Going beyond chicken masala, tandoori and pappadums, we’ve listed the best Indian restaurants in Dubai to remember.
We’ve all had our share of butter chicken, garlic naan and biryani’s. I’m guessing it was at a mid-end neighbourhood place (you always walked past it thinking you should try it, and one day you did) or from some anonymous something Palace that delivered on one of those days you wanted to eat something slightly healthier than pizza but a salad didn’t sound appetizing. I’m also guessing it doesn’t stand out in your memory as an amazing meal.
But if you’ve ever been to India, or ended up at a recommended Indian restaurants in Dubai, you know that every meal there does stand out in your memory – for the richness of the tastes, the endless varieties of curries and the subtlety of the differences between them. If you are any bit the foodie, the Indian kitchen does deserve a chance, and we’d like to help you get started.
Let’s start with some dishes that will show you another side of Indian cuisine, and where you can go in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for an authentic Indian experience.
Staples of the Indian kitchen are rice, lentils, chickpeas, mustard and coconut oil, ghee (a kind of buttery oil), chicken, mutton, mustard seeds, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ginger, paneer (Indian cheese) and garam masala (a mix of spices, usually including cardamom, cinnamon and clove). India’s cuisine is influenced by regional produce and herbs, as well as history. For instance, the Portuguese, who were more present in the South, brought chili’s to India, which has made South Indian cuisine much more spicy than dishes from other parts of India. Seafood is also more present in the Southern provinces’ cooking where fishing forms a significant part of livelihood. In the South, you will also find more dishes that contain tamarind.
Regional specialties include Thukpa, a noodle soup common in the North-Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh that originates from Tibet, and is also served in Sikkim, Assam, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh where the populations are partly Tibetan. In addition to the standard garam masala and chili powder the soup contains peas and gram (made of flour from ground lentils) noodles.
In Himachal Pradesh, one of the Northern most states of India, Rajma-Chawal is very common, a curry of red kidney beans served with rice. Vindaloo is a dish that may ring a bell – more common in the Southern states of India, which was originally prepared by marinating meat in wine and garlic, the wine being another Portuguese influence. The wine was later substituted with local vinegar and Goan influences were the dried chilis, and the regional garam masala mix. A typical Punjabi dish, which makes for a good side dish to your curries and rice, is Palak Paneer. It’s a mix of spinach and tomato gravy with traditional Indian cheese, and of course a healthy dose of garlic and garam masala. It is believed that you should always accompany Palak Paneer with buttermilk, or even better, lassi. Lassi is a yoghurt based drink that comes in salty, sweet and fruity forms, and is believed to aid the digestion and health of the gut because of the cultures in the yoghurt. Another one to try is Rogan Josh, from Kashmir. Chunks of lamb are braised and stewed with a gravy with onions, yoghurt, garlic, ginger and spices.
Kashmiri cuisine is typically heavier, with more use of cream, and a Kashmiri curry on the menu will typically also be a bit sweeter, sometimes including dried fruits and usually made with coconut cream. Karnataka has two specialties to try – banana leaf meals and dosa. It is customary for meals to be served on a big banana leaf, to be eaten by hand. What you would typically find on the leaf are pickles, raita (a yoghurt sauce used to temper the fieriness of some of the more spicy dishes), a small cucumber salad called Kosambari, a variety of gojju (a sweet and spicy dish with different vegetables usually prepared with tamarind for the sweetness), thovve which is a lentil curry (dal), chitranna (rice cooked with spices and fruits) and plain rice. Dosas are pancakes made of ground pulse and lentil types. They are usually served with several accompaniments such as chutneys, raitas and sambar, a spicy sauce, and also eaten by hand.
Another nice side dish, from the Northern parts of India, is Saag. It’s made of leaf greens such as spinach, mustard leaves, collard greens and spiced with the regional garam masala. There are variations that include Paneer, Aloo (potato) or Gosht (goat). From Kerala comes Kadala curry, made with black lentils and coconut, and from Assam comes Khar made of raw papaya, lentils or beans, and chicken or mutton. And, as a final tip, something else to look out for on the menus are Kofte curries.
Similar to the Middle Eastern cuisine, kofte are balls, but in Indian dishes they tend to be balls made of ground vegetables, spices and only sometimes contain meat. Sometimes the kofte themselves are stuffed with cheese or tomato, and they are always stewed in rich tomato gravies or curries.
Now that you know what to look out for, let’s talk about the where.
In Abu Dhabi
The Yas Viceroy has Angar which gets great reviews from Indian residents and tourists. Alternatively, head to Ushna at Souq Qaryat al Beri which has a lovely setting. The Punjab Grill at the Venetian Village gets a lot of thumbs up for it’s authentic flavours. Others to try are Avasa at Saadiyat Island, Indigo at Beach Rotana and for a true fine dining experience Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor at the Corniche.
If you want to combine a nice meal with a day trip, consider Tanjore at Danat Al Ain Resort.
There is Indego by Vineet at Grosvenor House, Chutneys at Movenpick in Bur Dubai, Amal at Armani, award winning Tresind at Nassima Royal, Mint Leaf of London in DIFC, Naya at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Asha’s at Wafi, Ashiana at Sheraton at the Creek, Aangan at Dhow Palace Hotel (a hidden gem according to connoisseurs!), Carnival by Tresind at DIFC, Antique Bazaar at Four Points by Sheraton and Amala at Zabeel Saray.