The #1 Order to Never Make at an Indian Restaurant, According to Chefs

From fragrant curries to flaky samosas, Indian cuisine is a rich tapestry of flavors and textures. But not all of these flavors are worth trying. As with Thai, Mexican and Chinese food, there are some Indian dishes that are worth more than others, whether it’s a matter of taste, nutrition, or more often than not, authenticity.

Like all Americanized cuisines, there are several “Indian” dishes that no one really eats in India, and some things that are downright taboo. With the rise of Indian restaurants across the United States, the line between authentic and fusion is becoming increasingly blurred, which is why some Indian chefs are eschewing the “progressive” twists on classics in favor of tried-and-true recipes more attuned to culture and tradition.

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“Indian cuisine is growing in popularity in the US, but it’s important to be able to distinguish the genuine cuisine from a fusion or a progressive version of it,” explains Pujan Sarkar, chef de cuisine at ROOH San Francisco and ROOH Palo Alto. “Certain dishes can be presented as Indian (lamb vindaloo, chicken tikka masala), when in fact their origins can be traced far from the culture with which they are associated.”

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Sarkar adds that dishes at American-Indian restaurants are often more like hybrid versions of traditional Indian food, and while some of them may have merit on their own, they can also stretch the definition of the cuisine to the point where it is no longer recognizable.

For these reasons of fusion-gone-for-long, the chef says the two most obviously inauthentic foods to avoid in Indian restaurants are steak (“like tandoori steak”) and raw seafood (“Indian sushi”).

“The vast majority of India practices Hinduism, a religion where cows are considered sacred, so obviously beef is off the table,” he says. “Raw seafood in general is not present in Indian culture, and is even frowned upon.”

Even at a modern, progressive Indian restaurant like New York City’s Baar Baar, however, chef de cuisine Sameer Kuthe proving that there is room for innovation as long as cultural authenticity is preserved. Especially when it’s time for dessert.

“Although I personally enjoy small treats after a meal, I wouldn’t order dessert at most Indian restaurants because I find they are often take-out, or just not high quality,” he says. “At Baar Baar, we take great care with our dessert program – after all, it’s the last thing you eat, which can make or break your lasting impression of the overall experience.”

Instead of ringing it in with thoughtful treats from outside vendors, Kuthe tinkers with Indian tradition and technique to create a grand finale worth saving room for.

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“Our desserts are inspired by Indian desserts, but prepared with more French techniques. They are a little lighter on the sweetness, as many Indian desserts can be too sugary and highlight the main ingredient.” For example, one of the best sellers is their carrot cake with saffron and pistachio ice cream and rasmalai, a poached cottage cheese dumpling soaked in milk.

At the end of the day (and at the end of the meal), the key to ensuring a successful, soulful meal at an Indian restaurant is all about authenticity and craftsmanship. Like mozzarella sticks at an Italian restaurant, the dishes you can’t actually find in the country of origin are the red flags worth avoiding.

Matt Kirouac

Matt Kirouac is a travel and food writer and graduate of culinary school, with a passion for national parks, all things Disney, and road trip restaurants. Read more about Matt


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