Whether you’re new to sampling Indian cuisine, unsure if you could handle a spicier dish or always eager to beat your highest score on the ‘heat-o-meter’, understanding the most popular curry dishes, along with their level of spice, is vital for choosing a dish to meet your taste buds.
What Are The Most Popular Curry Dishes?
Luckily, when visiting an Indian restaurant, there will always be an indication somewhere on the menu of the level of heat each dish holds. However, what some people may find bearable and enjoyable, others will be rushing to grab their glass of water. Many diners are often little dubious about venturing further than a Korma and risking ordering a curry they will find too hot, but other choices will help to build up their tolerance to spice slowly.
We’ve devised a list of the top 10 most popular curry dishes here in the UK and have ordered them from the mildest to the hottest, with number ten being the spiciest of them all.
Although the Korma, commonly served with chicken and rice, is a traditional dish originating from Northern India and Pakistan, it involves little to no spice making it the mildest curry. The flavour holds more of a sweet and creamy taste rather than rich and spicy with the main ingredient including yoghurt, coconut milk and nuts such as almonds or cashews. Only a mild curry powder is used to coat the chicken initially, then only flavoursome spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cumin are added.
A Pasanda and Korma hold many similar qualities with both being relatively mild and originating from Pakistan; however, Pasanda often has an added touch of spice and made with lamb instead of chicken. Cut into strips and marinaded in yoghurt, the meat used in this curry is often only the best, prime cuts as the name ‘pasanda’ originates from the Urdu word ‘favourite’. Peppercorns, garlic and cumin, are commonly used as the seasoning, accompanied by a naan bread.
Unlike many other curry dishes, a Biryani is a mix of either vegetables or meat with rice rather than just a curry dish alone which can be accompanied by rice by choice. The Biryani is classed as a medium on the heat scale and has more of a tomato based taste rather than a creamy texture. Often used as a vegetarian alternative, the meat in a Biryani can be replaced with either seafood or simply grilled vegetables. For a sweeter twist, chefs often add fruits such as apples and pineapples or cashews.
4. Tikka Masala
A Tikka Masala is one of the most popular curry dishes in the UK and is often an automatic ‘go-to’ for diners due to the traditionally cooked and seasoned meat finished with a thick, infused tomato sauce. Tikka Masala combines a perfect balance of the creaminess of milder dishes with the spice used in hotter dishes, which we will get into soon.
Boneless chicken is cooked in a traditional cylinder clay, or metal oven called a Tandoor, which utilises a wood fire to create a smoky taste. The meat is then left to simmer in the creamy tomato sauce seasoned with garlic, ginger and chilli.
Tikka Masala is incredibly easy to make at home, for an authentic recipe, take a look at The Happy Foodie.
Hot, sweet and sour tastes are all combined in a Dhansak giving this curry dish a unique, rich flavour. The Dhansak, like Biryani, is again on the medium level of the heat scale using lentils, sugar and lemon to counteract the use of fresh chilli. In more recent years, many chefs opt for substituting the use of sugar for pineapple to make the dish healthier. Rather than using more common meats, this dish consists of mostly mutton or lamb as the main ingredient, so if you aren’t keen on venturing further than chicken or beef, then a Dhansak may not be an ideal choice for you.
The cooking process of a Bhuna starts with frying various spices, including turmeric, chilli powder, cumin and ginger in oil to bring out the flavour. A traditional Bhuna only uses this combination of fried spices with the meat of choice to create organic flavours and then served. However, if you were to order a Bhuna in a restaurant, it is more than likely that it will be served accompanied with a thick sauce made with tomato, onion and red pepper. A Bhuna is commonly a hot curry as fresh green chilli is used without any use of cream or yoghurt.
The Jalfrezi utilises what were traditional ‘leftovers’ to create a spice-filled curry fried with various herbs. If you opted for cooking a Jalfrezi at home, you would take a different approach, using Chinese techniques to stir-fry a mix of green peppers, onions and plenty of fresh chillis to create a base then the meat is added. Just before serving, a small amount of thick, spicy sauce is added making it one of the hottest curries on Indian menus.
The Madras was first created to make a basic restaurant curry hotter to meet the taste buds of more diners, it is a less traditional dish, which means that the flavour and consistency often differ depending on the chef’s preferences. Madras is commonly made with beef and is served with lots of sauce which have a fragrant and fiery taste using ingredients such as chilli powder, garam masala, cumin and turmeric.
We are now reaching the hottest of all curries with the old favourite, Vindaloo. Although Vindaloo is now served in Indian restaurants, it was actually originated in Portugal, starting as a simple dish using wine vinegar and garlic. Over the years, after being introduced to Goa in India, more and more chilli powder has been added, making the pork, beef or lamb dish one of the spiciest curries available.
Last, but not least, is Phall, the absolute hottest curry dish you can get your hands on, and surprisingly it originates here in the UK. Dried chillis are used as the foundation of Phall as the drying process dramatically increases the heat of the chilli. Meat, often chicken or lamb, are marinaded in the dried chilli to create a more savoury taste. Ginger and fennel seeds are then added.
Could You Handle The Hottest Curry Dishes?
There are hundreds of different variations of several different curry dishes, the meat, spices and herbs used along with the chosen cooking methods will all have an impact on the final taste. For those who are interested in testing some of the dishes at home, The Spruce Eats has several different easy to follow authentic curry recipes. We also suggest investing into your very own spice kit, Borough Box has a wide section to chose from!
Here at our Indian restaurant in Milton Keynes, we are always happy to recommend the best dish to meet the level of spice you love. If you’re really a risk taker, we suggest sampling our Naga Chicken; it’s not for the faint-hearted!