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indian cuisine

howler | | Oct 21, 1999 04:14 PM

i'm indian, and am pleasantly surprised to see the interest indian restuarants have drawn amongst the chowhounds. so i thought i'd add my impressions to the board.

as i'm sure most of you are aware, the term 'indian' cooking is a bit of a misnomer as there are a huge variety of differing cuisines throughout the sub-continet. this isn't just a matter of the north-south divide: virtually each state in india has its own language, dialect(s) and often, a multiplicity of cuisines. to get an idea of how different the cuisines can be in india, imagine if you united all of south east asia into one country - japan, thailand, malyasia, south and north korea, indonesia, singaore, china - imagine the sheer variety of this hypothetical country's cuisine! this comparison can be taken literally; when you travel from one state to another in india, in most instances you are travelling from one foreign land to another in everything but name.

it was an unbelievable gastronomic delight growing up in bombay, which is the most cosmopolitan of indian cities. what choices! parsi, tamil, punjabi, bengali, mangalorean, goan, gujarati, sindhi, maharastrian, anglo-indian (this is a fascinating version of mainly english dishes bastardised to indian taste) etc. but virtually all of this was eaten at friends houses, not at restaurants, because 'ethnic' cuisine was a foreign notion in bombay 20 years ago (happily, thats changing now).

the choices going out to eat at restaurants in bombay were to select between indian versions of western food, south indian food or most likely, the ubiquitous punjabi restaurant that served 'mughlai food'. i have a theory why these punjabi restaurants infested the whole sub-continent and then were later exported, so indulge me. the last big rulers of india whose cuisine made any sense to indians were the moghuls, and it their dishes that make it worthwhile to go out and eat. mughlai food is india's haute cuisine and it CANNOT be reproduced at home. who can keep a tandoor at home? more importantly, who can eat with any regularity the cream thickened sauces, the big portions of meat, the rich desserts? but it is THE restaurant in the main streets of the smaller indian cities.

what passes for indian restaurants these days is really a mughlai menu mixed in with some very bad versions of punjabi dishes. sometimes a stray dish or two from some other cuisine shows up on the menu, but the wanderer looks and is as appropriate as a slice of tarantula on angel cake (sorry, thats raymomd chandler). this is where baluchis, shaan, bayleaf, india grill, akbars, dawat et al fit in. (the ones on 6th street are bengali cooks attempting to recreate mughlai food and the result is as bizarre as it sounds). jackson diner is without question the best type of this genre, but bukhara sounds wonderful (haven't been there as yet). i think they probably call themselves punjabi pakistani to suggest that they have more of a punjabi menu, not the mughlai one. if i can find mutton chops punjabi style anywhere in the tri-state area.....aaaaarrgh

luckily, its becoming fashionable to go to restaurants and eat other cuisines in bombay today. but this trend hasn't as yet caught on outside india, mores the pity. there is an attempt to get away from the standard menu in london, but that is more a 'nouvelle cuisine' experiment than a display of the wonderful, different dishes the sub-continent has to offer.

what does new york have to offer? other than the south indian restaurants in the 20's and the gujarati restaurant vatan, there was a parsi restaurant that opened up on west 4th between 6th and 7th. it folded, but the proprietor said he was opening up at a better locale. where IS this guy? the food was amazing! authentic mutton dhansaak (mutton in a mixture of seven daals served over brown rice), mutton patties (minced meat tucked in a boiled potatoes which are then breaded and fried, macchi patia (a fish curry) etc. if these guys ever open up again, sprint! dont run...

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