You say pakora, I say samosa -- and this time, I'm right.
by Sarah Fenske
My dearest pal in the whole world is Indian -- she grew up in Mumbai, only coming to the U.S. for college. So I know a bit more about Indian food than, say, Thai or Chinese; Divya has been a wonderful tutor.
The one thing I don't know anything about is appetizers. When I go to Indian restaurants, I tend to go overboard up on the naan and the raita, the basmati rice and all those wonderfully flavorful Indian vegetables, studded with cottage cheese. (I swear, Indian is one of the few cuisines where being a vegetarian would be no hardship.) There's hardly room for meat, much less a starter.
But on Monday, I was in the mood for something fried. And there simply isn't much fried stuff in Indian restaurants -- even one with as extensive a menu as Flavors of India, my favorite CenPho Indian eatery. You pretty much have to order pakoras or samosas if you want your daily gutbomb.
Naturally, I decided to order both.
In the process, I learned a bit about both.
Samosas, it turns out, are the Indian version of a crispy filled dumpling. At Flavors of India, you get four of them, and they look like neat little pyramids. The fried dough crust is fairly thick, and inside are potatoes and fresh green peas. Pretty good stuff -- and a good bargain at $3.50. (You can also get the chicken-filled type for another 45 cents.)
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SHOW ME HOW
Pakoras are more like the Indian version of tempura. They take the slimmest of slices of potato, or onion, or a bit of chicken, dip them in batter, and deep fry them. My companions and I tried the mixed vegetable version, but Flavors of India will make them with that wonderful Indian cheese, or chicken, or shrimp -- or, in fact, any ingredient that you request. Lightly battered, with a touch of spicy chili, they're really quite good. Much better, we agreed, than the samosas.
And it turns out we're not alone in our admiration. I'm told that pakoras have become ubiquitous in Great Britain, to that point that they supposedly make a version with haggis in Scotland. Not sure I'd want to try that one.
The upshot is that we enjoyed our samosas and pakoras, and I learned a little something I didn't know. But by the end of the meal, as our waiter cleared away our half-finished lamb vindaloo and garlic naan and baigan bharta and aloo gobi masala, I have to admit I was second-guessing my decision to order 'em. Indian food is good enough, and filling enough, that in this context, fried food seems completely unnecessary.
Of course, you'll never hear me say that again. But for once in my life, I was completely full.