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Food & Drink

Top Indian Food In Connecticut

January 15, 2014 8:00 AM

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(Photo credit: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian cooking was initially so hot and spicy that local cooks had to dilute it with coconut milk in order to make it palatable and digestible to the Portuguese and other European traders, and the colonizers that followed. Thus was born curry. Indian cuisine, however, is more than just curry, or even clay-oven tandoori chicken, kebabs or chicken tiki masala. India is not just a nation; it is a subcontinent of nations, with regional cooking as varied and as different as that of Europe. Here are just five great places in Connecticut to sample a taste of that wonderful and exotic world of fine and fun cuisine.

Naatiya Indian Restaurant
8 Mountain Ave.
Bloomfield, CT 06002
(860) 726-0126
www.naatiyarestaurant.com

At Naatiya Indian Restaurant in Bloomfield, both the clay-oven tandoori and the spicy vegetable traditions of southern Indian cuisine are honored. As with most Indian restaurants, there is an extensive vegetarian menu, but there are also many meat dishes to choose from – like chicken khorma (made with coconut milk sauce) and lamb keema mutter (ground lamb and green peas sautéed in onion sauce). Southern India is also renowned for its seafood, and Naatiya offers a wide variety of fish and shrimp dishes – among the grandest of which is the chettindu fish fry, which is the stately King Fish filleted, marinated in spicy sauces and then deep fried. Unlike many Indian restaurants, Naatiya also has a good variety of authentic Indian desserts – and not just ice cream – to choose from. Among the most surprising are the gulab jamun (milk balls dipped in sugar syrup) and the gajar halwa (sweetened, shredded carrots mixed with raisins and nuts).

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Thali Too
65 Broadway
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 776-1600
www.thali.com

Thali in New Haven has made such a name for itself and attracted such a strong customer base that it has branched out into Ridgefield and New Canaan, as well as opening another location on Broadway in the Elm City, Thali Too. It is this second Thali restaurant that has really brought Indian cuisine to the younger crowd, as Chef Prasad created a menu that students at nearby Yale would find both enticing and affordable. He offers rice bowls, “build-it-yourself” meals and a long list of vegetarian dishes (all of which are offered at under $10). There is even a “Lassi Bar” of yogurt drinks. Thali and Thali Too offer a long list of basmati rice dishes and make wonderful hand-rolled breads on the griddle. Everything is made to order – and available to go, but it is only when sitting down and having the meals brought over piping hot (in more ways than one) that a patron gets the true Indian dining experience.

Coromandel Cuisine of India
185 Boston Post Road
Orange, CT 06477
(203) 795-9055
www.coromandelcuisine.com/Orange.html

Sham savera is the chef’s signature dish at Coromandel Cuisine of India, and no customer should even think of having a meal there without this savory starter. These spinach and cottage cheese dumplings with tangy tomato honey sauce are a delight. Any diner could make a meal out of these and one or two other appetizers, soups or sides, and there are so many to choose from that this is in some ways the Indian equivalent of a tapas or dim sum restaurant. There are many varieties of samosas (filled pastries) and rolls to choose from, but no meal is complete – or authentic – without an order of dosa for the table. The masala dosa/mysore dosa comes from the Coromandel Coast for which the restaurant is named, and is a paper-thin crepe stuffed with potatoes and peas and served with coconut chutney and sambar.

Cumin India
266 Skiff St.
Hamden, CT 06517
(203) 248-6464
www.cuminindia.com

Traditional, aromatic and spicy is how Cumin India presents its cooking, with the caveat that spicy needs not always mean “hot.” The herbs used at Cumin India are meant to “stimulate” the senses, but many also have “medicinal value,” and most are unknown in this hemisphere. This is “fine Indian cuisine,” as opposed to the tiki masala, tandoori, samosa and kebab dishes found at most Indian restaurants. Diners are meant to sit down and take their time (instead of take-away) as they savor the aromas and tastes of Indian cuisine – not just Indian cooking. The vegetable or cheese pakoras make for a mouth-watering and gentle start to the meal, and whether diners go all vegetarian (the baingan bharta eggplant is stunning), all meat (goat biryani is not to be missed) or with something from both sides of the menu, they will not be disappointed.

Zaroka Bar and Restaurant
148 York St.
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 776-8644
www.zaroka.com

India is not just a country, it is a subcontinent, and one it shares with Muslim Pakistan. At Zaroka, the entire region is represented, with traditional dishes from pre-partition Raj. Indian cooking is like European cooking: there are national and regional dishes that have little in common with each other. At Zaroka, diners can try dishes from the punjab, bengal, gujarat and other regions of the sub-continent (including Nepal and dishes that are “Indo-Chinese” – meaning a mix of Indian and Chinese, not from Indochina). The chef recommends lamb madras,  fish bahar or nariyal shrimp for first-time customers, but for repeat dinners there is truly a treasure chest of tastes to explore.

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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.

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