you get multiple restos competing. Often, it's the shabbiest place serves way better food than the fancy looking place. (Indika in Houston is an exception), In the US you are very unlikely to get a curry that will burn off the roof of your mouth unless you specifically request it to be so. Many Indian places in the US seem to rely heavily on all you can eat buffet at lunch and in those buffets chicken is the predominant meat. Ordering a la carte in the US items like pappadums (and even chutney sometimes) are extra. In a city like Houston or Dallas there is a large Asian community and you can find many regional areas represented in the ownership and also menus.

          2 Replies
          1. re: kagemusha49

            Actually, I don't recall any Indian restaurant in the US where the pappadums--always accompanied by mint and tamarind chutneys--were not gratis.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Obviously we have dined at different places. Sometimes you get one free.

          2. It's hard to find a fair Indian restaurant in the US, let alone a good one. Wretched buffets are the best most of us ever see.

            Even a mediocre Indian restaurant in the UK will be better than 90% of our Indian restaurants.

            6 Replies
            1. re: knucklesandwich

              I refuse to eat buffets. If there's a buffet on for lunch, I'll request the menu and order from it.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                Some only offer the buffet for lunch. One near me has very good veggie sides on the lunch buffet, but the only 3 meat options are all chicken. It's still good for 10 bucks. A couple friends who had dinner there were disappointed, but that's hearsay so I won't name it.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Well, apparently, I've been double lucky. Have yet to strike the Indian joint that offered the buffet only at lunch.

                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    Forgive me for not communicating well. The Indian resto I spoke of is all buffet for lunch, all menu for dinner. I plan to do dinner for the lamb vindaloo, but the lunch buffet for 10 bucks was satisfying.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      You communicated just fine. Perhaps I did not. What I was trying to say is that I have not yet patronized an Indian restaurant that served ONLY the buffet during lunch. If I wanted to, I've always been allowed to order off of the menu.

                2. re: Perilagu Khan

                  I hate buffets too! I think the food tastes more bland. Much prefer ordering off the menu.

              2. Another difference - balti is now common in the UK - very rare in the US

                5 Replies
                1. re: kagemusha49

                  Before your post I had never even heard of balti. Just read the Wikipedia article on the stuff. Looks like an opportunity here for an enterprising Indian restauranteur in the States. I'd sure plunk down coin for it.

                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    Penzey's sells a Balti spice blend, a sure sign that SOMEONE in Middle America is aware of Balti cuisine.


                  2. re: kagemusha49

                    Balti is generally agreed to be a British invention - developed by high street curry houses in one area of Birmingham.

                    Indeed, you do see it now on menus in curry houses throughout the country. And, no, it doesnt taste any different from their usual fare and, indeed, outside of Birmingam's "Balti Triangle" it isnt usually even served in a balti (the dish gets its name from the bowl, rather than a style of cooking).

                    1. re: Harters

                      I thought it was because the chefs came from Baltistan - a hilly area just north of The Kingdom of Moseley. The best are from The Hill of Sparks and The Ladies Pool... ;-)

                      1. re: PhilD

                        Seems as though the balti pan comes from Baltistan - so we're probably both right.

                        Authentic, tradtional Birmingham cuisine, eh?

                  3. I've spent a fair amount of time in Britain and I've found that British Indian tends to be sweeter (thanks to the infamous brit balti dishes) whereas American Indian tends to be milder, although both British and American Indian are still milder than the typical Indian food in India.

                    In Dubai where I now live, there are "British Indian" restaurants that are hugely popular with the British expat community. The food from there is definitely sweeter than what I've found in American Indian restaurants and much, much sweeter than anything in India (save the cloyingly sweet Indian desserts) or the bulk of the Dubai Indian restaurants catering to the Indian expatriate community.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Roland Parker

                      Good observation. It had occurred to me that--save dessert--the Indian food I make and have eaten in the US is notable for the lack of sweetness. That is probably one reason I love it so much. And if Brit-Indian is fairly sweet, I might not take to it.

                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                          I've never noticed that our curries are in any way sweet. Perhaps I just order different dishes from Roland, when he was eating here.

                          1. re: Harters

                            It may also be that you've developed a taste for sweet that means it's presence does not register.
                            The sweetness of food in the UK can be overpowering at times, especially for those not accustomed to it.

                            1. re: Lizard

                              Possible but unlikely. I was raised during a time when sugar was still rationed, in the aftermath of WW2 and I would always say that I don't have a sweet tooth. It's a subject I'm always conscious of as I'm diabetic.

                              Interesting comment about sweetness in British food. It's a comment my partner & I always make about American food - so much so that we rarely order dessert when in America.

                              That's not to say that sweet does not figure in British food. Of course, it does. And, in the context of this thread, accompanying chutney is indeed often very sweet (particularly in not very good Indian restaurants). I also make chutney at home as a long term preserve - it's very dependent on the preservative nature of both sugar and vinegar. But it would be most unusual to see sugar, or other sweetening agents, in a curry recipe - so unusual that I cannot recall ever seeing it. In a wider context, we have a very long tradition of making dessert pies and, as common in Northern Europe, we often traditionally serve a fruit sauce with meat - say, apple sauce with roast pork.

                              1. re: Harters

                                FWIW, the Khantessa, who has a bit of an anti-sweet tooth, studiously avoids American Chinese food because she considers it too sweet.

                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                  Ah, something of a similar thing here - at least with "sweet & sour" dishes. Fine if I go into Chinatown but an almost complete lack of "sour" if I go to either of the takeaways in the village.

                            2. re: Harters

                              I agree with Harter's i don't find UK Indian food to be sweet. I have eaten a lot of curry - as a student I lived in the Balti Triangle in Birmingham before Balti was invented and have since eaten curry around the world and UK curries are similar to many others.

                              Overall I find US food to be very sweet, including the bread, so I would have thought I would have noticed.