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From Thali to Tandoori: Indian Food Guide for Seattle and the Eastside

Four regions to explore, three places to try

Published on: August 27, 2014

Indian spices. Photo credit: meaduva, flickr CC

Editor's note: We regret that a version of this article included Shanik, which is now closed.

Are you interested in introducing a new cuisine to your family, especially to the picky eaters (also known as kids)? An excellent candidate is Indian food – complex, wide-ranging and spicy enough for adults, yet simple and tasty enough for kids. Here’s the scoop on where and how to try Indian food on the Eastside and in Seattle.

Photo credit: Alpha, flickr CC

The basics: north, south, east, west

India is a vast country with 29 states and seven union territories. Not surprisingly, its cuisine varies widely, from staples to spices used. Its religious diversity and age-old caste system also have had a strong influence on food preparation. Brahmins, Jains and some Buddhists tend to be stricter, opting only for vegetarian options, even avoiding onions and garlic, which are considered to cause agitation.

That said, Indian food habits and tastes are constantly evolving, as various cultural influences rise and fall. New developments include Indian-Chinese cuisine and butter-chicken pizza – an Indian-Italian fusion.

The most well-known Indian dishes tend to come from north India. Wheat is the staple here – think tandoori roti, parantha, naan. There’s a strong Central Asian (Mughal) culinary influence. Cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom and green/red dried chillis are the most popular spices. If you’ve heard of saag paneer, chicken tikka masala or dal makhani, you’ve heard of North Indian cuisine.

Rice is the staple food of the south. Rice breads such as dosas and idlis served with sambar (lentil soup) and chutneys are extremely popular here. Tamarind, which makes food taste tangy, and coconut are distinguishing ingredients.

Dishes from states in the west usually have a mild sweetness, but this decreases as one travels toward the Northwest region of Rajasthan. That desert state is known for its mostly vegetarian but spicy food. Gram flour (chickpea flour) is very popular in the west.

Momos (dumplings), fish and milk-based sweets are popular foods from the east. Try a rossogulla (cheese-based juicy sweet), the next time you are in an Indian grocery store.

In the Seattle area, north and south Indian dishes are readily available, with few restaurants offering food from the western and eastern states of the country.

Tips on eating at an Indian restaurant with kids

  • Although most restaurants do not have a kids' menu, Indian restaurants are usually very family-friendly and the staff are usually very helpful. Typically, you can request varying spice levels for a la carte menu options.

  • Thalis (plates with a combination of foods) are common. A typical thali might include rice, rotis, three or four kinds of vegetables, lentil soup, pickle, yogurt and a dessert. A thali is sufficient for one person.

  • Some restaurants offer unlimited buffet meals, a budget-friendly option. (See Oh! India.)

  • If this is your first time trying Indian food, try basic breads — naan, tandoori rotis, paranthas.

  • For gluten-free options, try rice dishes, such as pulao, biryani or rice breads like dosas and idlis or idiappams (rice noodles with coconut), flavored rice such as tamarind rice, lemon rice or curd (yogurt) rice.

  • For drinks, try mango lassi (a yogurt-based mango drink), plain lassi, masala lemonade, masala or regular chai or South Indian coffee.

  • If you feel the spice level in your curry dish is too high, request ghee (clarified butter). The fat in the ghee reduces the spice level and has a great aroma and taste that could become a hit with the kids. You can mix it with rice or directly add to the curry or sauce if you’re eating it with bread.

Please note: There are many Indian restaurants in the University District area of Seattle and on the Eastside. The choice of restaurants in this article is just a sample of different styles of preparation and eating.

Next: 3 Indian restaurants to try

3 family-friendly Indian restaurants to try

Aahaar, “an Indian Eatery”

Type: Thali and a la carte

Where: 7726 Center Blvd. S.E., Suite 135, Snoqualmie, Wash., 425-888-5500

Though its menu is predominantly south Indian, this small, cozy restaurant offers north Indian options as well, from lunch and dinner thalis (vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are available) to a la carte options. It is the only Indian restaurant in Snoqualmie, located along the strip mall (it could be an excellent post-hike spot). Aahaar also offers vegan and gluten-free options.

What to try: Kerala fried fish or iddiappam (rice noodles with coconut). Also try the malabar parotta, which is quite different from its north Indian namesake in that it is made of all-purpose flour and is multi layered. You can feel the bread crumbling and melting in your mouth with every bite.

Note: Aahaar does not have booth seating, only chair-and-table arrangements.

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Find hours and menu.

Oh! India

Type: Buffet

Where: Crossroads Mall, 15600 N.E. Eighth St. O-09, Bellevue, Wash., 425-641-9999

Oh! India, one of a number of good ethnic restaurants and eateries located at Crossroads, offers a buffet at lunch and dinner with more than 30 items. You can also choose dishes from an a la carte selection — picky eaters should have plenty to choose from. The weekday price for the buffet is $10.99 and the weekend price is $12.99. Kids under 4 eat free. Kids age 5 to 7 pay half the price.

What to try: Upma – a savory dish made from dry-roasted semolina with various vegetables and seasoning. Also try the grilled chicken or tandoori chicken that many swear by.

Hours: Daily for lunch and dinner. Find exact hours on the website.

Tip: On weekends, it can be are crowded, but if you arrive around the opening hours or are willing to wait, your patience will pay off.

Vegetable biryani. Photo credit: Gagandeep Sapra, flickr CC

Curry Point 

Type of restaurant: Meals to go, including lunch boxes

Where: 2789 152 Ave. N.E., Redmond, Wash., 425-636-8124

This Eastside spot, located close to Highway 520 in Redmond, offers regular lunch and dinner to-go options with limited seating. Priced between $5 and $7, the lunch boxes (which include two curries, rice, two fresh rotis and raita) are affordable and filling. Additional items can be purchased for an extra charge. My daughter loves the tangy taste of the tamarind rice here, served with yogurt.

What to try: The most popular dish from the southern city of Hyderabad, dum biryani (rice with meat or vegetables slow cooked with extreme precision to time and temperature in a heavy-bottomed, sealed vessel). The dish has a very strong Nizami influence, the empire that presided over the Deccan region of India. It's served with raita (yogurt with fresh onions, tomatoes) or mirchi ka salan (chili-based gravy).

Hours: Curry Point is open daily for lunch and dinner, with a later start on weekends. Find hours.

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