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Indian food has infinite variety, right? Well, maybe not. That, at least, is the impression you would get if you went to the average Indian restaurant abroad -- unless, of course, you went to a specialty place like Woodlands or some dosa restaurant. Here are five dishes you are sure to find.
Tandoori Chicken/Chicken Tikka:
These are variations on the same idea: marinated chicken cooked in the tandoor. They did not travel abroad till the late 60s because you need a tandoor to make them and this item of kitchen equipment was not easily available, even in India.
But now, you can’t run an Indian restaurant unless they are on the menu.
Butter chicken/Chicken Tikka Masala:
Not the same dish though both are made from chicken tikka. Butter chicken was popularised in Delhi in the 1950s and requires some skill to cook. The chicken tikka masala was popularised by Bangladeshi restaurateurs in the UK in the 1970s and one of its original ingredients was a can of condensed tomato soup. It requires no skill to cook.
Punjabis have long made a black dal at home but the version served in restaurants is not a home-recipe. This dish uses tomato puree (and often cream!) along with vast quantities of butter. The recipe gives away its origin: it invented in the 1950s as a vegetarian version of butter chicken.
There are many great biryanis to be found in every part of India. Sadly, it is hard to find any of them abroad. What you will get is a basic mutton gravy mixed with pre-cooked rice and then finished in a pan. After the Dum Pukht style of presentation became popular in India, fancier restaurants will take the same biryani, place it in a small pot and then seal the lid with a little flour. It will go into the oven for a brief period and the lid will then be cracked open at the table with great ceremony to fool you into thinking that the biryani was cooked from scratch in that little pot.
In the old days, the tandoor was used only to make breads at home. So if you have a tandoor -- which all Indian restaurants aboard do -- then why not use it to make naan? You need refined flour (which is easily available abroad) and eggs. Patrons rarely care about the quality of the naan and just dunk it into gravies so there are never any complaints!
Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the Cointreau Award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.