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A Guide to Ordering Indian Food: What You Need to Know Before You Order


Ready to try some Indian food, but completely confused by the menu and what to order?

…If you are unfamiliar with Indian cuisine and the terms used in preparing Indian food, it’s always difficult ordering food off an Indian Menu. And more often than not you end up ordering the wrong type of dishes or, too much or too little and spoil your experience.

Deciphering and ordering Indian food is a lot easier than you might think. Whether your ordering food from an Indian restaurant or abroad the basics are more a less the same. Indian Menu’s abroad tend to use English terms to help you with a description of the dish out but in India you only have the names of the Dishes to go by.

Here’s a guide that will help you to Order Indian Food in a Restaurant:

Ordering Indian Food

The fist thing to keep in mind is that Indian food is meant to be eaten as a group and is not plated as individual portions. Unlike in the west where you usually order a main and side dish per person dinning, Indian food is ordered together for the table as a whole or groups of people when in large numbers and then shared. That is because Indian meal consists of a number of components and the food is served on a large silver platters or dishes where it then is served by the restaurant staff onto your individual plates. So don’t go ordering a main dish per person in Indian restaurant.

It’s a good idea to ask your server how many people a main dish will serve before placing your order. In many restaurants in India they offer a half plate or a full dish. The half usually says serves 2-3 people while the full serves 4-6 people. But the portions differ from place to place so it’s best to ask the staff what their quantity is like and they’ll inform you on how many people it will serve.

Know your spiciness factor. Before you even order off the menu, decide how spicy you want your food to be: mild, medium, hot, or extra hot. An ask your waiter if the spiciness of the dish and whether they can make it milder if required. They almost always can cater to your palate when it comes to the hotness of the dish. But if you want to taste real Indian spices…leave it up to the chef.

A Complete Indian Meal and How Much to Order

A typical Indian meal will begin with a starter or appetizer. This is usually comes in the form of a small dry dish with a few pieces on each platter…so each one gets a small taste. It’s often served with some accompaniments like chutneys or sauces. For a table of 4 around two types of starters of your preference- vegetarian or non-vegetarian, is a good way to start.

Order a Lassi or a Masala Chaas for as an Indian Drink. Lassi and Chaas are traditional Indian yogurt drinks. Lassi can be sweet or salty while Masala Chaas is a spiced buttermilk. Unlike water, the yogurt in Lassi and Chaas calms the tongue and can be very helpful in putting out the fire that Spicy Indian food can sometimes cause.

Then comes the main course. If your non-vegetarian you could go with one or two meat dishes which usually come with gravies or curry. Along with that a vegetable side dish is normally ordered along with Indian flat breads. Then the main meal is wrapped up with a rice dish with a lentil dal.

Accompaniments of the meal include some, if not all of the following- a variety of chutneys, pickles, curd (yogurt) and or a raw onion and cucumber slices.

The desserts are probably the only part of the meal ordered individually though some are rich and sweet enough to split specially after a heavy meal. But desserts are served in individual portions.

So for a complete meal for 4: 2 starters, 2 meat main dishes (or vegetable dishes in case of vegetarians), 1 vegetable dish, Indian flat bread (naan, rotis, paratha’s) per person and a rice with a Dal (lentil soup) or a pulao/ biryani on it’s own,and if you’ve got room for dessert it can be ordered individually per person…this is the way to go for an authentic Indian meal!

After the meal either when your check is brought or on your way out the door, you will notice a tray or bowl with what looks like shiny colored grains of rice. These are candy coated fennel seeds, or plain roasted fennel possibly with some squares of rock sugar candy added. You want to chew on a small amount of this, fennel not only aids in digestion but keeps you from having “Dragon Breath”, a well known side effect of good Indian cooking.

For a True Indian Dinning Experience

Eat with Your Hands! If it is not wet or messy, it’s best enjoyed by hand. The proper technique would be to break the bread, dip or take small piece of condiments such as chutney, or vegetable curry and eat it.

The basic rule of thumb as long as you do not make a mess by eating something with your hands (such as liquid, grains of rice) it should be enjoyed with your hands. The philosophy behind this is that eating is a very sensual thing and one should be able to enjoy eating with as many senses as possible – tasting, smelling, looking and touching.


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