The majority of Indian restaurants in America serve a single type of Indian food, and it’s usually rich and gravy based. Dishes like chicken tikka masala (not actually Indian at all) aren’t ubiquitous because they’re the best that Indian cuisine has to offer—they’re just the ones that are most familiar to non-Indian palates and the easiest for restaurants to make.
In reality, Indian cuisine encompasses tons of dishes, with each region of the country having its own very distinct style. Ask any Indian about his or her favorite dish, and it’ll likely be something you can’t find on a restaurant menu. Here are just a few of the many gems within Indian cuisine.
① Dum Aloo
Indian cuisine has a serious love affair with potatoes, but the most low-key, best way to eat potatoes is in dum aloo; small spuds are deep-fried whole and then plunged into an oniony stew spiced with cumin, coriander, turmeric and red chiles. To eat the dish, crush each tender potato with a fork, scoop up some of the gravy then enjoy the spiciest mashed potatoes you’ve ever had.
Dhokla is like a savory pound cake; it’s made with rice and split chickpeas, and topped with fried mustard seeds and curry leaves for a touch of earthiness and crunch (a typical treatment in the food of the Gujarat region). Dip your dhokla cube generously into coriander chutney to achieve maximum snack nirvana.
③ Pav Bhaji
Pav bhaji is the sloppy joe of South Asia. Buttered buns are filled with a stewy, spicy mess of peas and potatoes, and then finished with slivers of raw onion. This is bold, hearty Indian comfort food at its best.
Vada is a standard South Indian app of lentils that are mashed; mixed with chiles, onions and curry leaves; shaped into a doughnut; and deep-fried. It often comes with a side of sambar, a tamarind- and chile-based soup, for dipping. Considering it’s shaped like a doughnut, it’s amazing this dish isn’t more popular in the States.
Shrikhand is the sleeper hit of the Indian dessert family; it’s a cooling, summery dish of yogurt that’s been strained until it’s incredibly thick and creamy, then folded into sugar, saffron, cardamom and pistachios. Finally: a yogurt-based dessert that actually tastes decadent.
Don’t knock lime juice with salt and pepper until you’ve tried it. During blazing-hot Indian summers, shikanji is the sipper of choice: tangy, sour, mildly sweet, with a kick from the funky black salt and toasted cumin. The combo may seem odd, but it’s pleasantly addictive, like the slightly savory notes in lemon-lime Gatorade.
Priya Krishna is a New York-based food writer by way of Texas. Follow her on Instagram for embarrassing family vacation photos at @PKgourmet.
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