What curry is right for me
Indian food may be the food of choice for many Britons when it comes to grabbing a takeaway or eating out, but we often come across people who claim not to like curry. The thing is, we don’t believe them – we just think they haven’t found the right dish for them.
The reality is that there are, literally, hundreds of Indian dishes from which to choose and the cuisine is now such an art form that it’s evolving all the time, with swanky London restaurants that offer ‘fusion’ menus (where two types of cuisine collide to create brand new tastes) and traditional restaurants experimenting with ingredients and cooking styles to bring a more diverse range of meals to their restaurants.
Whereas in the 1970s, many restaurants simply offered a standard menu of curries that ranged from the very mild, like biryani or korma, through to the blow-the-roof-of-your-mouth-off hot, such as vindaloo (we won’t talk at length here about the mercifully short-lived popularity of the legendary phaal - often also spelled phall - which achieved brief notoriety as the hottest curry every devised).
Now though, although the unassuming curry continues to evolve and update itself through the many new incarnations we’ve already alluded to, in some ways it has retreated back to its origins as a cuisine renowned for its delicately-spiced dishes that were built on flavour.
So, if you think you don’t like curry – or you’re one of those people who’s just never got around to trying one – which is likely to be the best dish for you?
First of all, there’s a misconception that curry must be hot to qualify as a good curry. That’s just nonsense. Indian food is wonderful because it can blend flavours in ways that can produce very delicate dishes as easily as it produces those that kick.
Ultimately, though, it makes sense to break the choices down in two categories: heat and style and then find the combination that’s probably going to work for you.
So, here’s our guide to choosing your signature dish. We’ll say now that there are many more dishes that also fall into each set of meals – but if you find the one you like in the group below and you fancy trying something new the next time you’re out, at least you’ll be able to ask for something that’s ‘like’ a dish you know you enjoy.
Into this category, we’d put
korma, Kashmiri (or Malayan), Pasanda and Tikka and Tikka Masala.
Of these, all but tikka are sauce-based. Crudely speaking, korma is almond-based, Kashmiri/Malayan has lots of fruit, meaning it can be very sweet, Pasanda is traditionally based on coconut flavours and Tikka Masala is served as a red, fragrantly buttery sauce.
Plain tikka is cooked in the oven and served as a lightly spice, highly fragrant dish, often served with roasted onions.
A medium curry should be spiced so as to announce its arrival on your tongue, but without making you reach for the nearest pint of Cobra.
Into this category we would put
Dopiaza, Rogan Josh, Bhuna, Balti, Karahi and Biryani.
Dopiaza is big on onions and so not recommended if you’re likely to be snuggling up with someone later. Rogan Josh and Bhuna are so similar in their DNA they could be brother and sister – both go big on tomatoes, but the Bhuna is drier.
Balti is the dish you see served in beautiful stainless steel bowls. It usually comes with naan bread, which in many cases doubles as your cutlery. The sauce is generally thicker than in a standard curry and the meat tends to cut more thickly. It’s not as trendy as it once was, but is still a mightily fine dish.
Karahi comes sizzling to your table while the wonderful Biryani is a dry dish made with rice and meat.
And so we come to the thermally-charged end of the curry spectrum. While not super-hot, these are nevetheless not for the faint-hearted.
Madras, Dhansak, Jalfrezi and Ceylon curries
are in this category.
Madras is arguably the most traditional of all the contemporary curries and comes as a thick sauce, hot and flavoursome.
Jalfrezi is the sizzler of the bunch, cooked high and fast and served with peppers, onions, tomatoes and usually whole, but sometimes sliced, chillies (tip: if you like the idea of the dish, but want to dial down the heat, just fish out the chillies and leave them to one side)
Hot-spiced but with the liberal presence of coconut to offset the sting, Ceylon curry is a less well-known style of Indian cuisine, but the cooling coconut sweetens the dish and takes the edge off it’s signature sourness.
Meanwhile, Dhansak is loaded with lentils and again has a slightly sour signature to it. Made well, it’s one of the most delicious of the mainstream curries.
Very Hot Curries
Only two contenders here. The celebrated Vindaloo and the preposterously hot Phaal.
Both were invented here in the UK with their roots in the Birmingham curry scene of the 1970s. In truth, most curry lovers would probably argue that both are too hot to be properly enjoyed – and we’d agree with that. In fact, we’d say that eating either of them is more an exercise in grandstanding than in the enjoyment of food.
If you’re new to Indian cuisine then the category and curry that suits you best may take a while to identify. But as a rough rule of thumb, if you like chilli con carne or similarly spiced foods (e.g. Mexican jalapeno-flavoured dishes) you’re going to be just fine with one of the medium curries.
We’d love to know your favourite curry dish. Follow us on Facebook (@Codicote.S) and Instagram (@CodicoteSpice) and share your top 3 with us.