Indian cuisine doesn’t just consist of chicken tikka masala and naan. While this isn’t breaking news, it’s surprising because both are the poster children of Western Indian cuisine. The reason for this though is because restaurants use heavy cream and refined flour, unhealthy ingredients not found in everyday Indian dishes. Also, our idea of Indian food is predominantly Northern Indian food, which leaves Southern Indian food largely (and sadly) unexplored by the majority. Take a look at these two Indian restaurants, one serving Northern food and another Southern, and learn the similarities and differences between the two.
(Northern Indian cuisine)
Northern Indian food is mainly characterized for its spices, frequent use of dairy products, the tandoor oven, tawa griddle and wheat-based staples. Commonly used dairy products are yogurt, milk, ghee (clarified butter) and paneer (soft cheese that resembles tofu). Tandoor ovens are used to bake bread items such as naan, whereas the tawa griddle is used for roti (which resembles a flat, round, wheat crêpe). Although Northern fare welcomes meat and fish, it is a largely vegetarian culture. For a typical, authentic homemade meal, you might find a bowl of yogurt alongside freshly-made roti and a main entrée like saag (a curry made with spinach and other greens).
Most foods eaten in restaurants are too rich for Indians to eat on a regular basis, and are more likely to be found at big occasions like banquets and weddings. The baked tandoori chicken at Indian Flavors Express stood out due to its strong flavors of multiple spices, and the lunch buffet option allows guests to experiment with different dishes, such as vindaloo and the ever-present chicken tikka masala.
Location: 2548 Bancroft Way Berkeley, CA 94704
Hours of operation: Mon-Sun: 11 am-10 pm
(Southern Indian cuisine)
Southern Indian cuisine incorporates spices and milk as well, but what distinguishes Southern cuisine from Northern is the preference for grain as a staple, the use of tamarind for its characteristic sour flavor and its sambar and rasam (thin, spicy broth). Rather than naan or roti, rice is heavily favored, although wheat-based items can also be served in restaurants and at home. Southern fare caters to the primary religion, Hinduism, by being almost entirely vegetarian. Lentils are popular throughout India, but closely associated with Southern cuisine.
The dosa, pictured above as a long crêpe, is a favored snack and included as part of the meal in many Southern Indian restaurants. It is made out of fermented rice batter and black lentils, and then filled with mashed potatoes, peas and other vegetables. This is similar to what is found in samosas, which are potatoes covered in dough that’s fried and then served with chickpeas, spicy applesauce and/or a cilantro “sauce.” Paru’s Indian Vegetarian Restaurant provided many options that welcome eager diners to explore a breadth of Southern cuisine between two people. Its star dish was the samosas—definitely a must-try.
Location: 5140 W Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90027
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri: 6 pm-11 pm, Sat-Sun: 3 am-11 pm