9 Mistakes You Are Making at Indian Restaurants
You're afraid to eat with your handsUnless your name is Edward and you literally have scissors for fingers, eating with your hands is a pleasant experience and not a revolutionary idea. We didn't always have forks, and most Indian food is actually designed for eating sans utensils. Sure, you can awkwardly cut your flatbreads and stab vegetables with the prongs of your fork, or you could use your hands to tear off a piece of roti and perfectly scoop up everything from creamy kormas to spiced chickpeas. It's a good way to get people to take you seriously in an Indian restaurant, not to mention eating with your hands is frequently more efficient.
You order a "chai tea"This is only OK if you are also someone who orders "cheese queso" and "shrimp scampi." But you don't want to be this person. "Chai" literally means "tea," so ordering a chai tea is saying you'd like a "tea tea." And frankly, if you can't get that right, you don't really deserve a cup of that masala-spiked goodness.
You say "naan bread"Like the aforementioned "chai tea," you look just as linguistically clueless if you ask for an order of "naan bread." Naan is a very popular type of Indian flatbread that is cooked in a tandoor oven until it is fluffy. Therefore, naan is great with some tandoori chicken, and "naan bread" is not.
You don't realize there are more bread options than just naanIndia is really good at having a lot of things: a lot of people, a lot of movies, and a lot of bread styles. While naan is ridiculously good, you aren't living your best life if you never try paratha (a flaky, layered flatbread), puri (a magically round and puffy bread), rotis (thin and chewy), and bhatura (a carb lover's deep-fried dream). You can still order a side of garlic naan too, we won't tattle.
You only order chicken tikka masalaIt's not difficult to hear the siren song of chicken tikka masala (or what my family likes to call "CTM" for short). It's creamy, with just the right amount of heat to make your tongue happy but not sucker punch it. It might be hard to hear, but there are actually better dishes on most Indian menus. Sure you could eat saucy chicken, but why skip over things like pav bhaji, essentially vegetarian sloppy Joes, or malai kofta, vegetable dumplings in a tomato-y sauce, or Goan shrimp which is made with lots of coconut and seafood? Plus, it should be noted that chicken tikka masala isn't even an Indian dish, but was actually invented by the British (which is weird considering most actual British food is terrible). How about that, mate?
You think everything is a curryGuess what? The term "curry" is another invention for which you can thank the British. Curry is simply an (inaccurate) catch-all term for everything from meat to vegetable to lentil dishes that are both saucy and dry. And not every dish actually contains curry leaves, even though the term curry might lead you to believe that. In fact, many, like the popular "curry" saag paneer, are never made with curry leaves or powder. And if you head to a South Indian restaurant, there is nary a curry to be found on the menu.
You treat chutney like a dipSay it with me: Chutney is not hummus! Naan is not pita! The little bowls of chutney Indian restaurants frequently lay out on every table is not a dip situation, as tempting as it might be. Think of chutney more like ketchup, mustard, and Sriracha -- condiments that help amp up and balance out the flavors of a dish, but not things you want to scoop up with a chip.
You order just one entree for yourselfWhoever said variety is the spice of life probably came up with the phrase while eating an Indian meal. The cuisine isn't set up so that everyone orders their own entree and then offers people at the table a bite all while hoping no one will take them up on the offer. The best Indian meals include a little bit of everything on the table -- a good balance of vegetables, lentils, meats, rice, and bread. Your plate should be full and varied. There are few times in life where you can have everything you want at the same time, so take advantage of that and make sure to order family style.
You eat the colorful sugar-coated fennel seeds before the mealThe little bowls filled with colorful sugar-coated fennel seeds near the entrance of a restaurant are not there for you to snack on while you wait for a table, they are more like very colorful after-dinner mints. The seeds are a popular style of mukhwas, which are various types of seeds and nuts that are used to freshen your breath. They are also said to help aid in digestion, so don't skip out on a spoonful on your way out. They're better (and tastier) than gum or those weird cling-film-like Listerine strips.
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Khushbu Shah is a senior food Features editor at Thrillist and will give you extreme side-eye if you ever say "chai tea." Tweet her your favorite Indian dish @KhushAndOJ.