So you’re all set to experiment with Indian food in Dubai. But wait, you still have to decide whether you are in the mood for some Kerala-style fish cooked in banana leaves, Goan prawn curry, Chettinad chicken roast and tamarind rice from Tamil Nadu, a vegetarian Gujarati meal, or tandoori chicken and stuffed parathas (flatbreads) from Punjab.
And to make this gastronomic decision, all you have to do is head to Karama, the middle-class neighbourhood in the heart of Dubai that many Indians think of as a home away from home.
India comprises 28 different states, each with its distinct cuisine. The culinary diversity of India, much like its varied cultures, is so vast that the food of one state is as different from the other as chalk and cheese.
Bustling Karama, often nicknamed Little India, is dotted with enticing eateries and offers a large choice of these contrasting menus within its two-kilometre radius, and they don’t dent your pocket, either.
Kerala has a long coastline and numerous rivers, so seafood is intrinsic to its cuisine. The vegetarians, too, have a feast, locally called sadya. Coconut is an essential ingredient in most dishes.
1 Calicut Paragon This no-frills restaurant boasts of a waiting line at weekends. If you are a crab fan, tackle its crab dry fry first along with prawn pepper dry fry. The Karimeen pollichathu or pearl fish cooked with traditional spices in banana leaf is finger-licking good. Other dishes to try are chicken varattiyathu, Malabar chicken curry, fish mango curry and some fluffy appams (hoppers) to go with it. End your meal with its signature tender coconut soufflé.
2 Kerala Kitchen It has a special all-vegetarian weekend sadya lunch served on banana leaf, in authentic Kerala style. The sadya is usually a 24-course meal but here it consists of 10 to 15 items including rice and curries, each different in ingredients and flavour. It is crowded on Fridays, so Saturday afternoons are a better bet.
View Karama: Indian restaurant guide in a larger map
Tamil Nadu is known globally for dishes such as dosa (rice and lentil crêpe), vada (fried lentil doughnuts) and uthappam (thick rice-and-lentil pancake). Tamil Nadu is also home to the spicy Chettinad cuisine and a variety of flavoured rice.
3 Sangeetha At lunchtime, get yourself its generous Chennai thali, which has more than 10 dishes, or the quick meal, which comes with lemon rice, sambhar rice or curd rice. But if you are there after 7pm, don’t miss the Chettinad mini tiffin, which comprises special vadas, idlis and sweets that you probably haven’t had before.
4 Saravana Bhavan This global chain is perfect at any time of day. Its variety of dosas are superb. Also try its Mysore bonda (lentil dumplings) and plantain bajji (plantain slices fried in chickpea batter).
5 Anjappar Its Chettinad chicken roast or masala is flavourful and spicy. For vegetarians, try the tangy ennai kathirikkai (aubergine) with plain rice.
At any of these places, don’t forget to order a hot cup of aromatic filter coffee.
Karnataka is synonymous with IT hub Bangalore but it has a unique vegetarian and non-vegetarian coastal cuisine to discover. While the veggie options include bisi bele bhaat (lentil rice) and vangibath (fried aubergine rice), the Mangalorean coastal cuisine is popular for its seafood.
6 Canara Restaurant This is a hidden Mangalorean gem, tucked away behind the Iranian School. Get straight to the kane rava fry or lady fish fried in semolina batter. And opt for the mutton sukka with its light neer dosa (rice crêpes).
Canara doesn’t offer Kannadiga vegetarian specialities, though you can try the bisi bele bhaat at Saravana Bhavan.
Andhra Pradesh, on the east coast of India, makes liberal use of red chillies, making the cuisine really spicy. Lentils, tomato and tamarind feature prominently in its recipes. And don't forget the famous Hyderabadi biryani.
7 Mezbaan Taste any of its dum pukht biryanis. Also recommended is the talawa gosht – this mutton dish is awesomely succulent but high on the chilli quotient. Sign off with the sweet doubla ka meetha.
8 Amaravathi Not far from Karama metro station, opt for one of its traditional meals – Amaravathi maharaja bhojanam, Nizam’s treat or virundi bhojanam – to sample a variety of spicy or pungent curries. The non-vegetarian thaali is recommended.
Goa has distinct vegetarian dishes such as ghashi or vegetable/lentils cooked in a tangy coconut gravy, but its seafood is what people crave for.
9 Eric’s A gem of a place with lilac walls and lace curtains. Tuck into its fish koliwada, semolina-fried prawns and prawn mango curry, which warmly fuses the flavours of mango and curry leaves.
10 Treat Hidden behind Sana Fashions, this modest eatery serves some of the best beef and fish cutlets. Its potato chops and chicken xacuti are also well known.
Maharshtra is home to several region-specific cuisines such as Kohlapuri, Konkan and Malvani. Maharashtrian food can be really spicy, so be warned.
11 Peshwa It’s a pleasure walking into this pretty restaurant where the tables are adorned with beautiful Maharashtrian sari borders. For starters, begin with kothimbir wadi, or gram-flour fritters. Then move on to spicy mutton Kolhapuri, methi pitla (curry made with flavoured gram-flour paste) paired with bajra (pearl millet) bhakri. Wash all this down with sol kadi, the indigenous kokam drink.
12 Manisha’s Kitchen This small eatery prides itself on being a vegetarian’s delight and is well know for its sabudana (sago) vada and the spicy bharaili cangi (aubergine curry).
The Bollywood hub Mumbai is Maharashtra’s capital and its street food deserves special mention. Relish its famous pani puri, sev puri and vada pav at Dabbawala or Bombay Chowpatty. Do try innovative desi sandwiches at Haji Ali Juice Centre as well.
India’s age-old capital city is famous for its flavourful Mughlai cuisine. Its stuffed parathas (flatbreads) and street food are equally delicious.
13 Delhi Darbar This restaurant offers some sumptuous Mughlai food. Try its mutton or chicken kebabs, kadhai chicken, mutton rogan josh or malai kofta, usually eaten with roomali rotis (tissue-thin bread).
14 Paratha King This is a takeaway joint but boasts nearly 100 varieties of stuffed parathas, reminiscent of Delhi’s Gali Paranthe Wali street. The mooli (radish), alu-methi (potato and fenugreek) and gobi (cauliflower) parathas are must-haves.
Punjab borders Delhi and there are similarities in the food as well. But nobody makes tandoori chicken, sarson ka saag (mustard leaves curry) and lassi (yogurt drink) like the Punjabis do.
15 Pind Da Dhaba Opposite Zabeel Park, Pind Da Dhaba wins hearts with its colourful, earthy decor and its food, of course. Your order could include some of the following – tangdi kebab, Amritsari chicken, Amritsari chole (chickpeas), sarson ka saag and makki roti (corn flatbread).
16 New Sind Punjab You can smell the food cooking as you enter this Punjabi joint. Order its melt-in-the-mouth reshmi kebab, butter chicken, dal makhni and garlic naan.
In this desert state, water is often substituted with milk or buttermilk. Rajasthan’s food is as colourful as the clothes its people wear, thanks to the liberal use of gram flour, turmeric and red chillies.
17 Manvaar Turbaned waiters and folk music welcome you into Manvaar. Stick to the traditional daal-bati-churma or lal maans (red meat curry), eaten with chapatis. Rajasthani sweets are unique so don't forget to order moong-dal halwa or ghewar.
18 Bikanerwala Rajasthan is also known for its tasty snacks, especially kachoris, large fried discs stuffed with either potato, onion or peas, with a dash of Indian spices.
Gujarat’s cuisine is heaven for vegetarians. Interestingly, Gujaratis are known to add a pinch of sugar to their cooking.
19 Swades Ideal for lunch, its Gujarati thali includes three vegetable preparations, rice and lentils. You could also order some theplas, thin flatbreads made of wheat, gram flour and curd. At snack time, dhokla and khandvi are the best bet.
Sikkim and Uttarakhand
The only dish from these hilly regions available in Karama are delectable dumplings called momos. Inspired by bordering China, momos, however, are unlike dim sums.
20 Yalla Momos A tiny pit stop ideal for gorging on momos at any time. Help yourselves to platefuls of these delightful dumplings – chicken, spinach-cheese and mushroom-cheese are the best.
21 Uttar Pradesh is best known for its Awadhi cuisine. In Karama, you can sample some of this exquisite food at Al Kauser. Its galouti kebab (minced mutton patties) is mouth-watering. Equally popular is its Lucknowi handi biryani, which is very different in taste from the Hyderabadi variety.
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