What comes to mind when you think of Indian food? What is the national dish of India? Chicken Tikka? or Aloo Gobi? or Mango Lassi? The truth is that every state and region of India are like little countries in and of themselves. Different culture, different language and most importantly, different cuisines!
So here is my modest attempt to round up the different Indian cuisines you can find in restaurants in New York City.
1. North Indian: It is the first Indian sub-cuisine to make its way onto international tables. People also refer to it as Punjabi food. Restaurants like Curry in a Hurry and Baluchi's in Manhattan, and Jackson Diner in Queens showcase North Indian cuisine. Typically, the meal consists of breads like roti and paratha, vegetables like aloo gobi, paneer tikka, lentils like dal makhani and rice in the form of pilafs and biryanis. North Indian food tends to be rich and heavily influenced by the Mughal style of cooking. Lassis (yogurt drinks) come from this region, although I have to say that I have never seen mango lassi anywhere outside of North America ( and I spent 22 years in India so I had enough time to look around).
2. South Indian: This is a very different cuisine from the one above. Go nosh at Chennai Garden or Pongal or Madras Mahal, all on the same block in Manhattan and see what I mean. Typical foods are idli (steamed cakes) and dosa (crepes) served with fragrant coconut chutneys and a spicy vegetable dal called sambar. Another sub-cuisine from Southern India is from the Chettinad region and involves the heavy use of coarsely ground black pepper. Try Asaivam for a taste of Chettinad cuisine.
3. Gujarati: Gujarat is a state of Western India and the food from here is heavily vegetarian and absolutely delicious. It tends to be mildly spiced with a intermingling of sweet and sour flavors. Vatan is a Manhattan restaurant which offers a prix fixe Gujarati thali that makes for a sumptuous tasting menu.
4. Street food: Chaat or Indian street food is becoming a food fad faster that I can say "bhelpuri"! Try chaat in any of these restaurants. Another version of Indian snack food is Kathi rolls sold in Indian Bread Company- very tasty morsels.
5. Indian-Chinese: This food is off-beat and worth trying! India and China are neighbours and it is no wonder that influences from Chinese food have crept into our cuisine, and the unsual marriage is called "Indian-Chinese". You have to try some gobi manchurian and hakka noodles at Chinese Mirch in Manhattan or Talk of the Town in Jackson Heights, Queens.
This modest list leaves out about a thousand other Indian sub-cuisines. Hopefully new ones will show up as Indian food is becoming ever-popular. Meanwhile, Chola is a note-worthy restaurant that features unusual regional dishes that can never be found on menus outside India. I hope you enjoyed this little journey. Let me know what your favorite restaurants are!