Are you feeling adventurous? Or is it just getting too embarrassing that you’re the only one of your friends who doesn’t know the difference between a samosa or tikki? Whichever it is, if you’re one of those fussy eaters who never wants to try something new if you don’t know what it tastes like, this is the Guide to Indian Cuisine you need!
As someone who has never tried Indian food you may be intimidated, but fear not! This guide will help prepare you for a wonderful experience.
Start With a Movie
To get you in the groove, let’s begin with a list of a few great films about Indian cuisine and spices.
Take your pick — there are many choices on Netflix or Amazon or wherever you find your entertainment. There are even some Bollywood films made for Indian audiences that are fun. You may have seen some of these great movies.
If not, or for a reminder, check out “The Hundred-Foot Journey” or “Today’s Special” or even “Mistress of Spices.” The films will help get you in the mood for your journey into the soul of India.
Yes, as Akbar the taxi driver/chef of “Today’s Special” says, “Food is the soul of India.” And he should know. He claims he can “make a murgh masala that will haunt you like a lost love.”
Akbar waxes poetic as he moves around the kitchen: “The masala is the symphony and the oil is the orchestra!” Perhaps the best line of all is “Cumin is a saucy wench!”
As we move past the movies to the menus, you’ll see a lot of masalas. The word refers to a blend of spices with onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, but the blend is more magic than formula. Murgh Masala is a spicy chicken dish, but the flavor profile is so much more than that.
Watch one or more of films, and you’ll have an idea of the basic role spice plays in Indian cooking. Imagine the fragrance of a medley of exotic ingredients, mixed with fresh, top quality rice, vegetables, and meat (if you want).
Embrace the passion of the food, imagine the proverbial “far away places with strange sounding names” and you’ll be on your way to a great first experience at an Indian restaurant.
The Menu, Please
So, let’s move on to the menu. What can you expect when you visit an Indian restaurant? There are variations, but also some staples you can expect to find.
One thing that’s important to know is that preparation of Indian food is not quick. A restaurant will likely have streamlined preparation to some degree, but expect to spend some time. And be glad you don’t have to do the dishes! Your food will be lovingly handcrafted and come in courses, with lots of little trays and bowls filled with an array of flavorful sauces.
Many Indian appetizers and snacks are potato-based. Flavored with different spices, they are tasty. But their role in the meal is to stimulate your appetite rather than fill you up. Plan to enjoy an appetizer course and order a sampling of as many as you think you can manage.
Two favorites are Samosas and Potato Spheres (with various accompaniments).
Potato Spheres — Crispy little balls (spheres) made of potato. The crunch of the tasty treat goes well with chutney or a yogurt-based dip. Make sure to try our Potato Spheres and Spinach Chaat appetizer, it’s absolutely scrumptious.
Samosas — These will likely remind you of little pastry pockets from other cuisines. They are filled with a variety of delicious ingredients. We offer Potatoes and Peas Samosas, as well as Lamb Samosas appetizers.
indian Entrees & Choices
Many Indian restaurants serve dinner family-style. Or individuals may order different entrees and share. The very best experience is to have a variety of dishes, so hopefully you won’t be dining alone and can try some of these favorite menu items.
Meat or meatless is a simple choice at an Indian restaurant. Lamb, chicken or seafood are protein options, but many dishes are offered with or without. Others are a wonderful blend of vegetables, spices, and grains with no meat.
Tandoori Chicken — This favorite dish gets its name because it’s roasted in a tandoor. The tandoor is a round clay oven. Chicken is marinated in a yogurt base and flavored with a range spices that add color and flavor. The spiciness of the chicken depends on the ingredients in the marinade. Many other dishes are made using Tandoori Chicken.
Chicken Tikka — Literally “bits of chicken,” also prepared in a tandoor. The skewered bites of chicken are often quite spicy. This is a very popular indian dish among non-indians and probably the most well-known Indian dish. Make sure to try our take on it the classic chicken tikka, the Truffle Oil Chicken Tikka.
Butter Chicken — If you’re timid about hot spices, Butter Chicken is a great place for you to begin your journey into Indian cuisine. It’s shredded Tandoori Chicken in a creamy, flavorful sauce. The Butter Chicken is one of Spice Affair’s specialties – everyone loves the Butter Chicken! Warning: You can develop an obsession with Butter Chicken.
Lamb Shank Vindaloo — Here’s a hot one for you! Tender lamb with red hot chili pepper. Our Lamb Shank Vindaloo is to die for and comes with spicy vindaloo sauce and potatoes.
Fish or Seafood Curry — Seafood is prominent in the cuisine of areas of Indian along the coast, so many restaurants will offer seafood dishes. Spices are selected to enhance the flavors of the seafood (fish or shrimp, generally). If you’re concerned about heat, ask the wait staff for recommendations, but make sure to try our Spice Affair Fish Curry.
Biryani — If you enjoy Chinese or Thai stir-fry rice, a Biryani is a safe choice for you. Biryani combines very best Basmati rice with fresh vegetables and a perfect blend of spices. You can fill up on it or enjoy it with other dishes. The Biryani is one of our specialties and we offer 3 kinds: Kacchi Gosht Ki Biryani made with Lamb, Dum Chicken Biryani made with Chicken, Fisherman’s Biryani made with Shrimp, and of course our Layered Vegetable Biryani made with Market Fresh Veggies. See all our Biryanis in the Amalgamation Affair section of our Dinner Menu.
Raita — The point of Indian cuisine is a blend of taste and texture. A side dish, Raita is a creamy cucumber-yogurt that helps cool things down. Raita is a great compliment for all spicy dishes, especially the Biryani’s mentioned above.
Saag — Another favorite side dish is Saag, a traditional creamed spinach. Vegetarian friendly and gluten-free, Saag is a must try ours is a delicious traditional blend of creamed spinach, fenugreek seasonal leafy veggies.
Masala — Masala is a Hindi word for a blend of spices. So if you see “Masala” or “Garam Masala” on a menu, know that it means spicy. Exactly what spices are blended will depend on the cook, the region the dish is from and other factors. Garbanzo beans or chickpeas are commonly flavored with spices and given exotic names that will include Masala. We offer two types of Masala dishes – Paneer Malai Masala – a house special velvety tomato, onion and sesame seed sauce with paneer and cream, and Cholley Masala – a tangy and tasty chickpeas, onion, tomato and whole spices. You can find both of those under The Green Garden Affair section of our menu.
Paneer — Paneer is made much like ricotta and is a fresh “cottage” type cheese. It’s used in many recipes and sometimes cut into cubes like tofu, but with a much different flavor. We use this in many dishes from appetizers – Cottage Cheese Tikkas – to main courses like Paneer Malai Masala.
Curry — Americans may be used to “Curry Powder” in a jar on their spice rack, but Curry has a different meaning in Indian cuisine. Curry is a Paste made of many different indian spices. Think of it as a flavoring, not a particular flavor. Food is commonly served with various types of curries so you can create your favorite combinations of flavors. You’ll find ingredients including cardamom, dried chile, cinnamon, and clove. Other typical spices include coriander, cumin, fennel, nutmeg, peppercorns, poppy seed, sesame seed, saffron, tamarind, and turmeric. From our Curry Leaf Chicken appetizer to our Spice Affair Fish Curry, our curries are all fresh and handmade in-house from Curry Paste, not curry powede
Even the pickiest eater will find at least one thing they’re sure to love in an Indian restaurant — the Naan!
This traditional Indian bread may remind you of a pita, or a thick tortilla. It may be plain or flavored with garlic or other spices and herbs.
It’s soft, and you can tear it apart and use pieces of it to scoop up your other food.
One warning: Like other bread, Naan is addictive!
We offer 2 types of Naan: Butter Naan with Olive & Thyme or Garlic & Chives.
After such a great meal, will you have room for dessert? If so, here are two great ones to try:
Gulab Jamun — These spongy little dessert balls, sometimes called milk dumplings, are said to have originated in the Mediterranean and Persian. Indian cooks have modified the recipe over many centuries. These are yummy! See our Gulab Jamun under The Dessert Affair section of our Menu.
Gulabo — It’s a creamy rose-petal flavored homemade ice cream reminiscent of an afternoon in a summer garden (that’s the magic of the rose petals!). Make sure to try the Gulabo if you haven’t before – it’s really unique.
Are You Ready?
This primer was designed to make you a bit more comfortable about your first visit to an Indian restaurant. If you make that first visit to Spice Affair Beverly Hills Indian Restaurant, the Best Indian Restaurant in Los Angeles, you will be sure to find your new fixation!
You will learn that there is a range of flavors, heat (meaning spiciness) and textures. You may find some that you enjoy and others that are not for you. You may even find yourself hooked on a culinary magic carpet ride, with savory favorites and surprising taste treats awaiting your discovery.