Article By Alex Zheng
Indian food is one of the great cuisines in the world. Buttery, fiery, garlicky, sweet—this cuisine has it all. It’s in-your-face with its strong flavors and not for the weak-stomached. Brits will not need me to convince them of this, but we all could benefit from eating a little bit more Indian food. Xi’an, at the terminus of the historical Silk Road, already has a relationship with Middle Eastern and South Asian spices. If you’re not familiar with these spices, then it’s time to get familiar. One thing to remember as we get into it: this isn’t an article about Indian food as it exists in India, but as it exists in Xi’an and in the West. Indian food is, of course, at its best when it’s vegetarian and also when it adheres to regional rules. So, simmer down you die-hard foodies; let’s talk about Indian food in Xi’an.
So how does one order Indian food? It’s not really that difficult. We can break the meal into four parts: appetizers, curries, other main dishes, and sides.
For appetizers, stick to the deep-fried stuff, as it’s the easiest way to ease into Indian cuisine. My recommendations are:
Samosas are like giant pierogies except that they’re stuffed with onions, potatoes, peas and lentils and deep-fried. If you want meat sometimes you can find beef or chicken samosas, although I think the vegetarian ones taste the best.
Pakoras are deep-fried vegetable balls. I like to think of them as vegetarian chicken nuggets, though they taste much better.
Next, you should also order one curry for every two people at the table, rounding up. So, for three people you’re going to want two curries. I know it’s going to be difficult to choose between the many types, but these tried-and-true curries are a safe bet:
Chicken tikka masala is a tomato-based curry with chunks of oven-roasted chicken in it. It’s usually considered medium-spicy and a little bit sour. This is the most popular curry in the West.
Butter chicken is another medium curry with yogurt and lots of butter in the curry. It’s yellow-colored and has a smooth consistency (and is my personal favorite).
Chicken korma is a very mild, smooth yellow curry that has a smooth almond and coconut flavor to it. If you see the generic word “curry” on the menu, it’s probably a korma.
Vindaloo is usually the hottest curry on the menu. Since I’m almost always ordering one of the three above chicken curries I usually order a non-chicken vindaloo, like lamb, or beef when offered.
For main dishes that aren’t curry, you’re likely to order something cooked in a tandoor (Indian oven), but you definitely have options. If you’re not sure what to get, try these out:
Tandoori chicken is an oven-roasted, bone-in chicken with lots of spices. If you’re not one for bones, try chicken tikka instead, which is about the same, except boneless.
Biryani is India’s version of fried rice, except that it’s baked. The end result is the same though, as you end up with a rice and meat dish with small bits of vegetables.
Now that all that’s taken care of, all that’s left is to get some side dishes. There are two main types:
Naan is Indian flatbread. My personal favorite is the garlic naan, but every restaurant in the area offers several varieties that span the spectrum between plain and extremely flavorful.
Rice is a good option if you’re not so into bread. You can get white rice, of course, but I recommend trying saffron rice if it’s available.
If you have a large group just order more naan, since one order of rice is often large enough for a table.
If you really want to put your meal over the top, you might try some Indian drinks, like chai tea or the mango lassi (a mango-flavored yogurt drink). I would definitely recommend trying both but keep in mind that they’re both sweet. If you want hot go for the tea and if you want cold go for the lassi.
So now that you’re a little more familiar, where can you find Indian food in Xi’an?
Definitely more of an anniversary place or a birthday place, but good to splurge on once in a while. The décor is luxurious and the service is excellent. You can find it down at the Indian Pavilion in the Great Tang West Market.
Located on the west side of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the food here is decent, the service is good and the decorations make you feel like you’re in another country. If you need to order in English, the manager will come over and take care of you.
A newer restaurant, located on the east side of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. This is a part of a larger chain from Beijing and their food is very consistent. The manager here also speaks English.
Located in Kaide Mall (凯德广场), it’s got what you would expect from a mall restaurant: convenient location, air conditioning, and pleasant food. Worthwhile if you’re in the area.
So there you have it: Indian food in a nutshell. There’s a little something for everyone, whether you’re a carnivore or a vegetarian, a local or a foreigner, so get your ass on down to an Indian restaurant soon!