by Bridget Kiley
New York has some of the most authentic food from around the world and one of my personal favorites is Indian. I’ve learned to cook with many of the spices, visited Indian homes for meals and trekked to Queens to find the most authentic reproduction. Here are some tips for finding great Indian food in New York:
A lot of the portions listed as entrees are actually rather small because they’re meant to be served family-style and shared along with a variety of dishes. However, they’re sometimes priced as a standard entree in the U.S. For example: daal, made with chickpeas or lentils, is really more of a side dish, never a main course.
Most people from South Asian and Middle Eastern countries eat with their hands. Even rice, which is an art form in itself. Indian food is easy to eat with your hands. A common side called raita, made from yogurt, cucumbers, onion and carrot, is added to rice to moisten it, making it easier to pick up.
There are some very upscale traditional Indian restaurants, but if you’re looking for casual dining, an Indian restaurant may look more like your local pizza joint. Because Indian food consists of a lot of stews, curries, kebabs and slow-cooked items, food is prepped ahead of time and kept hot.
In case you don’t have a high tolerance for heat, you might be able to ask for your food to be made with less spice, but more often than not, it’s unavoidable because many Desi (Indians and people from countries that spurred from India like Bangladesh and Pakistan) dishes are made ahead. Dishes such as chicken korma are to India as cheeseburgers are to the U.S. and it’s spicy.
Here are our favorite restaurants around the city where you’re sure to experience authentic Indian cooking:
1. Kebab King, Jackson Heights
Kebab King is a sit-down restaurant with servers, minimal decoration, large rustic tables and overstuffed chairs. You get your beverages out of a vending machine. But hey, it’s about the food not the ambiance, right? Kabab King, 73-01 37th Road, Jackson Heights, NY 11372, (718) 457-5857
2. Kashmir 9, Midtown West
This is a perfect example of what I mean by the less fancy the better. Although Kashmir 9 doesn’t look appealing on the outside and maybe not on the inside either, it comes down to food–which is great here. You’ll find the clientele to be 60/40 Desi versus non-Desi. At the back of the restaurant, partially enclosed by a curtain, you’ll find people who work as taxi drivers, cops, shop-owners, etc. any profession that doesn’t offer many breaks, stopping for a quick prayer.
Definitely order a cup of Kashmiri noon chai, which isn’t on the menu. Don’t be put off by the pink color. This is a type of chai from the Kashmir region (a disputed territory between Pakistan and India), made from special Kashmir tea leaves, pistachios and almonds. Kashmir 9, 478 9th Ave, New York, NY 10018, (212) 736-7745.
3. Sagar, Jamaica, Queens
Sagar requires a real trek into Queens, but I promise it’s worth it. If you’re digging in for the first time, I suggest the following, which will be enough food for 3 people: The naan and the daal. Eat the soup-like daal by tearing off a piece of naan (bread) and by turning up the sides to scoop up the daal. The biryani fried rice. You can choose your meat: chicken, mutton, vegetarian, etc. Order the raita, drizzle it over the rice and eat it with your hands.The kebabs and samosas! Sagar, 16825 Hillside Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11432, (718) 298-5696.
It’s important to remember that Indian food is communal All the dishes are served family-style and meant to be shared. Indian food in the city is best when there’s no distractions from decor — you’ll find the best experiences in almost barebones establishments, so you can focus on the food.