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Let’s get the large flashing misnomer out of the best way: Not each stew at an Indian restaurant is a curry. It’s comprehensible the way it’s turn into shorthand for “meat-filled spicy sauce to dip roti in,” however that’s a gross generalization for a delicacies that’s breathtaking in its range.

A part of the issue is that some restaurant menus haven’t accomplished the very best job articulating the distinctions of a vindaloo from korma or tikka masala. “Lamb in savory sauce” and “hen in fragrant gravy” isn’t precisely essentially the most evocative description.

What follows is a newbie’s cheat sheet to the dishes you’ll almost definitely encounter at your neighborhood Indian spot. True, there are ingredient commonalities: the spices used are sometimes a mix of turmeric, black pepper, chilies, cardamom, cloves, and the like. There’s normally onion concerned, typically tomato, and if there’s a sauce, it’s seemingly thickened with yogurt or cream (or each). However then it veers off into scrumptious tangents.

A short preamble: It’s value noting whereas the corpus of Indian delicacies is extremely huge, the menus at Indian eating places are dominated by what is known as Mughlai delicacies, a class of north Indian meals—born throughout the Mughal Empire—that’s laden with wealthy, gravy-based meat and vegetable stews. That is much less a operate of Mughlai delicacies being the very best or hottest meals in India, and extra a operate of the truth that most of the dishes inside it use the identical sauce (which, for a restaurant, makes them simple to supply in giant portions), and infrequently contain meat (a seeming necessity for American palates). This isn’t to say the dishes aren’t scrumptious, however it’s a reminder that Indian meals has quite a bit to supply past simply what you’ll discover at these eating places.

Hen tikka masala

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Extra British than Indian (it’s regarded by some because the nationwide dish of England), hen tikka masala begins with tandoori hen, the place the skinless chicken has been marinated in a spiced yogurt sauce, then cooked within the tandoor (a clay oven) till juicy and smoky. Tandoori hen in and of itself is an excellent dish, however Hen tikka masala takes it one step additional, by simmering it in a sauce made from onions, tomatoes, and cream (or yogurt). The dish is understood for its safety-cone-orange shade, normally from turmeric and paprika within the sauce, however typically due to added orange meals coloring. Some eating places will give the tikka masala therapy to lamb and even beef, however hen is the O.G. protein.

Butter hen

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Butter hen is the traditional Indian truck cease dish that’s as simple because it sounds: Hen will get cooked in a tomato and butter gravy (or actually simply butter) till the meat is fall-off-the-bone smooth. Butter hen will usually look similar to hen tikka masala; the distinction is that tikka masala has extra of a fancy, layered taste from the spices, whereas butter hen tastes like, properly, butter, with a milder, sweeter gravy.


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Vindaloo is a south Indian dish with many variations. The model you’ll seemingly see in an Indian restaurant will embrace some sort of meat base cooked with pink chilies, vinegar, garlic, and typically potatoes. In India, the dish is understood for its unmitigated spiciness. However at your neighborhood Indian joint, likelihood is the warmth has been tamed. Except you ask for it.

Chana masala

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The identify tells you all the pieces you must know: Chana = chickpeas. Masala = spices. Chana masala, which occurs to be a very fashionable avenue meals in northern India, consists of boiled chickpeas which have been cooked in a tomato-onion gravy. A particular characteristic of chana masala is that the spices in it are sometimes over-toasted—that is what provides essentially the most flavorful variations of the dish its darkish hue and deep roasted taste.

Dal makhani

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It’s possible you’ll assume lentil stew could be a wholesome various to the in any other case wealthy choices at a whole lot of Indian eating places, however within the case of dal makhani, you’d be fallacious: The dish actually interprets to “buttered lentils.” This can be a traditional vegetarian restaurant staple, made with black lentils which have been cooked with a lot of butter, cream, and a clove- and black-pepper-heavy spice combination—plus (typically) just a little little bit of jaggery, for sweetness. The style, oddly sufficient, is harking back to ingesting chai—creamy with a slight kick, however very subdued. Within the cooking course of, the lentils get smooth, like a thick porridge.


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Korma is meat (normally hen or lamb) braised in a garlic- and ginger-spiked yogurt sauce. It’s cooked utilizing the low-and-slow methodology, so the yogurt doesn’t curdle, yielding a young, gentle stew. In case your korma tastes additional wealthy, that’s most likely as a result of the gravy has floor cashews or almonds in it—an additional piece of aptitude usually added to complement the style.

Rogan josh

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With most Indian dishes, you’ll be able to choose your alternative of meat. With regards to rogan josh, lamb is the one choice. The important thing to its smoky and candy style is the bottom, which consists of onions which have been browned in oil or ghee (clarified butter) till primarily caramelized, in addition to the heavy dose of bracing, warming spices like entire cardamom and clove. You would possibly see on a menu that the dish has chilies, however don’t fear—the chilies utilized in rogan josh are normally gentle ones. When you’re at a very good Indian restaurant, your rogan josh may be completed with a contact of saffron—an costly spice with a fragile, floral taste.


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There’s nothing to not love about biryani: smooth, long-grain basmati rice, tender chunks of meat, layered, heat spices (cardamom is normally key), and a great deal of ghee (clarified butter), all cooked in a pot over sluggish hearth. On the floor, biryani can appear to be only a pot of steamed rice, as there’s no precise “sauce” concerned; what makes it really luxurious is the best way that the ghee clings onto—and enriches—every grain of rice and morsel of meat, and the aroma of the entire spices (most of that are left within the biryani itself) that’s completely all-consuming while you initially elevate the highest off the dish. There are numerous takes on biryani, some vegetarian, some completed with raisins, some with gold foil on high for additional pizzazz. The purpose is, you’ll be able to’t go fallacious, it doesn’t matter what sort you get.


The secret right here is scorching meat and greens (or simply greens) which have been dry-fried on very excessive warmth with loads of chilies. The dish is fairly spicy, as there’s no gravy to chop by the warmth, although many eating places will tone it down by including cream or yogurt. This can be a shut analogue to stir-fry, or fajitas, however with the piquancy ranges turned approach, approach up.


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