Friday, November 2, 2007

Indian Cuisine

Today's column will discuss Indian food.

Indian food was one of the first "exotic" cuisines that I ever tried. I was in Sydney, Australia on a business trip, and a friend asked me to try it out. I was immediately hooked!

While the cuisine has a reputation for being spicy, you can easily order anything you want and have it prepared mild at any restaurant.

Papadums are spicy lentil wafers (I've written about them before in this blog), and most Indian restaurants offer an appetizer sampler to allow you to sample different types of offerings. Pakoras are vegetables or bits of chicken dipped in a chick pea batter and deep fried and are very popular. There are also Samosas, which are pastries stuffed with cheese as well as peas or ground meat. Most appetizers come with various chutneys to enhance their taste. Onion chutney, mint chutney, and tamarind are quite popular.

Indian breads are, for the most part, flat breads. The standard naan is offered plain or with extras (garlic naan is popular, as is naan with bits of meat). If you are interested in something weirdly different, try a poori... this is a flat bread that is fried in such a way that it puffs up like a balloon!

Tandoori is Indian grilled food; the name comes from Tandoor, a clay pot which used for grilling at high temperatures. The Tandoori meats are marinated in yogurt and spices before they are grilled, and the result isn't as spicy is it is "spiced" (tasty, actually). I tend to recommend Tandoori to people that are a bit afraid of Indian food's spicy reputation, and most people tend to love it.

Biryani is a rice dish that incorporates various vegetables and/or meats to make a meal in itself. I find it to be a good quick lunch if I am in a hurry.

Most other Indian dishes come as stews.

Indian cuisine is well known for a large selection of vegetarian dishes, most made with beans (lentils are very popular), peas, eggplant, chick peas, and/or spinach. I've found that if I have a vegetarian friend, the variety of these dishes is very much preferred to that found in other restaurants that seem to think "vegetarian" means "person that eats salads." I'm not usually very fond of vegetarian foods myself, but I found a number of Indian foods that I really like, including Aloo Mattar (peas and potatoes in a nicely spiced red sauce) and Dal Makhani (lentil beans and spices in a cream sauce).

For the non-vegetarians, you can find lamb, chicken, and seafood dishes of various styles. Vindaloo is a very spicy (hot!) mixture of meat and potatoes. If you prefer something less hot, I would recommend Tikka Masala, which is seasoned meat simmered in a creamy tomato sauce. Jalfrezi is meat prepared with tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers in a fresh vegetable sauce.

Most Indian dishes come with basmati rice, which is usually cooked in water laced in fragrant spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom seeds). The rice itself, outside the spices, has a delicate flavor that goes very well with the spiciness of the rest of the menu.

A lot of Indian places offer a lunch buffet where you can try out various dishes in order to determine which ones appeal to you the most. You can usually find breads, appetizers, rice, tandoori (usually chicken), as well as salads and the various chutneys to enhance your food.

There are a few Indian restaurants near Salem, NH (with one actually in the town). Here is a capsule review of the ones that I've tried.

Bollywood Grill (Rt. 114, Andover, MA)

Good food and a good selection. There's a section of the menu for Tikka Masala (Sandra and the girls' favorite Indian meal), but no Chicken Makhani (Butter chicken). Papadum is occasionally a bit soggy, but still quite tasty. Decor consists of Bollywood actors and actresses and scenes from Indian movies. This place advertises free WiFi...!

India Palace (South Willow Street, Manchester, NH)

Very good food and a great selection. This place has one of my favorite Indian lunch buffets around, which is stocked very nicely and contains many selections. Chicken Makhani is available, as is a very nice Tikka Masala. Free papadum when you first arrive, and you can easily order more (more! MORE!).

India Palace (Amherst Street, Nashua, NH)

Same owners as previous entry, and same menu. In this place's favor, I would have to point out that about a half block away across the street, there is a Cold Stone Creamery, which is probably the best place for dessert anywhere!

Bon Appetit!

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