Once long ago when you went to an Indian restaurant all you asked of the menu was mild, medium, hot or hottest. It was Vindaloo for blow the roof off your mouth bravado or Korma for girls. The huge variety and subtlety of Indian cuisine was lost in translation and most curry houses served what the customers were looking for – British adaptations of currys that are a far cry from the original dishes in India.
Nowadays Indian restaurants have been transformed by the renewed interest in world cuisine, with gourmet customers looking for authentic dishes recreating the true tastes of India. This has given good Indian restaurants scope to add a rich array of speciality regional dishes from their particular corner of India to their menus and diners can enjoy a real gastronomic tour of India, without even having to travel, if they choose their Indian restaurants with care.
India is such a huge country that the huge diversity of culinary traditions comes as no surprise. From the Himalayan valleys of the North with rich smooth sauces cooked in clay pots, to Kerala in the South with its coconut based sauces, there are a plethora of different cuisines to explore, all using different combinations of spices, different vegetables and sauces, some more rice based, others depending more on grains for their starch.
However with all this variety it can be a bit bewildering looking at all the choices on offer on an Indian menu. Often it is easier just to choose the familiar dishes that we can pronounce. There’s nothing wrong with that either: a chicken korma is deliciously creamy and fragrant with mild spices and tandoori dishes cooked in a traditional charcoal clay oven are always a fantastic choice.
If you feel like being more adventurous look further down the menu – a good place to start is with the chef’s specialities. Very often these will be traditional dishes from a specific region of India. Usually there is an explanation of the dish underneath its name, so that you can pick one that sounds appealing. Start including one unfamiliar dish each time you visit an Indian restaurant and you will soon get a feel for the rich diversity of flavours that makes up the world of Indian cuisine.
The Go dine blog will be running a series of articles on Indian cuisine over the next couple of weeks, so check back here to explore traditional Indian cooking methods, spices and regional cuisines with us.