If you don’t know Indian food very well, a quick scan through an Indian food catering menu may leave your head spinning. But as Business Insider notes, Indian cuisine is one of the growing trends in the U.S. So when ordering for your next office event, where do you start? Understanding the different flavor profiles and spices will help you get a sense of which dishes are right for a group and how to choose the right mix. Luckily, this is your go-to guide to ordering from an Indian food catering menu for your next meeting or party.
Understanding the Menu
The first step in getting to know the Indian food catering menu is to understand the vocabulary. Many Indian foods are named by for the cooking process associated with them, you’ll find commonalities across every Indian menu. And in most Indian dishes you’ll find some combination coriander, ginger, turmeric, red chili powder, cardamom, and cinnamon. Here are a key phrases to help you navigate the menu:
- Masala: The word masala insinuates spice. As such, masala dishes range from medium to hot depending on which ingredients are used. Chicken tikka masala, for example, is mild in heat. And it’s guaranteed to be on almost every Indian menu. This dish will have a thick gravy. It’s best served with bread or rice to sop up the gravy goodness.
- Dum: Dum is a style of pressure cooking. The dish is slow-cooked in a sealed, pressurized container. Dum dishes also range in spiciness and include a thin gravy packed with aromatics and fresh yogurt. This is yet another dish best served with rice and breads.
- Saag: If you see the word saag on an Indian menu, it means your dish will come with leafy greens like spinach, mustard greens, dill, or fenugreek seeds. Saag is cooked in connection with various meats and gravy. Popular dishes like sarson ka saag or chicken saagwala evoke a mild spice level. They often come with aromas of cinnamon, coriander, cloves, and cumin.
- Tandoori: A tandoor is a clay oven. So any Indian dish that references tandoori will be baked using this method. Typical tandoori dishes are marinated with traditional spices, and then cooked with aromatics to impart serious flavor.
- Paneer: Paneer means cheese. Any dish with this phrasing will include a creamy cheese, usually from North India. One of the most popular dishes is palak paneer. The entree is made of soft paneer cubes cooked in a luscious spinach curry.
- Tikka: When you see the word tikka on an Indian food cooking menu, it refers to chunks or bits of meat. You’ll generally find tikka with other masala dishes. They incorporate well with a yummy gravy base. When you order paneer tikka — a popular vegetarian dish — you get chunks of marinated cheese in a thick, tomato-based gravy.
- Vindaloo: Vindaloo dishes are generally the hottest on the spiciness scale. The primary ingredients are dry red chilies, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin. Vindaloos are heavy on the gravy and are served atop pork, beef, chicken, lamb, or fish. Pork vindaloo is a common Indian menu item. It’s usually served with cooling side dishes like rice and vegetables.
- Curry: Curry is the sauce or gravy. It serves as the primary source of heat in the dish. This widely popular menu item involves a mixture of various dry spices and fresh herbs combined with water to create a flavorful sauce. Curries will range from yellow to deep red in color, depending on the spice used. They can also vary in spiciness.
- Biryani: Biryani is the Indian version of a crockpot meal. This slow-cooked dish combines meat and veggies with spices like saffron and pepper in one pot. It’s covered with onions, cooked over a low flame, and served atop long-grained rice with a thick gravy.
Pair Your Meal
When you pick your dishes, it’s also important to pair it with the right sides and drinks. Many Indian caterers and restaurants will provide a variety of chutneys, pickles, yogurts, or cucumber slices to accompany your meal. It’d be wise to order a few of these cooling side dishes to pair nicely with the heavy main courses commonly found in Indian cuisine.
Just don’t leave out the naan. It’s a favorite on any Indian food catering menu. Naan is a soft, leavened flatbread baked in a tandoor oven and brushed with butter or oil. Most dishes pair well with naan as a vessel that soak up the delicious gravies. Some restaurants may also serve chapati with the main dish, a crispy flatbread similar to naan.
If you’re looking to cut the heat, also try ordering a yogurt-based drink blended with sugar or fruit to help cool your palate. Lassi and chaas are traditional Indian options that help calm your tastebuds.
Indian food is great for vegetarians and catering to other dietary restrictions. But it also feeds a crowd. This dishes are meant to be served family-style. They are not usually plated as individual portions. Instead, these dishes are served in platters and shared among groups, which is great for a buffet lunch and learn or other office event.
As India Marks notes, when ordering, forgo the idea of one main dish per person. Instead, consult your caterer’s recommended portion guides. Many restaurants offer half-plates that serve two to three people. Or you can order full plates that generally serve four to six people. Add in a selection of side dishes to supplement your entrees for a full meal.
With its wide array of spices and family-style convenience, Indian cuisine is just one simple way your office can shake-up your next catering order. Commit these basic Indian food catering menu guidelines to heart, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful — and flavorful — office meeting.