Chocolate and Gold Coins

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Lack of Diversity in Indian Restaurants in the US

Vikram Arumilli asks the question:

If you could open a restaurant, what kind of restaurant would it be, and what would you name it?

I think he dismisses the obvious option right away: an Indian restaurant - but not your typical Indian restaurant. You know what I mean. They come in two flavors. The North Indian restaurant has pindi chana, navrattan korma, saag paneer or mutter paneer, subzi, and yellow daal. The South Indian restaurant has idlies, dosas (way too greasy versions), vadas (again too greasy) and sambaar. No restaurants want to stray too far from the tried and tested formula. Prashant Kothari discusses this in this older still very relevant post.

But I know and you know that there is a whole universe of wonderful Indian cuisine that never shows up in the standard menu. All that good food you Mother, Mother-in-Law, Grandmother, Grandmothers-in-Law and auties could make. My Mother-in-Law can make at least two-dozen wonderful South Indian dishes that I have never seen on a restaurant menu. She makes these little stuffed eggplants with spices that is just incredible. And how about adding some delicious South Indian style vegetables (poriyal) to the menu.

For North Indian cuisine, why not be a little different? Why not offer chapathi instead of tandori naan, just to be unique. Hot chapathi freshly roasted and served right off the griddle would be a wonderful treat. And why not try some new dishes? There are dozens of different daal dishes, why only serve chana and yellow daal? I remember a restaurant in Minneapolis called Delites of India. They served only North Indian Vegetarian food. Their chef, Om Prakash, made several wonderful dishes I haven’t seen since even after eating in easily 50 different restaurants. He made dhansak, saag chana, dum alloo and many other unique dishes.

Here’s another idea: give your restaurant a fun Indian theme. How about cricket? Have pictures of the Indian cricket stars in giant mural-sized portraits on the walls and a few bats, balls, and stumps decorating the periphery. It will remind the Indians of home, and the pleasant times that Indians had watch the cricket matches. Maybe broadcast live cricket matches on the big screen television (you might have to show delayed matches most days because of the time difference).

As for the name of the restaurant: I like "Laxman's Knock".

The point is, if you want to make a success in you business venture, dare to be unique!

This post has done one thing: It has made me HUNGRY!


If you have a favorite Indian dish that you would like to see served at a restaurant, please comment about it.


  • i would like some maharashtrian dishes. Like Sabudana Khicahdi, Sol-kadhi, Bharali Vangi (stuffed eggplant curry), Amaras-puri etc. Once I went to a place in Troy michigan during summer for a buffet. Dont remember the naem of the restaurant, and they really had all that and more. Their buffet had, south indian, north indian and maharashtrian food. It was AWESOME

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:24 PM  

  • I don't know if you know this, but most Indian restaurants make all their curry dishes mainly with three curries, red, white and green. Depending on the taste required, each dish has a particular combination of these three. This is what enables Indain restaurants to serve dishes that take hours to cook in half an hour.

    So the average Indian restaurant trades diversity in the menu for the ability to serve you fast. Restaurants with a buffet or with fixed menus for certain days will be able to serve you a variety of different foods, but this is impossible for an a la carte place.

    By Blogger Kunal, at 1:11 AM  

  • Hi Michael,

    I would love to see more restaurants serve uttapams.


    By Blogger Vikram A., at 5:10 AM  

  • That Maharashtrian restaurant sounds good.

    Kunal: agreed, the restaurant has to work with some parameters to make food quickly. However, there is still a lot of variety left out. There are some many varieties of daal and only two are ever served in the restaurants. Daal is like soup, it can be prepared in the morning and kept warm all day long.

    Vikram: I have seen uttapams in many restaurants but I don't like the quality too much. They're prepared with too much grease and sometimes they're served luke warm in the buffet. I think that tiffin type items are much better if they are served hot off the griddle.

    Here's an idea: put the griddle in the dining area, sort of like the japanese steak house. When you want the dosa, uttapam, chapathi, or whatever, you go up to the chef and he makes it fresh, just like your mom used to make it. That would be a real hit.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 8:04 AM  

  • I find it strange that *all* south-indian restaurants serve only vegetarian cuisine (like idly, dosa etc). Andhra and chettinad cuisines have some excellent non-veg dishes, not to forget the seafood from the Malabar coast. I have heard of only one such place - called Asaivam in NYC. I guess this is because of the prevalence of vegetarians from South India in the US.

    By Anonymous Eswaran, at 8:58 AM  

  • How about a Goan seafood restaurant? Prawn balchow, fish fry...yumm! Admittedly, you don't get all kinds of fishes you get in India but you can always improvize. King Fish makes an excellent substitute for surmaee

    By Blogger Patrix, at 12:30 PM  

  • How about Bombay-style paav-bhaaji or even panipuri-batatapuri?

    btw, Michael, not sure if you read comments to old posts, but you might just want to read this piece I wrote, related to your sandwich experience and Finland post.

    By Blogger Suhail, at 1:44 PM  

  • Eswaran
    It is true, almost all south Indian restaurants I have come across have been vegetarian (Golkonda in Bellevue, WA was veg/non-veg, as I recall). What I find strange is that the South Indian restaurants never serve alcohol. That's where the money is in the restaurant business. The markup on alcoholic drinks is enormous.

    Patrix: Goan food would be different. For cities located near the ocean, there must be plenty of fish that could substitute for the Indian varieties. I stopped eating fish many years ago but I recall having an excellent fish masala at an Indian restaurant in New Orleans.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 1:44 PM  

  • Hi Sohail
    Curiously, the South Indian restaurants have paav bhajji on their buffet. I can't know if it is as good as the Bombay version but I would doubt it.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 2:00 PM  

  • I like the idea of a theme restaurant.....
    i think, as Indian food gets more popular in the US, these things will definitely enter the market. In the UK, subcontinental food ("curry" :-(( ) is so popular, you have all kinds of themes. And I've seen a lot more variety in places with a larger Indian diaspora. The variety in New Jersey or San Jose beats Seattle hands down.

    By Blogger Sunil, at 2:26 PM  

  • Kunal, most restaurants in India make food that way. It is all about keeping the gravy, cut vegetables and meat/chicken ready and mixing them according to the order placed.

    Vikram, make your own mate. Uthappams are the easiest.

    Michael, in the smaller restaurants and tea shops in India, dosas are usually made at a place where customers can see.

    Sunil, ever wondered what passes for 'curry' in Britain?

    Indian food in the US is fake as are Italian, Mexican etc.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:20 AM  

  • Patrix: King fish and surmai are the same thing.

    Anonymous: Yeah, thats what I said.

    By Blogger Kunal, at 10:10 AM  

  • yup....i know curry in the UK sucks....which is why I used italics, with a frown, :-))

    But the point was diversity....and in london, if you look, you can find all kinds of excellent Indian food....

    By Blogger Sunil, at 12:11 PM  

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