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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Indian Food Mania

It’s not even 10 am yet and all I can think about is Indian food. There. I said it. For the past couple of months, I have been on a no-holds-barred Indian food R-A-M-P-A-G-E. Which involves sometimes eating out two or three times a week at my favorite spots around the city. Okay, maybe even four if I'm really feeling saucy. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends were all starting to laugh about it because all I want to discuss nowadays are fresh piping hot naan breads or creamy curries and fried samosas filled with onions and potatoes delicately spiced with cumin. I don’t know what’s gotten in to me. The thing is—I never used to like Indian food at all because I am very sensitive to spicy food. But then I got brave enough to forge ahead and discover that there is a whole realm of mild creamy dishes that suit my taste buds perfectly. And now! Now I am hooked.

Of course, it’s pretty difficult to deny the power of the double-carb cuisine—rice and naan?! I mean, Italian food has its pasta and breads and I am totally helpless to deny its sexy ways. The thing about Indian food, I have learned, is that it is nearly impossible to find consistency—region-to-region, restaurant-to-restaurant, and even dish-to-dish might vary dramatically. One tikka masala dish might be the warmest, creamiest dish with a hint of tomato and cinnamon, but at another place the tikka masala might be a bold, spicy tomato and onion gravy. The second thing I have come to accept about Indian food is that it's difficult, for me at least, to cook an authentic tasting dish on my own at home. Although I do sometimes sink hours looking through the many foodie blogs dedicated to Indian cuisine. And I do make some chicken tikka masala and some garlic naan on occassion, but I will be the first to admit that it is NOT the same. Not even close. So now that I have my handful of go-to places with my favorite reliable dishes, I thought I might share with you what I order and see if any of you have any recommendations for your favorite Indian food spots—or, if your bold and daring, any recipes for making such delicacies at home!

And I know exactly where to start--the paneer korma and murgh makhani at Indian Oven (to be accompanied by expertly prepared garlic naan or lamb naan). For the record, the korma at Indian Oven is what everyone raves about—and for good reason. It’s thin, salmon-colored cream sauce flecked with herbs and it is, by far, the best Indian dish I have ever had, but I can’t even attempt to describe its complex flavor for fear of doing it a tremendous injustice. It’s that good.

And then there’s the ever humble Rotee. The menu is filled with humorous descriptions such as “Mixed Sabzi—If we can build the world’s finest operating systems, imagine what we can do with fresh garden vegetables.” After you stop laughing at the menu descriptions and get past the bright orange walls and techno music, go ahead and order the paneer tikka masala. It’s cubes of homemade cheese in a thick creamy tomato and herb sauce with a delightful note of cinnamon. It’s down right irresistible and sure to win over anyone who claims that they don’t care for Indian food. And if you work downtown in SF and, like me, find yourself day dreaming about Indian food, you can get your fix at the Rotee Express lunch counter. Or you could have a lunch buffet at Amber India.

On rare occasion, I might be in the mood for the greasy spoon. Then I go to Pakwan or Shalimar. But I have to admit that the food is a bit spicier at these restaurants and not quite as good. But still, you cannot deny the allure of cheap prices--curries for $5.50-$7.00. Oh, and I have yet to try Lahore Karahi.

But really, on a Sunday afternoon when I find myself craving a snack—something warm and unique and full of flavor—I want an Indian burrito—also known as a “kati roll” from Kasa. They make these flaky, buttery roti breads from scratch, grill them up until they are hot and blistery and then wrap them around various curries and other dishes. Totally genius, I know.My favorite is the Aloo Gobi—cumin-spiced cauliflower and potatoes with a splash of tomato-cumin sauce and a nice smear of coconut-cilantro chutney wrapped up in the roti and served alongside a cool pool of raita and more tomato-cumin sauce. And if you are feeling fancy, you can get the roti dipped in egg, Unda style. I desperately want one right now, as I type this. They also make their own Mango Lassi blended with mangoes, yogurt, cardamom and a hint of cumin. Yum. And if there can be Indian burritos, then there can also be Indian pizza.

I’ve also been told that, if I can muster the courage to forego the curries typical of Northern India, I should give Southern Indian cuisine a try—with its crepe-like dosas and uthappam with various fillings of vegetables, cheese, lentils, etc. I have, for some time now, been wanting to try the ever fancy Dosa. But for the more affordable $6 range, my friend, Mags, recommends Udupi Palace.

It takes all of my will power to supress the urge to eat Indian food 3-4 times a week--I usually try to limit it to once a week, as a treat. And, naturally, I seek it out when traveling too (don't even get me started on London!). If you're in Seattle, be sure to eat Annapurna Cafe for the best Nepali, Tibetan and Indian food around--order the veggie kofta, which are these delicate cheese/vegetable balls in a creamy tomato and herb sauce (are you seeing a theme here?). This weekend, while in San Diego for a family wedding, I am going to try Punjabi Tandoor.

Inquiring minds (mostly mine, but there might be others out there) want to know—where do you eat Indian food?

Update: Punjabi Tandoor in San Diego was AMAZING. The Chicken Makhani has a bewitching smokey flavor that will have you hooked in 2 bites. It's also the best deal ever--$7.99 for 2 curries, rice, naan, and kheer (a sort of rice pudding dessert) and its enough to feed two people or one really hungry (or greedy) person like me.


Anonymous said...

I must have it! MMM!

Suresh said...

thanks for the kind words! love your blog. we're trying to stay on top of ours as well (

Say hi to Suresh, Anamika or Tim next time you're in!

Love from the Kasa team