How To Read An Indian Restaurant Menu


How To Read An Indian Restaurant Menu

Navigating an Indian menu can be a culinary adventure, offering a symphony of flavors, spices, and vibrant dishes that might leave Westerners intrigued and puzzled about great Indian food. The vast array of options, unfamiliar names, and diverse culinary techniques can be a delightful challenge for those less acquainted with Indian cuisine.

Indian Food for Beginners

Indian Food for Beginners

Understanding the structure, terminology, and unique offerings on Indian restaurant menus enhances the dining experience and allows Westerners to delve confidently into the rich tapestry of Indian flavors. So, let’s embark on a journey to unravel the secrets of an Indian menu, ensuring that every bite is a discovery and every meal explores the diverse and delicious world of Indian food.

Indian Restaurant Entrees or Appetizers

Indian Restaurant Entrees or Appetizers

Appetizers, those delightful precursors to a meal, are petite dishes or sips crafted to awaken the taste buds and spark the appetite. Typically presented before the main course, these tasty bites are designed for the sheer joy of anticipation.

Often shared among diners, Indian appetizers offer a diverse array of flavors, from the zestyonion bhaji, a fusion of spices, herbs, eggs, and gram flour, to the crispy wonders of meat and  vegetable samosas featuring fried pastry filled with savory mincemeat or a colorful mix of vegetables.

The Shish Kebab, a tempting concoction of minced meat, garlic, ginger, and an array of spices, takes a delightful turn in the tandoori clay oven, adding a uniquely Indian touch. These appetizers serve as a flavorful overture, inviting diners to relish the tapestry of tastes that await in the main course.

Aloo Dum, translating to slow-cooked potatoes, is a culinary gem from the heart of the Kashmir Valley. The meticulous slow-cooking process infuses whole potatoes with a symphony of aromatic spices, creating a harmonious spice blend full of heat, earthiness, and sweetness. Aloo Dum offers a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir, embodying the warmth of Kashmiri hospitality and the passion for flavors passed down through generations.

Tandoori Indian Dishes

The mention of Tandoori unveils the art of clay oven cooking. Originating in India and crafted from clay or fireproof bricks, Tandoors cook swiftly, retain heat efficiently, and eliminate the need for additional fuel.

Tandoori isn’t a specific dish; it’s more like a fantastic way of cooking. This oven makes excellent naan bread and cooks marinated meat, chicken, or fish. The magic of the tandoor is that it can get super hot, over 600°F, so your food cooks fast and tasty.

Plus, since you’re cooking on skewers, there’s less fat involved, making it a healthier option. Just a heads up, our tandoori dishes will be made with ghee butter, garlic, and ginger for that extra yummy factor.

If you’re feeling hearty, the Tandoori Chicken gives you either a chicken breast or leg, both marinated and grilled to perfection, with a side of salad.

Lamb lovers can enjoy the lamb tikka with marinated lamb fillets or the lamb chop with chops in tandoori spices.

What is Chicken Tikka Masala in an Indian Restaurant?

Chicken tikka masala is a tasty dish with roasted chicken chunks in a flavorful, creamy, orange-colored sauce. It originated from British South Asian cooks and has become popular worldwide. The curry sauce has fresh tomato flavors, making it rich and delicious without feeling heavy. Cashews add a magical creaminess without making you overly full.

Indian Restaurant Bread

Indians usually dive into their meals by tearing off a piece of bread with their hands and using it as a scoop for that flavorful gravy or the main dish goodies.

Indian menus offer a delightful variety of bread options that add unique textures and flavors to your meal. Tandoori roti, crafted from whole wheat and all-purpose flour, boasts stiff dough, while naan, made solely with all-purpose flour, has a softer consistency. Naan’s dough undergoes fermentation with yeast, resulting in leavened dough, while tandoori roti is created with unleavened plain dough.

Laccha paratha, a distinct flatbread, can be prepared with wheat and all-purpose flour and fried with ghee to achieve a crispy, flaky texture with visible layers. Keema naan takes a creative turn by filling it with spiced lamb or goat meat generously coated in butter, offering a flavorful snack without the need for traditional accompaniments.

Peshwari Naan, a yeast-leavened bread, is filled with desiccated coconut, sultanas (or raisins), and almonds, adding a sweet and nutty twist to the bread. These diverse bread options enhance your dining experience and pair wonderfully with various curries.

How to Enjoy Indian Food (If the Indian Food Spicy!)

When diving into a spicy feast, it’s always a good idea to balance the heat with cooling side dishes and refreshing drinks to ease your stomach.

Opt for side dishes like cucumber raita, a yogurt-based condiment with cucumber and spices, or coconut chutney, a sweet and savory blend of coconut, green chilies, and herbs. These sides add a burst of flavor and help counteract the spice. You can also order a salad full of leafy green vegetables.

Pair your Indian food with a lassi, a traditional Indian yogurt drink like mango lassi, or a soothing minty lemonade to keep things cool and enjoyable. These sidekicks have your back when the spice starts to kick in!

Indian Food Guide to Rice

In Indian cuisine, you’ve got two main dishes: the ones with gravy (like saucy goodness) and the dry ones (a bit less saucy, more on the solid side). What you pair them with – rice or bread – is your call. But here’s the lowdown: if your dish is thicker or drier, it’s high-fiving with bread. Meanwhile, if it’s more watery, like dal or chicken curry, it’s a rice-friendly situation.

Apart from delicious curry, most Indian restaurants will offer a diverse array of rice options. The classic basmati rice offers a timeless choice, while the saffron pilau presents a more aromatic blend with braised rice, browned onions, cumin, and saffron. For a flavorful twist, the fried rice combines basmati rice with tempered garlic, eggs, and green peas.

The lemon rice brings a zesty kick with mustard seeds, curry leaves, lemon zest, and lime juice. Or savor the earthy richness of the mushroom rice, featuring braised rice with button mushrooms. Each option promises a delightful journey of tastes and textures to complement your dining experience.

Biryani Indian Restaurant Food

Biryani, which suits chicken, lamb, seafood, or veggies, originated in Persia and is widely loved across the subcontinent and the Middle East.

Biryani Indian restaurants include aromatic Basmati rice and Indian food seasoned with a blend of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaf, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, coconut, sliced almonds, sultanas, onions, ginger, and garlic. Indian cooking Basmati rice is stir-fried in a wok with these ingredients, offering a lightly spiced taste.


Biryani is perfect for those new to Indian cuisine, but ordering it with a more robust curry sauce is an excellent choice if you’re a seasoned spice lover. Pair it with raita (natural yogurt) for a delightful combo.

Try the Agrah Desi Biryani with a mix of chicken, lamb, and boiled egg, seasoned with Biryani spices, and garnished with chopped tomato and cucumber. It comes with a mixed vegetable curry sauce. For those who love a fiery kick, go for the Jalfrazi style!

The Bengali Dining Ritual in an Indian Restaurant

Bengali dining is a ceremonial affair. Courses are typically served in a specific order that reflects the region’s rich cultural heritage.

Bitter Beginnings

The journey commences with the first course, often featuring bitter dishes like those made with bitter melon. This sets the tone for a diverse and flavorful culinary adventure.

Dal and White Rice

Moving on, the second course typically includes dal (lentils) and white rice, providing a comforting and staple foundation to the meal.

Vegetable Extravaganza

A vegetable dish showcases the vibrant and diverse range of vegetables used in Bengali cuisine. This course adds color and nutrition to the feast.

Fish Delicacies

Bengalis are renowned for their love of fish, and every Bengali meal is complete with a fish dish. This could take various forms, reflecting the region’s proximity to rivers and the Bay of Bengal.

Meaty Temptations

For those who desire a meaty indulgence, a meat dish appears in the later courses, contributing to the meal’s overall richness.

Dried-Fruit Chumey

An exciting addition to the feast is the dried fruit chumey. This sweet and tangy element provides a delightful contrast to the savory courses and rice dish.

Sweet Culmination

Finally, dessert marks the conclusion of the Bengali dining experience. Bengalis are renowned across India for their exquisite sweets, often prepared with milk and its derivatives. These desserts, adorned with coconut, pistachios, gold or silver leaf, fruits, and spices, are a fitting end to the Indian food journey.

Indian Restaurants Menus for Children

Many local Indian restaurants do not have a special menu for kids when ordering Indian food. Nevertheless, you can find more than one particular dish (maybe not the restaurant’s specialty) that will make your children start loving Indian menus.

If your little munchkins are up for it, try the Chicken Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken with naan – creamy and not too spicy, so it’s a win for kiddos.

Chicken Biryani is the way to go if they’re not into the whole sauce and bread. It’s got yummy spices but nothing too spicy, and the meat is all tender mixed with buttery rice – kid-approved.

Try samosas (crispy triangles filled with veggie goodness) or parathas (simple flatbreads) for the pickier eaters. Aloo paratha, stuffed with potatoes, is a hit.

Parsi Indian Restaurant Food

Parsi cuisine, a fusion of ideas and techniques perfected over centuries, celebrates seafood, poultry, and mutton, with a respectful omission of beef due to historical reasons.

To navigate the menu effectively, recognize that eggs take center stage, prepared enthusiastically and creatively, while vegetables are supported in a landscape dominated by meat-centric dishes.

Brace yourself for a symphony of flavors as hot chilies are lavishly used to elevate the culinary experience.

Most Popular Indian Dishes: Dhan Sak

Meet Dhan Sak – the rockstar of Parsi cooking, also known as “the wealth of 7 pulses.” It’s like the superhero version of regular Indian dishes, stealing the show at Sunday dinners and fancy gatherings. People might call it a “heavy” meal, but that’s because everyone loves it so much they eat heaps of it.

So, picture this: a laid-back family-style feast with lamb cubes in spicy lentil/pumpkin puree, lamb kabobs, spiced rice, a fresh veggie salad, and onion-coriander chutney, a full-on flavor party!

Spice alert: Parsi flavors are bold, so you should tone it down if you’re not a spice warrior. Don’t forget to grab a beer – it’s the perfect sidekick.

What Makes Tikka Indian Meals Special?

Tikka, derived from the term “small chunks,” originates from the Mughal dynasty. This dish features marinated pieces of meat or vegetarian alternatives infused with spices and yogurt and cooked to perfection in a tandoor.

Tikka has transcended borders, gaining popularity not only throughout the Indian subcontinent but also in countries like Great Britain. Its unique preparation method results in a flavorful and aromatic delight that captivates palates far and wide.

Kashmiri Cuisine

Embarking on a culinary journey through a Kashmiri restaurant menu unveils a tapestry of inventive and imaginative delights, particularly showcased during grand celebrations like weddings.

Professional cooks, in high demand and with a hefty price tag, take center stage during these festive occasions, especially in the wedding months of June, July, and August—chosen based on auspicious dates determined by family astrologers.

Hindu wedding feasts typically feature a decadent menu comprising four meat dishes, a variable array of twelve to thirty vegetarian dishes, a side rice dish with specialties like Shadi Pilau, and a sweet dish.

On the other hand, Muslim weddings lean heavily towards meat-centric offerings, with an emphasis on ten to twelve or more meat dishes, constrained only by the budget. The essential components include Basmati rice, seasoned meat dishes, yogun, Halwah, and a plate of mint and walnut chumey for every four guests. No Kashmiri wedding is complete without Kahava, a tea infused with sugar, almonds, cardamom, and cinnamon.

Contrasting the elaborate wedding feasts, traditional Kashmiri home cooking is straightforward, utilizing essential cooking equipment such as foot-high kerosene stoves, frying pans, pots for rice and curries, and the indispensable herai (wok).

Thali Indian Dishes

A thali is not just a plate; it’s a visual and gastronomic experience. In Indian cuisine, a thali traditionally refers to a method of serving food.

This presentation style involves multiple dishes arranged on the same plate, starting with an appetizer and culminating with a refreshing drink or dessert. The beauty lies in the diversity of flavors and textures presented harmoniously on a single platter.


Decoding an Indian restaurant menu offers a vibrant journey into a diverse culinary landscape, introducing Western diners to a rich tapestry of flavors and spices. From appetizers like Onion Bhaji and kebabs to hearty main courses such as Tandoori Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala, the experience is enriched by various Indian breads like Naan and unique options like Keema Naan.

If you want to try some of these dishes at home, try our incredible recipes on the website with ingredients from your local market!

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