In this second blog post in the series (my first was on Thai Drunken Noodles), my goal is to find the hottest dish on the menu in international cuisine. And through the lens of that one dish, I will attempt to analyze and learn about what it says about the cuisine in general.
Indian cuisine is one of my favorite international cuisines.
I have eaten Indian many, many times. However, now I am trying to learn more about the food, the culture and traditions behind it.
India happens to be a country which is a mix of a number of diverse geographies, languages, religions and traditions. As a result, the cuisines of India differ significantly from each other and use locally available spices, vegetables, fruits and modes of cooking.
One of the reasons Indian cuisine has become so popular in the US and other countries is the pull of the exotic – the spices, herbs and elaborate cooking.
I think one of the best Indian restaurants in Philadelphia is Sitar on 38thrd St. I have eaten there a couple of times and have always thought the food, ambience and service were great. However, this time around, I am going there as someone who wants to battle the hottest dish on their menu and to learn more about Indian cuisine.
Sitar’s menu features a great combination of appetizers, entrees, Tandoori dishes, rice and desserts.
Rupinder who is the manager of this restaurant told me that they were the one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Philadelphia and have been open for around 20 years. The current management took over the restaurant in 2005. Sitar is the name of a stringed musical instrument used in classical Indian music.
I was told Vegetable Vindaloo is the spiciest dish on their menu – so that is exactly what I ordered.
The dish arrived piping hot and was served with rice and naan, an oven baked flatbread.
One bite and I was sold – they were not joking when they said this was the spiciest dish on their menu. A symphony of the senses, the fiery taste was compounded by layers of different tastes and smells of the spices.
Vegetables such as potatoes, peas, cauliflower and beans were in a curry sauce with onions, tomatoes and spices.
Vindaloo is a fiery curry dish popular in the Indian region of Goa and the name is derived from the Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos which is a dish of meat marinated in wine and garlic. Over time, when the Portuguese conquered Goa, the local chefs added spices like red chili pepper, ginger, cumin, black pepper, cardamom and cloves to the dish.
Each of the spices contributed to a unique taste in the dish – whether it was the spicy kick of the red chili and black peppers, the warm earthy cumin, strong taste of the garlic, the aromatic cardamom to the warm and sweet taste of cloves.
I think Vindaloo is probably one of the best dishes to experience Indian cuisine. All the diversity about Indian cuisine, the spices and elaborate preparation seemed to be all represented in this one dish.
In addition, I had also ordered Vegetable Pakoras as a side dish. Pieces of potatoes, onions and eggplant all dipped in a batter of gram flour and spices such as peppers and ginger and deep fried. Served with a mint chutney. Every bite of the Pakoras was a sensory delight – crunchy, on the spicy side though not too spicy like the Vindaloo. The hot Pakoras complemented the Vegetable Vindaloo perfectly.
I learnt so much about Vindaloo and Indian cuisine during this meal. So go ahead – give the Vindaloo a try.