Eating at Indian Restaurants in New York City
>> While scents, tastes, and names of Indian food can feel daunting, I will help you discover perfectly crafted and expertly spiced dishes.
Unfortunately, for many, the scent of curry intimidates. It can provoke the hesitation of never-tasted exotic dishes that prevents some of us from venturing into ethnic neighborhoods as well as into critically acclaimed Indian restaurants. Let's hope that after reading this article, you are not one of them.
Feed your inner vegetarian
Many (but not all) Indian restaurants are meat-free. Why? For Hindus, the cow is a sacred animal and never eaten. For Muslims, the pig isn't halal (clean), so it would be unusual to find pork on the menu.
If the absence of meat makes you nervous, check first, as there are many Indian restaurants that serve chicken and lamb.
I personally love tandoori-style chicken, a mildly spiced chicken dish marinated in seasoned yogurt. The lamb vindaloo and the chicken tikka masala are spicier favorites of mine, too! Many common Indian (and New York) street foods, like kabobs, are reinvented as entrees, as well.
The appetizers, however, are where an Indian vegetarian menu excels. Try samosas, potato dosas, and pakoras!
Forget about silverware
Enjoy finger-food fine dining. Unless you are served a really messy dish, that basket of naan (soft, warm, flat bread) and your hands are the perfect utensils for scooping up your meal and shoveling it into your mouth.
So why hands? Indian culture considers touching your food a sensual act that allows you to use four out of your five senses (sight, touch, smell, and taste). In an Indian restaurant, no one frowns at you for breaking bread and dipping it in any of the little dishes of vegetable curry, rice, palak paneer (a spinach and cheese dish), chutney, and sour yogurt.
Of course, hands-on eating is very popular for families with kids! It's even better for adults: by combining all the varieties of Indian food - starches, vegetables, fruits, and grains - digestion is improved. Too much of one thing, and none of something else, makes for an unbalanced Indian meal.
Indian food caries a great deal by region
Here's a quick a breakdown of regional foods:
- Brahman and Southern Indian restaurants tend to be strict vegetarian.
- Indian restaurants from coastal regions serve lots of fish.
- Food from northern India tends to be heavier and rich. This is also where the soft and delectable breads like roti and naan hail from, thanks to a wide variety of flours.
- A northern Indian menu is where you could potentially find meat plates.
- Drier parts of India offer great preserves and chutneys. These types of foods were created in India as a substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables.
No matter where you go, you can taste dishes that range from hot-hot, to sweet and sour in taste.
In New York, most Indian restaurants have a northern Indian influence. As you dabble more in what you order, you will discover just how drastically a sprinkling of a powder can change the flavor of your meal.
Bring the family and all your friends
Eat Indian food any time of the year, from common weekdays to festive holidays.
Indian food is fun to eat in large groups (think "holiday gatherings," and it is very affordable (think "tight-fisted relatives"). Most Indian restaurants boast clean, high-quality, plentiful, all-you-can-eat buffet tables. Some restaurants are kosher-certified, as well.
When dining as a group, do be mindful that some ultra-traditional Indian restaurants consider sharing plates unhygienic and rude. Check how conservative your restaurant is before stealing a bite. If it appears to be a problem, just ask for extra plates.
Drinking is limited
Booze it up before at happy hour, or later with a nightcap. Indian culture shies away from beer, wine, and other spirits. Prohibition controlled many Indian states and that mentality lingers, even in America.
Many restaurants, however, do have wine and beer licenses. When liquor is available, it usually isn't impressive. The liquors Indians like are often too sweet for Western tastes. Then again, Indian Kingfisher and Cobra beers, which can be found in many restaurants, are decent and mild.
Overall, New York revelries at Indian restaurants tend to come from conversation and not inebriation. And speaking of prohibition, you'll find teas, like Darjeeling and Kalimpong, on menus. These teas hail from the regions with the same names, and are generally served with boiled milk, plus loads of sugar. In southern Indian restaurants, coffee is widely served.
Know your spices
Indian cuisine prides itself on its amalgam of spices. Many spices are believed to have medicinal value.
- Ginger, for example, isn't just an aphrodisiac. It also soothes sore throats and head colds.
- Turmeric treats skin ailments.
- Curry is thought to help prevent colon cancer.
- Cilantro, chilies, coriander, and various other herbs also appear in many dishes.
New York Indian restaurants
In Manhattan, Little India (or Curry Hill) can be found on Lexington between East 26th to East 31st Streets. Curry Row is on East 6th Street, between First and Second Avenues. And outside of Manhattan, in Jackson Heights, Queens, you can explore the cuisine of many Indian and Bengali locales. New Hyde Park and Hicksville in Long Island also boast some quality spots.
Your first time?
Now that you are curious, if you are in Manhattan, start with a Baluchis restaurant.
Baluchis is part of a chain of Indian restaurants that create milder renditions of popular Indian dishes. As the spices seduce that Western palate, your tastebuds will eventually desire more traditional and innovative places, like Cardamomm and Devi. When Indian food cravings really kick in, dine at the Brick Lane Curry House. There you get as close to India as possible without having to convert your money to rupees.
100 Lexington Avenue, near 27th Street
New York, NY 10016
East 18th Street, between 5th Avenue and Broadway
New York, NY 10003
Brick Lane Curry House
306 East 6th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues
New York, NY 10003
Article and photos by Shira Levine. This article was first published on 10/7/2006. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.