Introduce Yourself to A New World of Taste: Indian Food

indian roti and sides on a tray

A new study by the Pew Research Center revealed that Indian restaurants in the United States account for only 7% of all restaurants serving Asian food nationwide. For fans who adore Indian Food, that may come as a shock; for others, Indian Food may not be as popular as other types of cooking simply because so many people have yet to try it or they've heard that Indian Food may be too spicy to eat.

If you've never tried Indian Food before, worry that there may be no options for you—we're here to introduce you to the beautiful and varied flavors of Indian Food awaiting you!

What is Indian Food?

It is almost impossible to pin down a single explanation of what Indian Food and Indian cooking is. There is so much variety depending on which region it may be from, family recipe traditions, and fusion cuisine (where one element of a culture's cuisine from different countries, regions, or cultures combines aspects for both. For example, Indian and Mexican Fusion, or Indian Chinese are Fusion foods.)

Indian recipes, such as Hinduism or Islam, are heavily influenced by religion and are based on locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Indian food reflects more than 8,000 years of history of various groups and cultures interacting with Indian Food as well.

Indian Food Is Too Spicy!
Spice use is massive in Indian food, but a dish with complex layers of spices may not be spicy-hot. While it is true various Indian dishes utilize chilies and pepper that make them spicy-hot, many of them are not, and many of them can be controlled and adjusted easily to your taste when you cook from home.

You May Be Familiar With One Indian Dish Already
If you've never tried Indian food, you may already be familiar with at least one famous dish: curry. Curry is not a flavor, but rather, it is a phrase that means "sauce or gravy". This Indian dish is made with spices, vegetables, meat, or vegetarian protein alternatives such as tofu, lentils, or chickpeas and served over rice or Basmati rice.

You may be familiar with curry powder, too, which is a dry mixture of spices, usually turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, and black pepper—but this spice mix was never meant to be used to flavor a dish by itself, and it was not meant to be used in items that don't involve cooking, such as 'Indian chicken salad' for example.

Traditionally, the method of using spices in most Indian food to create curries is to make what is called a 'Tarka,' or to pan fry spices in oil before adding any other ingredients or meant to be poured over a finished dish, as it infuses the oil and can mellow some of the harsh tones raw spice mixes usually have.

Where to Start

To begin your journey of trying to cook or taste Indian food, we highly recommend starting with two of the most recognized dishes that are known throughout Southeast Asia, East Asia, The Middle East, and even here in the U.S.: Curry and Biriyani. Curries and Biriyani can generally be mild, but specific versions of these dishes can pack a bit of heat.

Biryani is a mixed and layered dish featuring long-grained rice, like Basmati, flavored with various spices and can be made with lamb, chicken, fish, vegetables, and a thick gravy or sauce and traditionally cooked in a vessel called a Handi, but can be cooked in any heavy-bottom pan or pot that provides even heat distribution.

If you aren't a fan of hot spices, you may love:

  • Kapitan Curry
  • Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Butter Chicken
  • Korma Curry
  • Chicken Biryani
  • Chicken Coconut Curry
  • Chicken Vindaloo

Vegan and Gluten-Free Curry:

  • Paneer Makhani
  • Chickpea Curry
  • Coconut Curry
  • Potato Curry

Mild Biryani:

  • Chicken Biryani
  • Pakistani Chicken Biryani
  • Awadhi Chicken Biryani

Vegan or Vegetarian:

  • Vegetable Biryani
  • Egg Roast Biryani
  • Vegatable and Tofu Biryani

If you're at an Indian restaurant for the first time, most often within the menu itself, you'll find some indication of whether a dish will be mild, medium, or hot. If in doubt, you can always ask.

When trying to cook these curries at home, you can easily choose whether or not to use hot spices or omit them entirely without worrying about this adjustment changing the rich flavors.

Indian Sides That You May Also Love:

Along with Curries and Biryani, you shouldn't discount these excellent Indian sides that are beginner-friendly or mild.


  • Roti, also known as Chapti or Phulka. An unleavened bread made with whole wheat flour and water, topped with ghee (clarified butter.)
  • Paratha is another bread made from the same ingredients as Roti but much thicker, and the dough is layered before cooking on a griddle with ghee or oil.
  • Naan is another highly popular bread. This is a leavened bread (using yeast), thicker than Roti, soft and doughy in the middle, crisp and flakey on the top, and meant to melt in your mouth while also being the perfect utensil to scoop up mouthwatering curries and other sides, such as chutneys.

All About Chutney:
In its most basic form, Chutney is an Indian condiment or spread created from chopped fruit cooked with vinegar, spices, and sometimes sugar. It is a broad term that encompasses many Indian condiments. Flavors range from sweet and tangy to savory and spicy sweet.

Some of the best foods to pair with chutneys are Samosas, Pakoras, Dosas, and various Indian breads such as Roti or Naan, or even added to Indian dishes as part of marinades, salad dressings, and sandwiches.

Some mild and beginner-friendly chutneys you may love trying:

  • Mint Chutney
  • Mango, lime, and coconut chutney
  • Tomato Chutney
  • Tamarind Chutney
  • Cilantro Chutney
  • Onion Chutney
  • Mango Chutney

We hope this introductory guide to Indian Food can encourage and inspire you to try and taste this fantastic cuisine and perhaps consider adding these dishes to try in your kitchen.