When I first went to India I was looking forward to nothing more than a chicken korma, pilau rice and peshwari naan so boy was I disappointed when the menus looked decidedly different. I know this was a naïve attitude to go with, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only English tourist who believed the local curry house in London was an accurate reflection of the native Indian cuisine.
The problem is, these well-known ‘Indian’ dishes we’ve come to love are actually western adaptations. The ‘Indian’ peshwari naan is actually from Pakistan- yes the clue was there all along in the name! Actually the British Indian takeaway borrows many flavours from Pakistan, particularly sweet ones! What we’ve come to know as a lamb tikka or chicken masala in the UK varies significantly in India, and this is because the names of these dishes simply refer to how the ingredients are cooked, or the spice palette used.
We take a look at the true meaning behind our best loved Indian dishes, so you can enjoy the authentic flavours of India without a pang of disappointment when your usual doesn’t turn up!
The mild creamy korma with notes of almond has become a firm favourite in Britain, particularly among those of us who can’t handle spicy food. In India, korma simply means braised, and typically meat or vegetables braised with yoghurt or cream. If you’re a baby when it comes to spice, stick with korma dishes in India!
Masala literally means spices, so as you can imagine you can end up with pretty much anything if you order a masala dish in India. When you order your masala chai latte from Starbucks, you don’t get a spicy tomato drink, you get a spiced tea, which is exactly what masala chai means. And for those of you familiar with Indian spices, garam masala literally means a ‘hot mixture of spices’. So expect warm spicy notes when you order a masala in India.
Traditionally a tandoor is a clay oven, and so any dish claiming to be tandoori should be cooked in this way. If you’re after that smokey, charred flavour, a true Indian tandoori will certainly set your taste buds off!
You might think you’ve got tikka dishes sussed, but did you know that tikka just means ‘bits’ or ‘pieces’. Chicken tikka therefore simply refers to pieces of diced chicken, often on a skewer, cooked with variable herbs and spices. If you’re after something boneless- tikka is the way to go!
Often the spiciest curry on the menu, vindaloo is an essential dish on Britain’s Indian menus, but this Portuguese inspired Goan dish is a far cry from its origins. The dish is derived from the Portuguese ‘carne de vinha d’alhos’ which means meat with wine and garlic. The Goans then evolved this recipe, substituting the wine with palm vinegar and adding spices and red chillies. Traditionally the dish is made with pork, although this is almost unheard of in British curry houses. In India, expect a spicy curry with sweet and sour notes.