So you’ve been invited out to an Indian restaurant, but you don’t actually like Indian food? You’re not alone – many people find the complex spices and flavors of Indian cuisine too intense for their palate. But don’t despair – Indian restaurants usually have plenty of mild, non-spicy options that can please even the most sensitive taste buds. With some careful menu selections, you can find dishes that you’ll enjoy without offending your friends who invited you. Here are some tips on what to order at an Indian restaurant if you don’t like Indian food.
Focus on breads
Indian restaurants have a wide variety of freshly baked breads that can serve as the basis for a meal without exposing you to complex spices. Naan, a soft, pillowy flatbread baked in a tandoor oven, is a popular choice. Ask for it plain or just with some ghee (clarified butter) brushed on top. Roti is another good option – it’s an unleavened whole wheat flatbread that’s usually served alongside curries and stews. You can also opt for puri, a deep-fried puffy bread, or bhatura, a soft leavened bread that puffs up when fried. Breads like naan and roti will give you something filling to eat with the meal without the spices.
Try the rice dishes
Plain rice, which is usually steamed basmati rice, is another good choice if you want to avoid spicy dishes at an Indian restaurant. You can also order vegetable biryani, a rice dish layered with fragrant basmati rice, sautéed veggies like potatoes and carrots, nuts, and mild spices like cardamom and cinnamon. The vegetables add flavor without much heat. Pulao is another rice option – it’s basmati rice cooked with vegetables and mild spices like cumin and cloves. The ingredients vary, but often include peas, corn, potatoes, or paneer cheese cubes.
Go for the meat entrees
See if the restaurant offers tandoori dishes – meat marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a tandoor clay oven. The marinade helps tenderize the meat and adds lots of flavor without much spiciness. Chicken tikka, pieces of boneless chicken thighs, is a good choice. Seekh kabab features ground meat like lamb formed into cylinders around a skewer and roasted. Tandoori fish is another mild option. Just ask for any of these dishes to be prepared without the spicy chutneys and salsas that typically accompany them.
Pick dishes with creamy sauces
Dishes that feature a creamy sauce made with coconut milk or yogurt help temper spices and provide a cooling contrast to any heat. Korma is a classic North Indian dish of meat or vegetables braised in a yogurt- or cream-based sauce flavored with toasted nuts and spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. Butter chicken features boneless chicken pieces in an incredible creamy and buttery tomato-based sauce known as makhani gravy. Other dishes like chicken tikka masala use a similar gravy. For seafood, go for shrimp or fish curries that have a coconut milk-based sauce.
Order the dals
Dal is the Indian term for lentils that are split and dehusked. At Indian restaurants, dals are stewed with vegetables and aromatics into soothing, protein-packed dishes that are easy on the spices. Dal makhani features black lentils cooked with kidney beans, cream, and butter, resulting in a rich and creamy dish. Chana masala is chickpeas braised in a tomato-based sauce. Dal fry includes yellow split peas simmered with cumin, garlic, and other aromatics. With turmeric as the main seasoning, dals are all about comfort.
Try the raitas
Raita is a yogurt-based condiment served alongside spicier curries and entrees. The yogurt has a cooling effect to counteract heat. Raitas come in many varieties: cucumber raita features shredded cucumber and mint, onion raita includes sliced onions, and paneer raita contains cubes of mild farmer’s cheese. Raitas can be served as appetizers with bread, or you can order one as a side dish with your meal. The vegetables and yogurt provide texture and cooling balance without much flavor intensity.
Go for mild vegetables
Indian restaurants usually have some vegetable side dishes that are mild in flavor and spices. Saag paneer features pureed spinach studded with cubes of farmer’s cheese. Baingan bharta is mashed roasted eggplant in a simple preparation with onions and tomatoes. Chow chow is a homestyle mix of chopped vegetables like cabbage, beans, and cauliflower sautéed with mild spices. There may also be dishes like stuffed capsicums, which are bell peppers filled with vegetables, or tinda masala, which features cooked apple gourds in a light sauce. These vegetable options add nutrition without much heat.
Ask for milder versions
If you see a dish on the menu that sounds good but you’re worried about the spiciness, don’t be afraid to ask your server if they can adjust the heat level. Many Indian restaurants are happy to accommodate requests for milder versions of curries, stews, and other dishes. You can request less of the spices, chilies, black pepper, and ginger that typically add heat. This allows you to enjoy the complex flavors of the dish without burning your mouth. Just be aware that the dish may arrive looking a little different than the vibrant photos on the menu if certain spices are reduced.
Avoid these fiery dishes
While Indian restaurant menus have plenty of mild options, there are some dishes that should be avoided if you don’t like much spice. Vindaloo is a spicy curry dish from the Goa region that gets its heat from lots of black pepper and chilies. Butter chicken may sound soothing and mild, but chicken tikka masala is usually spicier due to extra chilies and spices in the sauce. Pork vindaloo is another fiery curry. Jalfrezi dishes feature meat or vegetables cooked with chilies, onions, and bell peppers in a thick, spicy sauce. Anything labeled as “chili” like chili chicken or lamb chili will also have some serious heat. Steer clear of these dishes if you’re spice-averse.
Fill up on appetizers
If the main entrees at an Indian restaurant seem too intimidating or spicy, make a meal of the appetizers and starters. Poppadoms are crunchy, savory lentil-flour crackers served with refreshing mint and tamarind chutneys. Vegetable samosas are fried pastries stuffed with potatoes and peas. Pakoras feature chickpea flour-coated veggies that are fried up crisp. Meat-stuffed koftas have a soft, melt-in-your mouth texture in a mild sauce. Mango chutney makes a fruity, tangy dip for appetizers. With an assortment of these starters plus some naan bread, you can cobble together a satisfying spice-free meal.
Go for the dessert
One thing every diner can enjoy is the signature Indian desserts, which are rich and sweet without much heat. Classic choices like gulab jamun, ras malai, and kulfi offer the perfect cool, soothing finish to a meal. Gulab jamun are deep-fried balls of milk solids in a sweet rosewater syrup. Ras malai features paneer cheese curds soaked in creamy saffron-infused milk. Kulfi is a popular frozen dessert similar to ice cream but thicker and more intense. You won’t find any curry spices here – just cardamom, saffron, rosewater, nuts, and sugar in decadent desserts.
What to order at an Indian restaurant if you don’t like spice: Quick takeaways
– Try plain naan, roti, puri or bhatura breads
– Go for vegetable biryani, pulao, or plain rice
– Pick meat dishes like chicken tikka or fish tandoori with no spicy chutneys
– Choose korma, butter chicken, or other creamy dishes
– Order dals like daal makhani made with lentils
– Cool your palate with raitas and mild vegetables
– Request milder versions of dishes if needed
– Avoid vindaloo, jalfrezi, chili chicken, and other fiery options
– Make a meal of the appetizers and starters
– Always finish with cooling Indian desserts like gulab jamun
With some careful selections, you can find plenty to enjoy at Indian restaurants even if you don’t like spicy food. Keep these tips in mind for navigating the menu with confidence.
Frequently Asked Questions
What breads can I get at Indian restaurants if I don’t like spice?
Popular Indian breads like naan, roti, puri, and bhatura are good choices since they are served plain or with just a touch of ghee or butter. The breads soak up the flavors of the meal without adding much heat themselves.
What kind of rice should I order if I want something mild?
Plain steamed basmati rice is a simple, mild choice. Vegetable biryani and pulao are also good options – they are flavored with warm spices like cinnamon and cardamom rather than chilies.
Which meat entrees tend to be less spicy?
Tandoori dishes like chicken tikka tend to focus more on yogurt-based marinades rather than spicy heat. Seekh kababs and tandoori fish are other good options. Just avoid any spicy dipping sauces served alongside.
What are some good vegetable side dishes for a mild meal?
Saag paneer, baingan bharta, chow chow, stuffed capsicums, and tinda masala are some vegetable dishes that use milder spices and flavors.
Should I avoid anything labeled as “vindaloo”?
Yes, vindaloo dishes get their signature heat from lots of black pepper and chilies. Other fiery dishes to avoid are jalfrezi, chili chicken, and lamb chili.
Indian food has a reputation for being intensely spicy, but there are many mild dishes to enjoy if you don’t like much heat. With a combination of plain rice and breads, meat entrees prepared without spicy sauces, cooling raitas and vegetables, and indulgent desserts, you can find plenty to please your palate. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations and adjustments from your server so you can fully experience the complex flavors of Indian cuisine without the spice. With an open mind and selective ordering, you may even become an Indian food convert.