You are in for a real treat if you've never ordered Indian food from a takeaway before. In fact, I'm slightly jealous! The main problem comes from there being too much choice. It can sometimes be a little daunting with dishes with exotic names and a huge menu. If you wonder, 'what should I try from an Indian takeaway?' you are in the right place. I will guide you through a typical Indian menu and offer some great suggestions for your first Indian takeaway meal. Here's what you need to know.
What Should I Try From an Indian Takeaway | The Quick Answer
When ordering from an Indian takeaway, your best bet is to go for an old-time classic, such as chicken tikka masala, pilau rice, and naan bread. If you are particularly hungry, choose a nice starter like onion bhajis or tandoori chicken. The above combo will be tasty, filling and not too spicy.
There is no right answer when trying Indian takeaway for the first time. There are plenty of tasty options, down to your own personal preference. Over time (and after trying a few types of curry dishes), you'll refine and adapt your order to suit your own particular taste.
When ordering Indian for the first time, it can be difficult to know what to expect, and I want to make it easy for you.
And let’s be honest… With 500 years of takeaway history, there is plenty of choice
With that in mind, here are some expert guidelines if you are wondering what to order from an Indian takeaway…
Ordering Your First Indian | Indian Food Beginners Guide
Go Mild When trying Indian for The First Time!
I've included this top tip when ordering your first Indian for a reason.
The last thing you want to do is destroy your palette and put yourself off curry for life by ordering something that is ridiculously spicy.
And believe me…
One restaurants' medium' heat is another's 'atomic.
The way to get around this if you are wondering what to order from an Indian takeaway?
That way, you can be sure that you aren't going to inadvertently risk ordering something that blows your tastebuds away with chilli.
Oh, and don't worry. Indian takeaway food (even the mild dishes) are far from boring. You'll find most takeaway menu items are loaded with flavour!
Don't Over Order!
Aside from tasty, there is something else that Indian food excels in.
Making you feel full!
Listen, I get it.
You are about to order an Indian for the first time and want to try everything on the menu.
Patience, my young padawan.
It's really easy to overdo an Indian takeaway order and end up with a mountain of food.
Pick a smaller number of dishes, and then that way you can really enjoy them.
If you have ordered too much, you can freeze curry sauce. I've got an article dedicated to it right here.
Order Naan Bread
There is nothing nicer than mopping up a pool of tasty curry sauce and to do that, you will need something fit for the task.
Enter the naan bread.
Naan is like a fluffy flatbread that is just perfect for wiping around your plate and soaking up all that delicious curry sauce. Be sure to order naan if you are ordering Indian takeaway for the first time!
Don't Fill Up on Starters
Indian starters are super tasty.
They can also be pretty filling (I am looking at you onion bhaji).
Go ahead and order a starter, but don't go overboard. I tend to find that with most Indian takeaways, ordering a starter to share allows you to have a taste of some delicious Indian delights without spoiling your main course.
If in Doubt, Ask
Do you know who knows the most about Indian takeaways?
The owners and staff of the Indian restaurant.
Most places I have ever ordered Indian takeaway from are more than happy to offer advice and guidance on what the dishes are like and how they taste. They'll also be able to tell you how spicy the dishes are and whether they are suitable for an Indian takeaway beginner.
(If you are lucky, they might even give you their personal recommendations, worth their weight in gold).
Don't Order Dishes That Are Too Similar
I love curry (I mean… I have a website where I write about nothing but Indian food).
But even I have a limit on how much tikka I can eat.
My advice to you is to order different dishes, particularly when it comes to appetisers and main courses. Chicken tikka starter and chicken tikka curry for the main course?
What a waste!
Pick contrasting flavours and dishes to optimise your first Indian takeaway experience.
Like the sound of a curry sauce, but don't like the meat?
Are the ingredients of an Indian looking appealing, but the spice level looks a bit high?
One of the beautiful things about ordering Indian takeaway is that you are firmly in the driving seat.
All curries from Indian takeaways are made from scratch using something called the BIR technique.
The bottom line?
It is really easy to request changes to curry dishes to suit your particular taste.
Just ask, and don't be shy. Indian restaurants nearly always have the option of creating custom dishes to suit your palette.
Not All Curry is The Same
'Curry' is a generic term to describe a whole range of dishes.
But don't be fooled.
There are so many different types of curry, and they are all pretty unique. What to try from an Indian takeaway, and where to start?
My advice would be to have a little think about the kind of flavours you normally enjoy and then see if you can find a curry that is a perfect match.
Which curries taste of what?
Well, you are in luck! I've got an at-a-glance-guide below that gives a great general outline of what the most common curries taste like and their spice level.
Ok, there is one thing (and one thing only) that I don't like about Indian takeaways.
I'm just going to come right out and say it.
Their desserts generally tend to be atrocious.
Unlike conventional western kitchens, you'll find Indian takeaways aren't particularly well suited to creating masterpieces in the dessert department.
If you order a dessert, chances are it will come straight out of the freezer. Suppose you are ordering Indian takeaway to eat at home. In that case, you'll also find that these desserts don't travel particularly well either.
Do yourself a favour.
What to try from an Indian takeaway?
Not the dessert.
What to Try from an Indian Takeaway | At a Glance Guide
Type of Dish
1 Portion Serves
Main - Curry
Savoury and sweet
Main - Curry
Rich and savoury
Main - Curry
Savoury and sweet
Main - Curry
Mild - Medium
Main - Curry
Mild - Medium
Sweet and sour
Main - Curry
Main - Curry
Mild - Medium
Main – Rice Dish
Mild - Medium
Savoury and sweet
Main - Curry
Side - Curry
Mild - Medium
Savoury and spicy
What Indian Food Should I Try First?
Generally, entrants to the world of Indian food are best going with something that ticks the following boxes:-
- Bright and colourful
- Full of Indian taste
I can think of no dish more perfect than a nice chicken korma with the above in mind. It is an exceptionally flavorful dish but is relatively mild.
I love spice (like extremely spicy dishes), but now and again, I go back to my 'first curry' roots and go for a creamy and slightly sweet korma. One taste, and I guarantee you'll be blown away.
Another great option (and worldwide favourite) is chicken tikka masala. This tomato-based curry dish is supremely tasty, vivid in colour. It is the ideal choice for an Indian food debutant.
Want to see just how good it can be?
Here's a quick video of someone trying Indian food for the first time: -
What is The Tastiest Indian Curry?
The 'tastiest' curry is quite a subjective topic, and each individual will have their own preference. However, some dishes are known practically worldwide. Pick any of the following, and you won't go far wrong (all of these dishes are pretty mild and packed with flavour): -
- Tikka Masala
- Rogan Josh
What Should I Try from An Indian Takeaway? | 20 Top Indian Dishes for Beginners
Ok, here is a definitive list of what to try from an Indian takeaway if you are ordering for the first time. The list below contains a brief description of each dish and a general tasting profile. I'll also include how filling it is to really help you out…
Classic Indian Starters to Try from an Indian Takeaway
Every Indian meal starts somewhere, and the appetisers are as good a place as any. Here are some solid favourites to try.
- Crispy and Crunchy
'Fill Factor': Light – Go for 2 per person
Dish Description: Poppadoms are normally offered at the start of the meal (often while you pour over the menu and decide what to order). A poppadom is a flattened disc of chickpea flour, deep-fried until it puffs up and turns all golden.
They are the perfect light starter and normally come with a range of dips, such as: -
- Mango chutney
- Lime pickle
- Onion salsa
- Mint raita
- Crispy with a soft centre
'Full factor': Quite filling, but served in small portions – Good for sharing between 2 people.
Dish Description: Samosas are thin pastry sheets (similar to filo) stuffed with a savoury filling (such as ground meat or Indian spiced vegetables). They are wrapped into a rough triangle shape and then deep-fried until the outside is golden and crunchy.
Generally, samosas are not particularly spicy. You'll normally get around 2 – 3 per serving. They tend to be quite small, meaning they won't be over facing if you order them alongside a curry.
- Slightly spicy
- Crisp and crunchy
'Full factor': Quite filling (depending on portion size) – Almost definitely one you'll want to share
Dish Description: You can consider pakoras (sometimes called 'pakodas') as a sort of Indian fritter. Normally they consist of meat or vegetables, dipped in a tempura-style batter before being deep-fried.
You get the crunch of the outer batter shell, which gives way to a soft and succulent centre within.
Some restaurants serve these in huge piles, whereas others serve them in smaller portions. It is well worth asking the takeaway staff before committing to a full portion for yourself.
- Crunchy with a soft centre
- Full of fried onion taste
- Slightly smoky and a little sweet
'Full factor': Deceptively filling – One bhaji per person is more than enough
Dish Description: Ah, bhajis! My favourite Indian appetiser. Onion bhajis are made by mixing a loose batter of sliced onions and gram flour, combined with Indian spices like cumin and turmeric. Large 'balls' of this batter are dropped into hot oil, where they crisp up and turn golden brown on the outside.
The inside sort of steams itself and turns soft and delicious. Think of these a little like an Indian dumpling with a crispy exterior.
- Dry (no sauce)
- Smoky barbecue taste
- A little spicy
'Full factor': A little filling, almost entirely meat-based. However, they are served in small portions. Go for one dish per person.
Tandoori is great if you want to try one meat, but like another in your curry. Tandoori dishes are normally portions of meat that have been marinated in a blend of yoghurt and mild spices before being roasted in a hot tandoor.
It tastes a little like barbecue with a smoky sweetness undercutting the savoury flavours of the spices and the meat. While meat is filling, you'll find that you only get a few chunks with your takeaway order, meaning you won't be overfull when it is time for your main course.
Speaking of which, check these out…
Classic Curries from Indian Takeaways | What to Order
Chicken Tikka Masala
'Full factor': Part soup, part stew, finish a red bowl of tikka masala, and you'll be full for the evening
Dish Description: Perhaps the most famous curry of all time. Chicken tikka masala is an absolute classic. It is a tomato-based curry sauce, traditionally served with chunks of tender chicken. The chicken has normally been marinated overnight and grilled.
You get the sweetness of the tomatoes, hints of onions and garlic, and next to no spice at all (it shouldn't contain chilli)
If in doubt, and you are ordering takeaway Indian for the first time, you won't go far wrong with chicken tikka masala!
'Full factor': Butter curry is really rich and quite heavy. You'll want a snooze after this one.
Dish Description: Butter chicken is a classic Indian dish that strongly compliments authentic Moghul cuisine. It is a dish that is exceptionally rich and creamy. It is normally served as 'butter chicken'. However, unlike chicken tikka, it doesn't have a tomato base. It is normal to add powdered almonds or coconut and sugar (or fruit chutney), giving the dish a relatively sweet taste.
'Full factor': With powdered nuts, cream and juicy chicken chunks, this is another that will have you undoing your belt buckle (if you manage to finish it).
Dish Description: Korma is quite similar to butter chicken and has a broadly similar taste profile. Korma is made using sweet and fragrant spices, including cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and a little cumin. It is super mild and is an excellent choice for those absolutely certain they want to avoid heat.
For a dish packed with Indian flavour, and something super special, this is definitely one to choose if you are wondering what to order from an Indian takeaway.
I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
- Strong taste
- Very Savoury
- Slightly Spicy
'Full factor': Lamb bhuna is pretty filling. With a strong and thick sauce, that begs for a naan. You won't be hungry… Go easy on the sides.
Dish Description: Bhuna is a seriously strong tasting curry with a thick dark sauce. It is a little spicy, but if you can handle a chilli con Carne, you should be ok with this. The overriding taste is one of onions and garlic, along with undertones of ginger and Indian spice like cumin.
The joy in a bhuna is in the thick gravy. It's a nice halfway house if you like curry sauce but don't want a curry that is swimming in it.
Oh, and get a naan bread for sure.
You will want to mop up all that delicious gravy and tasty curry oil!
King Prawn Pathia
'Full factor': Pathia (traditionally served with prawns) is lighter. As a result, you can order this along with a couple of sundries with little to fear
Dish Description: If you love sweeter curries but don't want the creamy richness of korma or butter, then Pathia could be a perfect choice. It is made with pineapple or mango juice, giving it a sharp, sweet and sour taste. The sauce is fairly light orange in colour.
Pathia can sometimes be a little spicy. It does include chilli, so be sure to ask before ordering!
Beef or Lamb Madras
- Onions, chilli and garlic
'Full factor': Madras is normally made with lamb or beef, both of which are super satiating. Madras is also a fiery customer. With plenty of spice, you'll feel full (and maybe a bit bloated) long before finishing this dish!
Dish Description: If you wonder what to order from an Indian takeaway and like spice, this is certainly the dish for you! And be warned, it is hot. If the idea of a mild creamy korma or a mild butter leaves you cold, madras is the one to go for.
Madras has a tomato base, combined with rich Indian onion gravy. There are quite a few chillies thrown in for good measure too. It is a sharp and strong tasting curry.
- Crunchy peppers
- Tangy tomato
- Medium heat
'Full factor': Rogan josh is pretty filling. With meat, fresh vegetables and a rich and tangy gravy, you won't be able to manage dessert!
Dish Description: Rogan josh is traditionally served with lamb. It has a tomato base combined with onion gravy and fresh vegetables like peppers and chopped onions. This is very much in the 'medium' category of curry, so steer clear if you don't like spice.
The underlying taste is one of tangy tomatoes with zero sweetness. The curry is normally a reddish-brown colour with a lot of spicy gravy.
- Mild to medium
- Very savoury
- Hints of sweetness (especially if raisins are included)
- Varied textures
'Full factor': The bulk of biryani is made up of rice, with chunks of meat and vegetables added, so it is very filling. You won't need a sundry with this one, and absolutely don't order a portion of rice alongside!
Dish Description: Biryani is a relatively mild dish. Consider it as a sort of 'Indian paella'. With heaps of yellow turmeric and spice-infused rice, served with chunks of chicken that have been simmered and stewed until tender, it is truly one of the greats if you are ordering an Indian and you are hungry!
That said… You could always save some the next day, for breakfast! (Yes, really)
It isn't all savoury, however… Many takeaways include chunks of fruit such as pineapple, mango or even raisins, giving the dish a slightly sweet taste.
It truly is a dish of contrasts.
You won't need sundries with biryani. Some people order a little curry sauce on the side to moisten the dish slightly. Another great idea is to order a saucy curry and biryani and treat it like a 'special' side dish.
'Full factor': Keema is almost entirely meat-based. As a result, it can be quite filling. It's great with naan bread or rice and as a meal to share between two.
Dish Description: Keema is a great dish if you want something hearty and filling. The basis of the dish is ground meat, either lamb or beef. This is fried with onions, garlic and cumin (along with a little chilli) before being stewed down until it is about the consistency of chilli con Carne.
The dish also contains peas, giving bright green orbs of colour. It isn't the most visually appealing dish, but what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste. It is really rich, slightly oily and strong in savoury flavours of onion and garlic.
Only ordering curry from the takeaway might leave you feeling unfulfilled. And if you skip the sides, you are really missing out! Here are some great sides when ordering from an Indian takeaway for the first time: -
'Full factor': Dal is my go-to when I want to 'bulk up' a curry slightly. Like most pulse-based meals, it is exceptionally filling.
Dish Description: Dal is made by stewing split lentils down until they become soft and creamy. Herbs and spices are added to give it an 'Indian' taste. You'll often find that it is quite an oily dish. This is because a 'temper' is added at the final stage of the cooking process.
Wait. What's a 'temper'?
Glad you asked…
A temper is a ladleful of oil, to which garlic, onions, chilli and seeds (such as cumin and fennel) are added. As it fries, the oil is infused with flavour…
It is then unceremoniously tipped over the top of the dal…
It's wonderful. Try it!
Daal is perhaps one of the most widely consumed dishes in India. So you really need to give it a go!
'Full factor': Curry and rice is a perfect pairing. Adding rice will pad out the meal nicely if you've gone light. I'd recommend getting one portion to share, then you can order a couple of sundries and have a try of each.
Dish Description: You know what rice tastes like already. Right?
Pulao adds a whole new dimension. The liquid the rice is cooked in is infused with mild spices (often cumin and turmeric). You'll also find that many places add a little dye to the rice, giving you tiny jewels of reds, yellows and greens.
Boiled rice is boring. If you are wondering what to order from an Indian takeaway, be sure to stick pulao (often spelled pilau) rice on the list.
'Full factor': Naan is the king when it comes to feeling full. If you can manage one of these alongside a curry, starter, and side dish, such as rice, then there is no way you will be hungry afterwards.
Dish Description: Naan is a staple when it comes to Indian takeaway cuisine. This soft and fluffy bread is ideal for wiping around your plate (or making an impromptu 'scoop'). The bread is normally baked on the wall of a tandoor, giving a crisp bottom and a golden bubbled top.
Oh, and don't let me forget to tell you…
If plain naan sounds a little boring, there are loads of other options that are packed with flavour. Consider some of the following: -
- Garlic butter naan
- Chilli naan
- Cheese naan
- Keema naan (my personal favourite).
- Slightly savoury
- Neutral in flavour
'Full factor': Smaller than a naan. This is ideal if you want to order a different side but want a little bread alongside.
Dish Description: You can kind of consider roti as the little cousin of the naan. It is smaller in size and isn't quite as 'fluffy' as naan. Roti can be pan-fried or baked in a tandoor. I often order one when I can't handle a full naan but still want something to mop up all that delicious curry sauce.
I'll be honest here.
If you are trying Indian food for the first time, while roti is nice, it is one of the more boring side dishes. So, I'd replace it with a more interesting sundry (such as garlic naan) if it is your first time.
'Full factor': With curry being popular in Britain, it's no wonder it can be served with 'chips' (for my US readers, I mean 'french fries'). Chips are really filling, especially when served with curry and rice.
Dish Description: Do you need me to tell you about chips/French fries? These are often my go-to option when I can't handle a naan and rice but still need something for dipping into my curry sauce. Golden brown sticks of potato, deep-fried and served in a pile alongside a curry? Heaven!
You can even make a little 'broom' with your fork!
'Full factor': A pile of roasted potatoes? You'd better believe you'll be full!
Dish Description: If you've ever had 'patatas bravas' you won't be a million miles away with Bombay potatoes. This is a simple side dish consisting of roasted chunks of potato topped with a tangy tomato curry sauce. The sauce is normally baked onto the potatoes slightly, giving a sort of tangy sweetness.
Bombay potatoes are so filling. I'd advise against ordering other more substantial side dishes with your curry if you go for this option.
What NOT to Try When Ordering Indian for The First Time
So, you've seen the good.
Chosen something to order from the Indian takeaway yet?
I'm guessing you are here as a beginner in Indian cuisine, so, to help you out, here are some things that I recommend you steer clear of until you acclimatise your tastebuds
Vindaloo is the crown prince of hot curries. In the UK, there are two types of people who order vindaloo when out for a curry: -
- Drunk people – for a dare
Vindaloo isn't pleasant, and the heat is easily enough to put you off eating curry for life.
Do yourself a favour.
It's also (at least in its western form) isn't a particularly authentic Indian dish and is more of a bastardisation from its roots. It certainly isn't what you will want to order as a first curry.
If vindaloo is the crown prince of hot curry, then phaal is the king.
I use one word to describe how hot phaal is…
It's not big, and it is not clever. This is one that, should you order it from the takeaway, you will feel the effects of it for days.
Now, don't get me wrong.
Jalfrezi is a tasty curry. But, it also happens to be very high on the heat scale.
If you like really spicy food, by all means, go for it. It isn't as spicy as either vindaloo or a phaal. But be warned. If you are spice averse, best stick to the more traditional (and milder) curry favourites.
Bhut Jolokia is a fancy name for the 'ghost pepper'. Ghost peppers are considered about 170 times hotter than Tobasco sauce.
The bottom line?
Anything made with it will be searingly (and rather unenjoyably) hot.
If you've never heard of 'staff curry' before, then don't worry. It's actually part of a 'secret' takeaway menu. It is one of my favourite curries.
Because it is what the Indian chefs prepare for themselves, it tends to not hold back in the spice department. It is nearly always served on the bone too.
The above two things are normally enough to put all but the most devout curry-heads off.
Until you are a little more well versed in curry dishes, stick to the tried and tested introductory curry dishes that are a firm favourite for a reason
What should I try from an Indian takeaway? Hopefully, you've got a really good idea of what's out there and what to order. For a first curry, go mild and full of flavour. Consider adding an appetiser for a bit of variety, and pick a nice side to compliment your dish. If you want a little inspiration, why not check out my curry picker here, or take a look at my detailed guides to all sorts of curries! You could even consider having a go at making authentic curry at home.