A Beginners Guide to Indian Cuisine
There are Indian restaurants located all across the country and you have been dying to try one. However, you are a bit intimidated by ordering food that you are not familiar with. Even if you have tried an Indian restaurant before, chances are you would love to learn more about some of the other dishes that you saw on the menu. If this is the case, this is the guide for you. Here is a list of some of the most popular Indian dishes that you will likely find in any Indian restaurant that you choose to visit.
Learning the Language
In order to master the menu of an Indian restaurant, it is a good idea to learn a bit of the language. Urdu and Hindi are the languages where most terms on an Indian menu will come from. Once you learn a few words you will be able to easily navigate the menu. Here are some terms you should know:
- Masala: spice mixture that typically include cloves, nutmeg, pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon.
- Saag: spinach and greens with spices
- Paneer: fresh cheese
- Aloo: potato
- Chana: chickpeas
- Tikka: often marinated meat
- Murgh: chicken
- Curry: can be a variety of dishes, but typically has vegetables, meat, seafood, or a combination of them in a sauce
- Tandoor: a deep oven used to cook meats and breads
Now that you know some of the common terms, let’s take a look at some of the dishes you will find on the menu.
Biryani is popular throughout India and is made of long grain rice, meat/vegetables, and spices.
Butter chicken was invented during the 1970s in Delhi. It consists of chunks of chicken that are marinated in a spice mixture and yogurt. The chicken is then roasted in the tandoor and then served with a rich sauce that has a tomato base. The sauce includes butter and a lot of other spices.
Samosa is popular throughout South Asia and is a “pocket” food. The pastry is either fried or baked and filled with vegetables. Typically, these triangular shaped pockets are filled with peas, potatoes, and onions. A samosa will most often not be spicy, but they can be so you will want to ask your server.
Raita and chutney are often served with samosas as a dipping sauce. There are typically two types of chutney, red and green. The red chutney is tamarind and is a combination of sweet and sour. The green is often coriander or mint.
Raita is a yogurt based sauce that has a blend of spices such as cumin, cilantro, mint, and other types of herbs. Raita is a great sauce to use to cool off some of the spicier dishes.
Naan is a fluffy piece of bread that everybody loves. Naan can be dipped in pretty much anything from chutney to the sauce from your butter chicken. Naan is a bread that is very versatile and is meant to be eaten throughout the meal.
If you love fried veggies you are likely going to enjoy pakora. Pakora may have chicken inside, but most often it is fried vegetables. Most often pakora will consist of potatoes, onions, eggplant, cauliflower, and spinach.
Saag paneer is similar to creamed spinach. The dish is made up of a blend of all types of greens including spinach and broccoli and cubes of soft cheese bubbling throughout. This dish is often found on buffets and on most Indian menus.
As you learned above, a tandoor is an oven. Tandoori chicken is simply roasted chicken that is covered in several spices. The spice blend used for tandoori chicken include cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika, and chili powder. These spices provide the chicken with the bright orange color. Typically this dish is quite savory with a hint of smokiness.
This dish is similar to a chili, but instead of beef chickpeas are used. The beans are stewed in a blend of onions, tomatoes, and spices. The spices include a garam masala, which is a curry blend.
Chicken korma is a creamy stew like concoction. The chicken is braised in a sauce that is made with yogurt, coconut milk, butter, and some spices. The sauce is somewhat sweet with a slight nutty flavor. Typically there are vegetables added to the sauce as well.
Kheer and Gulab Jamun
Kheer is a simple rice pudding that can be jazzed up with cardamom pods, raisins, or pistachios.
Gulab jamun is similar to a donut hole. The balls of dough are fried and then coated with simple syrup. The sweet syrup will ooze out of the hole with each bite.
This is a simple guide to some of the more common foods found in many Indian restaurants. Of course, there are many more dishes available and it is well worth stepping out of your comfort zone in order to enjoy them all.