A Short Guide to Indian Food
(by a frequent patron of Ravi's)
Trying a new cuisine can be intimidating for those who are less adventurous in their choices of food. Hopefully this short guide will aid in the decision making needed for a delicious start into the wonderful world of Indian cuisine.
Most Indian restaurants in America serve foods from the northern sections of India, which feature clay oven baked chicken, creamy vegetable or meat curries, and baked breads. Sometimes you will find a restaurant that serves food from the southern portion of India. This food is more spicy and less cream based, relying more on lentils and rice (many South Indians are strict vegetarians).
Meals are usually served in a silver tray with little side dishes included (called a Thali). If you're a first timer and want to try a few other items besides your main dish, this is the best way to go. You can also order just the main dish with either rice or a bread. An important thing to remember is that you can ask for any dish to be mild, medium, or hot. So you can try all the flavors of India, even if you are not a fan of the spicy.
If you prefer rich and creamy sauces that are on the mild side, try a Korma or Makhani curry. If you still like rich and creamy, but prefer more spices, try a Masala, Saag or Paneer curry. If you like hot and spicy sauces, a Vindaloo is your best bet. If you prefer your meat prepared in a dry style, try a Tandoori baked meat or a Tikka.
Biryani is a casserole style dish, with vegetables or meat cooked with basmati rice and served with a curry on the side.
For appetizers, most items are deep fried and served with a dipping sauce. It is rare that any of these items will be spicy in a mainstream Indian restaurant.
Soups and salads are available as starters if preferred, but most Indians enjoy these items with the main meal as accents. Sambar is a thin lentil soup used for dipping or for breakfast fare. Rasam is a pepper soup which can be very spicy. Salads usually consist of cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, either chopped or sliced. You can also get your salad in a yogurt (raita), which is used to temper the heat of some dishes.
The bread that most people are familiar with is Naan, which is a wheat bread that is cooked in a clay oven, rendering it moist and fluffy. This bread is best dipped into the curry of your choice or wrapped around some tandoori meat. Pooris and parathas are wheat based and are usually fried. You can usually get most of these breads stuffed with spices or meat if offered. Dosas are lentil based and are also fried, but these are more in line with a snack style bread, usually served with a few dipping sauces.
Make sure and try the Indian style coffee or tea if offered. Brewed with milk and with added spices (such as cardamom and cloves), these hot drinks are a very tasty alternative to everyday coffee and tea. Lassi is also a fun yogurt drink that often comes in different flavors. If you aren't sure if you're going to be able to handle the spices, get this drink to cool your mouth.
Here are a few recommended menus:
Starters - samosas or papadums
Main course - Tandoori chicken, plain dal, or a Korma curry, rice, naan
Starters - pakodas or sambar soup
Main course - Chicken Tikka Masala or a Paneer or Saag curry, rice, garlic naan
Starters - rasam or Indian style salad
Main course - Vindaloo curry or Chicken Tikka, rice, garlic naan
Snacks or lunch
Masala dosa or Idli Sambar (or both)
Plain dal with rice or paratha