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Balti is more a style of cooking than one particular curry. The word balti can be translated as "bucket" (i.e. a cooking pan) and some say the style of cooking is indigenous to an area of northern Pakistan known as Baltistan. Further information on the origins of balti can be found on The Balti Pages. A balti pan is basically a karahi which has the shape of a Chinese wok but with 2 small round handles on either side of the pan instead of one long handle. In specialist "Balti Houses" the balti is a meal in itself which contains both meat and vegetables and is eaten straight from the karahi using curled up pieces of nan bread. In standard Indian restaurants the balti is more of a stir-fried curry containing plenty of fried green peppers and fresh coriander (equivalent word in American English cilantro). Medium hot.




Bhuna is first and foremost a cooking process where spices are gently fried in plenty of oil to bring out their flavour. The dish "bhuna" is an extension of that process where meat is added to the spices and then cooked in its own juices which results in deep strong flavours but very little sauce. The restaurant bhuna is a well spiced curry with a thick sauce. It is often garnished with fried green peppers (equivalent word in American English bell peppers) and shredded onions. Usually medium hot although I have had some pretty hot ones in my time.


Biryani is not a curry at all but the curry connection comes from the mixed vegetable curry with which it is served in most Indian restaurants.

Biryani originated in Persia and, at its simplest, was rice and meat baked together in the oven. The cooks to the Moghul emperors took the biryani and transformed it into a courtly delicacy by adding aromatic spices and other exotic ingredients. Traditionally, biryanis are baked in the oven for some time so the aromatic spices and juices from the meat permeate the rice. In the Indian restaurant, however, all the dishes are made to order and the poor chef has to find a way of preparing the biryani in double quick time. So the restaurant biryani is often just pilau rice stir fried with chicken or lamb which has been cooked as an extra dry bhuna. The restaurant biryani is usually garnished with almonds and sultanas (equivalent word in American English golden raisins) and is accompanied by a mixed vegetable curry to add a little juiciness to the rice. Mild.


A famous Parsee dish. Interestingly the dhan part of the name means rice and a dhansak is traditionally served with a pulao of fried and spiced rice. An authentic dhansak will made with lamb and contain vegetables and many different types of dhal (the sak in the name). The curry house dhansak is often referred to as "hot, sweet and sour with lentils". The "hot" is chilli powder, the "sweet" is sugar and the "sour" is lemon juice. Curry houses commonly use masoor dhal (split red lentils) but some restaurants now use chana dhal to good effect. If it is done well the dhansak is an excellent curry with contrasting flavours and textures. But if the "sweet" in your restaurant dhansak is provided by the addition of pineapple then, in my opinion, you should order something else.


The dopiaza is a classic Indian dish dating back at least to Moghul times. The name dopiaza broadly translates as "2 onions" or "double onions". Some traditional versions of the dopiaza use twice the weight of onions compared to the weight of meat but a classic Indian dopiaza is more likely to use the onions in 2 different ways, fried and boiled, at different stages of the cooking. The restaurant version has small fried pieces of onion in the sauce and then larger chunks of lightly cooked onion are added towards the end of the cooking. Medium hot.


Jalfrezi is not a traditional Indian dish as such but, like the bhuna, is actually a method of cooking. It literally means "hot-fry" but is probably better translated as "stir-fry". The term jalfrezi entered the English language at the time of the British Raj in India. Colonial households employed Indian cooks who would use the jalfrezi method of cooking to heat up cold roasted meat and potatoes. But the restaurant jalfrezi is not a version of the Anglo-Indian dish. Oh no. The Indian restaurant chef uses the jalfrezi method to stir-fry green peppers, onions and plenty of green chillies as the basis for a curry with just a little sauce. The chillies make the jalfrezi taste very fresh but also make it one of the hotter curries on the restaurant menu.


Many Indian restaurants had a balti-style curry on their menu long before the rise in popularity of balti cooking in the UK. They did not call the curry a balti but rather a korai or karahi and many restaurants still carry one on their menu. Both the balti and korai contain stir fried meat and vegetables and both take their name from the utensil in which they are cooked. Because korai is a style of cooking rather than a traditional recipe the curry house versions can vary considerably from restaurant to restaurant. It can be medium or hot and will usually contain green peppers, tomatoes and onions.


A traditional korma will have a long slow cooking. In fact, korma is not one particular dish but rather a method of cooking similar to braising. Because korma is a cooking method there are a wide variety of dishes that could be described as "korma". Many kormas call for the meat to be marinated in yoghurt and then the meat plus marinade are braised on a very low heat until all the juices condense down into a thick sauce. The restaurant chef has to cook to order so doesn't have time for long, slow cooking. The korma you find in Indian restaurants usually contains ground almonds, coconut and thick cream. It is often described on restaurant menus as being "very mild" but a good korma should not be bland.


The curry house Madras is a restaurant invention which started life as simply a hotted up version of the standard restaurant curry. Because it is a restaurant invention rather than a traditional recipe the Madras can vary considerably from one restaurant to another. The restaurant Madras can be hot or very hot, red or brown, a hotter version of a plain curry or quite rich in tomatoes. Mostly though it comes with plenty of sauce and is strongly spiced . It is the standard restaurant hot curry.


The Moghul dynasty ruled much of the Asian sub-continent for 3 centuries and left behind a fabulous legacy not just in art and architecture but also in sumptuous cuisine. There is no one Moghul style but the usual restaurant interpretation is rich and creamy. The curry house Moghlai contains plenty of ginger, ground almonds, yoghurt and cream. Some restaurants offer a Shahi Moghul dish which is garnished with a small omelette flavoured with chopped coriander leaves. Mild to medium.


Derived from a court dish of the Moghul emperors the pasanda is traditionally made with thinly sliced and marinated lamb fillets. It is sometimes called lamb badam pasanda because the dish contains ground almonds, the "badam" of the title. The restaurant pasanda is usually quite mild and contains ground almonds, cardamon pods, puréed tomatoes and cream.


Like it's more famous cousin, dhansak, patia is a Parsee dish. A traditional Parsee patia is made with fish cooked in a dark vinegar sauce. The restaurant patia is hot, sweet and sour in equal measure. The restaurant patia grew popular as a starter using prawns (equivalent word in American English shrimps) as the main ingredient. Many restaurants now offer the patia as a main course as well and give you the choice of a prawn, chicken or lamb version. It is usually garnished with fried tomato pieces.

rogan josh

Rogan josh is another all time favourite on the curry house menu. It was originally a Kashmiri dish but is equally at home in the Punjab. An authentic rogan josh will be made with lamb and may, at its most elaborate, contain dozens of spices. The Kashmiri and Punjabi versions do differ (the Kashmiri does not traditionally contain onions or garlic) but they are both highly spiced and share a deep red colour derived from the liberal use of dried red Kashmiri chillies. The curry house rogan is also red but the colour comes from red peppers and tomatoes rather than Kashmiri chillies. The restaurant rogan is characterised by its garnish of tomato pieces and fresh coriander. It is usually medium hot.


Saag gosht is a classic curry traditionally made with spinach and lamb. Saag is, strictly speaking, a general term for tender green leaves such as spinach, mustard greens and fresh fenugreek leaves. If you were talking about spinach on its own it would be called palak. Many restaurants these days will offer a chicken or a prawn alternative to lamb and so the dish will show on the menu as just "saag" or "palak" omitting the gosht (lamb) from the name altogether. The saag is usually served medium hot and is made in the bhuna style.

tikka masala

To my mind it is fruitless to enter the debate on the origins of the famous chicken tikka masala. If you want to remind yourself of the contending arguments then take a look at the essay on the subject "Is it or isn't it? - the chicken tikka masala story" by food historians Peter and Colleen Grove. Chicken tikka masala is the all time most popular dish on the Indian restaurant menu and what the restaurant diner really needs to know is whether the restaurant is providing a good example of the dish. And what is a good example? Well, the chicken tikka pieces should be aromatic and slightly smoky from the tandoor. The masala sauce should be well spiced but not hot, rich and creamy and have a hint of coconut. Tikka masala usually has a deep red colour, gained from the use of artificial food colourings.


The vindaloo was originally a Portuguese dish which took its name from the 2 main ingredients which were "vinho", wine/wine vinegar, and "alhos", garlic. Over time it was spiced up, hotted up and otherwise changed by the indigenous peoples of the ex-Portuguese colony of Goa. Not many restaurants produce an authentic Goan vindaloo not least because the pork used by Christian Goans in their recipe would not be acceptable to Muslim chefs. In some restaurants the vindaloo is just a pumped-up Madras i.e. the same recipe but with lots more chilli powder. Other restaurants have interpreted the "aloo" part of the name as meaning potato and introduced diced potato to a hot standard curry with added lemon juice for tartness and black pepper for extra pungency. Very hot.





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