When you think of Indian food, you probably envision flaky samosas stuffed with spicy potatoes or creamy chicken tikka masala that you sop up with fluffy naan bread. Sure, that’s all good and well, but if you haven’t branched out, boy are you missing out.
Here’s the roster of some of India’s best-kept secrets:
“Masala” means “spice” in Hindi, and this savory dosa packs a powerful punch. Dosas are India’s interpretation of French crêpes, made from a batter of rice and lentils. A masala dosa is stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas (think samosa filling), and comes with more chutneys and sauces on the side than you’ll know what to do with.
If you’re lucky enough to be at a restaurant that serves up this South Indian delicacy, it had better be the first thing you order. Shamelessly break into it with your hands and enjoy.
If you hate eating your veggies, listen up–pakoras are fritters made up of vegetables like onions, spinach, and potatoes, battered and fried to golden-brown perfection. There’s nothing not to love about these little appetizers, and they’re the perfect alternative to the same old samosa you always get.
If you’re at a super traditional restaurant, they might offer paneer pakoras, which are little fritters made out of slices of a homemade Indian cheese. Basically a spiced-up version of 7/11 mozzarella sticks, these are always a good call.
You can’t go wrong with a classic order of naan, but you can do better if you upgrade to an aloo paratha. Parathas are flatbreads made from a dough that’s a little different from naan, and are cooked on a hot stove. This process creates a crispy bread with tons of layers that flake apart when you break into it.
Aloo parathas are an amped-up version of a regular paratha, filled with a mixture of spicy mashed potatoes. It’s great for eating on its own or with a side of cool and refreshing raita to dip into.
Eating yogurt with a savory meal might seem a little foreign, but raita is the perfect addition to any meal. Raita is a condiment-turned-side-dish made from plain yogurt with cucumber and mint added to it, and a handful of warming spices to boot.
Whereas a lot of Indian food can be hot and spicy, raita provides a cool and calming balance to a meal. Treat it as a condiment by drizzling it over your meat dishes before eating, or eat it on its own as the glorious side that it is.
If you think chicken tikka masala is great, give tandoori chicken a try. This chicken is cooked in the same kind of oven (called a tandoor) as naan, so you know it’s got to be good. Tandoori chicken is usually served with some stir-fried vegetables, and is great for wrapping up in some fluffy naan and drizzling with raita before devouring.
Indian restaurants are a great place to go if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, and dishes like aloo gobi exemplify why. This mix made of stir-fried cauliflower and potato is nothing like the bland mushy mess you might be imagining- aloo gobi is delicately flavored with spices like turmeric and coriander that create a complex flavor profile.
Served with some luscious basmati rice, aloo gobi is good enough to make you forget you’re eating a vegan meal.
Kheer is India’s answer to bland rice pudding: this creamy, thick pudding is treated with a generous dose of chai spices. There’s no better way to finish off your Indian feast than with a piping hot bowl of kheer topped with dried fruits and nuts.
A lot of Indian desserts can seem hyper sweet to an American palate, but most kheer is only barely sweetened, meaning you’ll have a light and comforting dessert that you can feel good about.
Next time you’re in an Indian restaurant, we encourage you to explore beyond the list of familiar curries–there’s so much to be discovered, and you just might find your new favorite dish.