Despite what the cowardice within tells you, Indian food is not entirely made up of unbearably spicy food. It is a deeply nuanced and varied cuisine with complex flavors and multiple levels of colors, aroma and seasoning.
Depending on which region of India we’re talking about, the cuisine goes from breads and curries in the north to rice, lentils and stews in the south. Tandoori chicken, the one Indian dish that many people are brave enough to eat, originates in Northern India, near the Pakistan border.
Understated and refined, tandoori chicken is delicious in its own right but it’s easy to see why it is most popular with those precious eaters that refer to play it safe.
It seems that the farther south you go in India, the spicier the food gets. Taking a culinary journey down India’s west coast, yogurt marinades so prominent in tandoori cooking is replaced by fiery chili peppers in places like Goa and Mumbai. Luckily, among the many advantages of being an American, our Indian restaurants often feature both northern and southern Indian delicacies, along with everything in between.
Friends and acquaintances are constantly recommending various Indian restaurants around Long Island. Some say New Chilli & Curry in Hicksville is the supreme cuisine, while others swear that Southern Spice in New Hyde Park renders all other restaurants completely obsolete. I’ve never been a fan of hyperbole, so I opted instead to find my own way and allow my mid-week laziness to find an Indian restaurant close to my apartment in West Hempstead.
Spicy Indian food offers a supremely unique burn—with cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric and ginger adding to a flavor profile more populous than downtown Delhi. The crave for this special brand of spicy food often emerges out of a prolonged funk of food banality.
My latest crave came while sitting in my apartment on a dreary Wednesday night. Suddenly and without warning, I’m overcome with the urge to subject myself to the masochistic consumption of chili peppers. But it’s more than just a craving for Buffalo sauce or that Italian staple, Fra diavolo. No, I need food that comes across as a deep, angry red; a sun-dried tomato color that illicitness sweat at the mere thought.
I need chicken vindaloo.
A signature dish of Goa, India, vindaloo actually originated in Portugal. But rather than explain how vindaloo traveled the near 17,000-miles from Portugal to Goa to my mouth on Long Island, I’ll skip ahead and relay why I order this dish as spicy as possible.
My craving guided me to Fresh Indian Food, an unassuming storefront at 110 Old Country Rd. in Mineola. This eatery offers a buffet-type set up during lunch hours, but there is a full menu of Indian delights to order from the kitchen. A quick look at the menu reveals the ubiquitous tandoori chicken, along with every other dish that is even vaguely Indian.
Assuring the owner that I can handle it, I ordered the chicken vindaloo extra spicy and threw in an order of garlic naan and Bombay wings, an Indian play on the classic hot wing. Ordering vindaloo and not saying “extra spicy” is a shameful tragedy. The red-hot peppers in vindaloo produce a warming heat that radiates from the back of the tongue, up through the brain to the top of the eater’s head.
It’s a dish that all chili-heads must experience and Fresh Indian Food on Old Country Road concocts a top-notch version.
But sadly, this version was not made using the hottest chili in the world; Naga Bhut Jolokia, otherwise known as the “Ghost Chili.” My search for that big daddy of peppers continues.