Indian Food 101 [a newbie’s guide to this fragrant ethnic food]


Although I was born in India, I was raised in the United States, so there is not much Indian in me except for my love of Indian Food. I grew up eating Indian Curry and all sorts of other Indian dishes. I love the spices, aroma, everything about it. Many of my friends have never had Indian food. When I ask why, they say because Indian Food is so unfamiliar to them.

Since I grew up eating Indian Food, it is natural for me to tear my naan up and soak up the yummy curry. But I realized that many Americans may not be accustomed to Indian Food or how to eat it. That is why I wanted to put together this article outlining some Indian dishes and what you may want to order at an Indian Restaurant. Here you’ll learn what is peppery hot and what is mild when it comes to Indian food.

More than likely, you will start out with complimentary Papadums. These are like very thin crackers, but much larger. There are usually 3 sauces or chutneys that go along with Papadums, a lime green sauce made with cilantro that is somewhat spicy, a dark brown sauce which is very sweet (save some for later, I’ll tell you why in a moment), and a mango chutney which is very good but pretty hot.

Indian Appetizers:

tabla midtown indian fine dining restaurant

L to R: Okra fries, Tandoori Shrimp, and Spinach Chaat

More than likely you’ll see Samosas on a an appetizer menu at Indian restaurants. These are a safe option as they are full of flavor but not spicy. They are triangular pastries that are filled with potatoes, peas and other vegetables. The sweet, brown chutney I told you to hang on to goes great on these.

Main Entrees in Indian Food:

Tandoori: Tandoori is always a safe option. This is not a hot and spicy dish at all. It has no heavy sauce to it either. It is simply cooked in a clay oven known as a Tandoori, hence the name. Don’t be freaked out by the color. It will come out with a red color especially if you order the chicken. It looks a little weird but it tastes great.

Biryani: Think of Biryani as the Indian version of “Chinese Fried Rice”. It is rice with vegetables (usually including raisins) with your choice of meat. Lamb Biryani is really good. Really it is good with any meat. I probably wouldn’t recommend getting Biryani with shrimp. Again, this is another “safe” choice as it will not be a spicy dish.

Curry: This is really a thick gravy full of cumin, garlic, tamarind and a bunch of other tasty spices made to the hotness of your request. Curry is by far the most well known Indian dish. I like it with beef, lamb, chicken or shrimp.


Masala: This is a creamy tomato sauce which is extremely tasty. Usually it is not overly spicy but you should ask just to be sure. One of my favorites at Indian Restaurant is Chicken Tikka Masala. As a matter of fact, I read somewhere that Chicken Tikka Masala is the number one most ordered dish in England. Having a large Indian population, Indian restaurants seem to pop up everywhere in England. In fact, Indian Food is all I ever want to eat when I go to England.

Vindaloo: HOT HOT HOT!! This is one of the hottest dishes you can order. Again, it is made with various spices like curry, but it is really hot. It is so hot in fact, I can’t eat it and enjoy it. To my palette, the pepper overpowers any other flavor and I can’t enjoy the dish. WARNING: This dish isn’t for an Indian Food virgin.

It is typical for these dishes to come with basmati (Indian white rice). But you are missing out if you don’t order some delicious nann (bread pancakes) to eat with your curry. Part of the experience of eating Indian Food is using your hands to soak up the gravy with the naan.

Although there are various types of naan I recommend starting with something simple like plain nann, or garlic. You usually get 2 pieces which is a gracious plenty for 1 person. You might want to consider 2 orders for 2 people and if there are leftovers they are great for breakfast in the morning.

Tabla indian midtown atlanta restaurant

Indian restaurants don’t typically offer any vegetable side dish with the entrees. This is probably because so many Indians are vegetarians, the vegetable entrees are a main course by themselves. Indian curries tend to have very rich sauces and those along with rice and naan will fill you up quickly. But if you feel it necessary to order a vegetable I recommend something with aloo (potato) or baigon (eggplant).

For drinks, Indian beer goes well with Indian food. I usually enjoy a Taj Mahal with my meal. If beer isn’t your thing, then I highly recommend trying a Mango Lassi. It is a sweet, fruity drink which is like having a milkshake with your dinner.

If you are still able to eat dessert after your filling meal, a good choice is Kulfi. This is Indian Ice Cream, which usually comes in several flavors, two common flavors being mango and pistachio.

Well, there you have it! This should give you enough information to be confident enough to give Indian food a try. Remember, if you are newbie to Indian food, it is always a good bet to hit up an Indian buffet.

About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!