I’m as much an expert on Indian food as the average citizen of Fargo, North Dakota is on Chinese cuisine. Although I’ve eaten Indian food several times yearly for the last decade and a half, I’ve never gone further than plain naan, plain jasmine rice, tandoori chicken, butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, and a few other ‘westernized’ staples of the North American Indian restaurant lunch buffet. These dishes have so satisfied me that I’ve never felt a need to travel outside this comfort zone even when I’m ordering a la carte at an Indian restaurant. It’s like a college student’s addiction to pizza and greasy Chinese food (my observation when I was living among the sea of college/university students from the various colleges and universities in the Boston area); why order something else when you can’t even get enough of the dishes you usually order?
So this Saturday, when I got one of my quarterly cravings for Indian food, I called up the Indian restaurant closest to my house – Handi – and ordered some naan with some chicken tikka masala.
My wife and I have certain prejudices when it comes to naan. Our prejudices are our very own preferences associated with how we first experienced this most basic of Indian breads, so there is a high probability that it is very different from characteristics of the best and most authentic naan. With that disclaimer out of the way, I can tell you that the naan we received from Handi was almost the polar opposite of our favorite versions of it. The version from Handi tasted clean and had only subtle flavours of flour while we liked naan that have more earthen flavours with very distinct floury aromas showing through. We also favor naan that was dry to a crisp on the flat side while chewy and almost powdery everywhere else. The naan from handi was moist and tender throughout, which was not to our liking. It felt more like store-bought non-country specific flatbread than something that had been stuck on the walls of a tandoor a few minutes ago. Again, this might be the perfect naan. But it was totally beyond the comprehension of novices like my wife and I.
The chicken tikka masala suited our taste buds much more. It had all the familiar spiciness of the chicken tikka masala dishes that we were used to, but its flavours were further enhanced by a bold tomatoey flavour that added a very distinct tanginess and sweetness to the dish. I’ve always known that chicken tikka masala had a tomato-based sauce, but it was not until this version that I appreciated and enjoyed its presence.
I also ordered some prawns goa curry in an attempt to get my feet wet on Indian dishes I’ve never had before.
Judging by its generic name, I don’t think that the dish is one that exists in India under the same name. Its like calling a soup “Vancouver Hot Soup” at a Canadian restaurant abroad (do Canadian restaurants even exist outside of the country?).
The curry was very watery; it was probably the thinnest ‘curry’ dish (consistency-wise) that I’ve ever had at an Indian restaurant. The curry had predominantly coconut flavours that I felt were more similar to the southeast Asian curries such as Thai or Malaysian curry than the Indian curries that I have had. The prawns in the curry were snappy, juicy, and fresh-tasting. The thin sauce, coconut dominated flavours, and fresh shrimp combined to create a new and enjoyable experience that my wife and I will no doubt expand our comfort zone to include.
As inauthentic as both dishes we ordered were, my wife and I thought that they were both pretty tasty. The tastiness of the two ‘curry’ dishes were in stark contrast to what we felt were rather ‘un-tasty’ naan. I’m starting to think that the naan might only be unenjoyable to us but enjoyable to more seasoned and more knowledgable Indian food veterans. If that is indeed the case, I might need to order the naan from Handi again so that I can learn what a real naan tastes like.