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

Four regions to explore, three places to try

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

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