A Flavorful Journey Through the Regions of India

India spice map. Photo by dreamstime.com/

To many people, Indian food consists mostly of curries, chutneys, and kebabs.

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In actuality, the food from one region of India may be completely different than to another and totally foreign to a person from another region. There is a common thread however– the use of different spices to create flavor. Below, I take you on a flavorful journey through the many regions of India and en route stop at some of the DC area’s best Indian restaurants.

Northern India: Home to cooler weather, the food here is characterized by hearty textures and warm flavors. Most restaurant favorites, such as those prepared in a “Tandoor” are from this region.

At the District’s fringe is Masala Art (4441 B-Wisconsin Ave., NW), located in Tenleytown, which serves authentic North Indian dishes highlighting unique spices (vetiver, amchoor powder). I don’t usually order Butter Chicken at restaurants, because the dish is almost always overly creamy with no depth in flavor. Not so at Masala Art.  Their Murgh Makhani  (see photo on left) is delicately buy cialis online spiced with strong notes of tomato and the right creamy texture. The

Saag Paneer – paneer cheese in spinach, also a conventional dish, is solid in flavor and authenticity.  They also offer some un-typical preparations that are delicious. The Murgh Methi Chaman, chicken cooked in a sauce with fenugreek leaves is delightful, as is the Baingan Bharta -mashed and spiced eggplant.

Murgh methi -Masala Art

Delhi Dhaba (2424 Wilson Blvd.) in Clarendon is my go-to for cheap Indian food that hits the spot. Their combo specials allow you to get a bit of everything, and I especially enjoy their vegetables, chicken tikka masala and dal (lentils).

Another favorite is Saran (5157 Lee Hwy.) in Arlington, which is fully vegetarian but offers some more interesting items on the menu – a pumpkin curry, jackfruit curry and an assortment of stuffed parathas (breads).

Southern India: South India has a hot, humid climate and all its states are coastal. Prominent ingredients in South Indian food are curry leaves, black pepper, tamarind, and coconut.

Indique (2 Wisconsin Circle) in Cleveland Park reigns for top South Indian cuisine. Start your meal off with salmon sliders –served between mini-oothappams, fermented rice pancakes. The calamari tossed with shallots, ginger, hot pepper, mustard seeds & tomato is delectable. The Chicken Chettinad, made with coriander and peppercorns packs a punch and is not for the faint at heart, but is incredibly flavorful. Another must try at Indique is the “Appam corner”, which is offered only during dinner between 6-10pm. Appams, a spongy bread made of fermented rice, are served with the traditional “Ishtew” (Ish-too), made with vegetables or chicken and coconut milk.

Other popular spots to find South Indian food in the area are Woodlands (8046 New Hampshire Ave.) in Langley Park, and Amma’s (344 Maple Ave. East) in Vienna. Amma which means “mother” is a fast casual restaurant, but is healthy using fresh ingredients.

Eastern India: Eastern Indian cuisine focuses on plentiful, fresh fish and is also known for a bitter-sweet balance in flavor.

Although you don’t have to go to East India to get a taste of its cuisine, you do have to venture

out as far as Bethesda to Passage to India (4931 Cordell Ave.). The restaurant does not focus on East Indian cuisine, but offers some dishes which are an introduction to the region’s cuisine. The baby gourds tempered with the traditional five-spice mix “Paanch Phoron” is light and tasty, as is the shrimp cooking in a coconut sauce with cloves and ginger.

Western India: This is where the flavors of the North meet those of the South, ranging from sweet to hot and spicy.

Most people familiar with Indian food would have tried a vindaloo– a searing meat dish made with vinegar and garlic. The Bombay Club (815 Connecticut Ave., NW) located downtown, offers up a spicy Lamb vindaloo, artfully prepared by Executive Chef Nilesh Singhvi, which is a highlight and a really popular dish.

Although I have never been, Hush Supper Club, an underground Indian restaurant in DC. Chef Geeta has a storytelling hour during the meal where she explains the spices used in the meal and discusses her cultural and religious background as a Gujarati Jain from the Western state of Gujarat.

crispy spinach palak chaat. Photo courtesy of HeatherFreeman.com

We can’t talk about Indian food in DC without a mention of Rasika,(633 D St., NW) the sister restaurant to the Bombay Club. While I personally prefer Rasika’s inventive and modern Indian fare, their more authentic dishes are just as good, allowing the opportunity to try different regional specialties all under one roof. Check out Dining in DC contributor Sean O’Brien’s dining review on Rasika West End.

India is a vast country with very diverse and distinct regional cuisines and we have barely touched the tip of the iceberg. If trying new dishes is fun for you, the DC area offers a lot! What are some of your favorite Indian spots in the area?


First Post by new Dining in DC Contributor, Aparna K.

As a little girl, Aparna remembers sneaking pots and ladles from the kitchen to her room and pretending to add and stir imaginary ingredients. Grown up now, Aparna is still a foodie at heart. Her day is spent in the corporate world, but you can find her eating her way around the District at night. When not obsessing over food, she can be found playing a drum with Batala Washington, shopping for jewelry or planning her next vacation. Aparna is also a contributor at Borderstan. You can follow her on Twitter @aparnakris

2 Responses to “A Flavorful Journey Through the Regions of India”

  1. Chris

    Nov 01. 2012

    no love for haandi in falls church, va?

    Reply to this comment
  2. AparnaK

    Nov 02. 2012

    I have not made it out to Haandi yet, although I have heard good things! Do you have any favorites there?

    Reply to this comment

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