I really love to Google random questions. It's fun because you always get an interesting array of answers, and usually not ones you expect. You also find out you're usually not "the only one." In this instance, I was apparently not the only one wondering, "Why don't I like Indian food?"
In general, Indian cuisine just doesn't agree with me. It's not that I don't like it and, from the various threads fraying from my Google search, what I gathered was that a lot of people want to like it. But for delicate palates (or digestive systems), the spices, oils and textures are a bit too shocking to the system. Another common complaint was that it's just too hot. Girl, please! Obviously none of those comments came from New Mexicans.
But it makes me wonder, sort of like white wine, if Indian food is a thing people say they don't like, but the more they try, the more likely they are to find something they do like—and something that likes them back.
Indian food, in all its different styles, does have its legions of adoring fans. Not just curry (which is popular in many regional ethnic cuisines from the Middle East to Africa to Asia), Indian is one of the most labor-intensive cuisines in the world. Many moon over its fiery vindaloo, creamy dhal, the earthy smokiness imparted from a tandoor and the richness of ingredient combinations such as ancho chile, pomegranate and ginger.
Indeed, yogurt, cayenne, garam masala, coriander, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek and sweet raisins make frequent appearances in Indian cooking. Combinations of these flavors can inspire love at first bite or, for some, maybe a little more "getting to know you" time.
I decided to reacquaint myself with Indian cuisine thanks to chef Pramod "Paddy" Rawal's recent reincarnation of his beloved former Agua Fría Street restaurant, Raaga-Go (410 Old
Santa Fe Trail, 983-5555). After closing in September 2017 for health reasons (because that's what running a restaurant, writing cookbooks and making TV appearances all at the same time will do to you), Rawal couldn't stay out of the kitchen, and now operates the restaurant as a lunch and dinner takeaway in a space beside Rio Chama Steakhouse.
What a treat it was to place my order online. It was so convenient to run down the list of dishes, read the ingredients and then be offered a choice of large or small, as well as level of spiciness (from "mild" to "hell"). I chose mild. Once my order was complete I was asked what time I wanted to pick it up and when I showed up to do so, was greeted with a booming "Hello!" from chef Paddy himself.
Keeping in mind my tummy's aversion to certain spices, I tried to order a little of everything I hoped would sit well. The yellow dal tadka ($6 for the small) made of lentils with turmeric, ginger, garlic and cumin is sort of starter dish for folks new to the cuisine. It's creamy, savory and goes well with rice, naan or straight on its own. This one was spot-on and a little on the tangy side, which was nice.
The bagare baingan ($7 for a small) is a baby eggplant snuggled in a swaddle of sauce made from mustard, peanut and coconut. I am not a big fan of the texture of eggplant, but I was very happy to have ordered this. I am sure the eggplant was delicious, but every bite I took was 10 percent eggplant, 90 percent sauce—and the sauce was everything: rich, refreshing, irresistible.
Wanting to try something I couldn't mask and from the oven, I also opted for the jumbo shrimp nissa ($18). These came brilliantly cooked on a bed of fragrant rice, and the sweet meat had a zesty bite courtesy of generous amounts of lemon.
As I worked my way down the menu I noted, interestingly, a section of fairly standard Thai noodle dishes. I can never pass up noodles, so I threw in an order of pad thai with tofu ($14). Sadly, everything that can go wrong with "to go" went wrong here. It all started with an excess of sauce, and by the time I got it home, sticky tamarind sauce had slithered its way onto everything in the bag. Inside its carton, the sauce had steamed its sweetness through each ingredient, the
noodles, the tofu, the bean sprouts and even the peanuts. Everything tasted of tamarind, taking the rich peanut flavor and refreshing crunch of bean sprouts away from a dish that benefits so much from the unique textures they add.
On a personal note, having just written about using less plastic, I was ashamed at myself for the amount of waste associated with take-out. I rarely get food this way, so hadn't thought it out. But when I picked up my order, I noticed a couple of tables inside Raaga-Go. This is where I'll continue to dip my toes into the complex world of Indian cuisine next time.