Alright, I get it. You don't want to be suffering all evening, but you don't want something too bland either. For a nice compromise, a nice medium curry is the way to go. But, which curries are medium and what does 'medium' mean? I'll show you some common medium curries found on most Indian menus and even offer guidance as to what they taste like and how spicy they truly are. Naan bread at the ready? Let's dig in!
What is the Best Medium Indian Curry? | The Quick Answer
Most would agree that a Dopiaza sits perfectly in the middle between 'too hot' and 'too mild'. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is the hottest, it is firmly in the '5' category. Dopiaza contains some chilli, but this dark curry is all about the strong flavours of onions, garlic, garam and fresh herbs.
If you like medium curries and are out for an Indian, you are in luck.
Because most people want to feel like they have 'been for an Indian', but aren't brave (or foolish) enough to order the truly hot dishes like a vindaloo or phaal. Indian restaurants cater to what most people want.
In this case, medium curries!
So, you'll have plenty to choose from.
Below you'll find a list of the best medium Indian curries. You should be able to find them all on most curry house menus.
Read, learn and enjoy!
What Does 'Medium' Mean on a Curry Menu?
For most people, 'medium' will mean the perfect balance between spicy and mild. It can be somewhat of a subjective term. One person's 'medium' may be another's 'hot'… Not to mention that the chef may have their own opinions on how much chilli guests can handle.
So how can you tell?
You'll normally find 'medium' depicted on takeaway menus in a few ways. By far, the most common is the use of the infamous chilli symbol that adorns Indian menus up and down the land. The normal convention is that one chilli means' medium' and two chilis mean 'hot'. However, there are no hard and fast rules.
Most medium curries will contain a little chilli in various forms. This normally makes its way into the curry via: -
- Fresh Chilli – This is chopped and added during the cooking process. The chilli will break down and become part of the sauce giving a spicy heat that you'll definitely be able to taste.
- Powdered Chilli – This is added along with the other spices used to make your particular type of curry dish. You'll tend to find this used more in the darker curry dishes, so if it is red or brown, there's a good chance you've got a medium curry on your hands.
- As part of the Spice Mix – Don't assume that just because chilli isn't listed on the ingredients, it isn't present in your dish. Spices like garam masala literally translate as 'hot mix', and you may find that chilli powder is included as part of a broader curry powder used by chefs.
The simple truth is that while many curries are described as medium, it is all down to personal taste as to what is considered an 'acceptable' heat level.
However, provided you know what you are looking for, choosing a good medium curry is easy.
So, here's what I'll do
To help you, I've come up with an easy-to-follow guide describing the main types of medium curry and what you can expect. I'll also give you some pointers below, so you don't choose something that is too mild or too spicy.
Here's what you need to know before ordering…
Curry Levels a Quick at a Glance Guide
When discussing curry heat, it can be hard to know what is medium and what is hot. The answer? Why not put some numbers on it?
Below, you'll find a full description of the typical heat and taste of medium curries.
But to give it some context, here's a quick guide to the heat level you could expect relative to some other common foods you might have tried: -
Spice Level 1 - 10
Mild - medium
Spicy pepperoni pizza
Chilli con Carne
Medium – hot
Tabasco sauce (red)
Dried whole chilli's
Novelty hot sauce
Which Curries are Medium? | Your Expert Guide to The Perfect Spice Level
Predominant Flavors and Tasting Notes: Onions, Garlic, Ginger, Savory
Spice Level (out of 10): 5 (medium heat)
Order This If: You like curry with a predominantly strong onion taste
Dopiaza is packed full of strong flavours, due almost entirely to the show's main star.
The humble onion.
Dopiaza means 'two onions'. This should give you more than a subtle hint of what this dish is about. Aside from being served in a rich and slightly thick onion-based gravy, it also features both fresh and fried onions.
Dopiaza is a rich curry dish that is dark in colour. Expect it to be a deep brown colour when served. Normally it is accompanied by a fine layer of chopped coriander sprinkled on top. This works really well to cut through the taste of the onions.
As a medium curry, dopiaza is the top of the pack. It is often the go-to choice for those who want to avoid the 'blandness' of mild curries but don't want the blistering heat of stronger curries like madras or Jalfrezi.
Predominant Flavors and Tasting Notes: Onions, Garlic, Umami, Slightly Tangy, Oily, Thick and Spicy
Spice Level (out of 10): 6 (medium spicy)
Order This If: You prefer dishes with a thicker sauce that are towards the spicier side of 'medium.'
Regarding medium curry, bhuna is a little different from the rest. In certain ways, it is similar to dopiaza. It also contains lots of onions and is also made with onion gravy.
So, what's the difference.
Well, bhuna doubles down on the flavour. It is cooked for slightly longer using less gravy. As a result, it turns a really dark colour, and the sauce will thicken to produce a more robust and 'heavy' dish.
Bhuna is traditionally served with lamb as its 'filling', although you can also order it with chicken.
Bhuna is also prepared using lots of oil, which you'll often see pooling along the edges of the thick sauce. This is a great one to order if you are hungry and want something that you can mop up with nice fluffy naan bread.
Predominant Flavors and Tasting Notes: Onion, Garlic, Ginger, Butter, Rich, Tomatoey, Slightly Creamy.
Spice Level (out of 10): 4 (Medium)
Order This If: You prefer milder dishes but still want a little heat and plenty of subtle flavours.
Rogan Josh is completely different to both Dopiaza and Bhuna. Whereas these recipes will feature plenty of onions, this curry relies more on the subtle blend of herbs and spices to carry the dish.
You bet. There is a little chilli, but the best way to describe it would be more of a 'warmth' than a heat. It comes secondary to the taste of tomatoes, cinnamon, garam, cumin and turmeric. There are plenty of spices within, but these aren't too hot.
What's more, finishing the dish with yoghurt or cream is traditional. If you've read my article on how to cool down a hot curry, you'll already know that this is a tried and tested method to make curry much more 'medium'.
Because of the spices and the inclusion of tomato puree during an early stage of the cooking process, Rogan Josh will emerge from the kitchen with a deep and slightly dark red hue. It is ideally served with either lamb or chicken.
Predominant Flavors and tasting notes: Savoury, Sweet, Complex, Vegetables, Slightly Creamy
Spice Level (out of 10): 4 (nearly mild)
Order This If: You are hungry and want a medium curry that is a change from 'traditional'.
Biryani is a bit of a misnomer on my list of medium curries.
Unlike other medium dishes, the focus and bulk of the dish are predominantly made up of rice.
This rice is fried in fragrant oils and spices before being slowly simmered in base gravy along with the addition of savoury meat.
But it doesn't end there.
You can expect biryani to be festooned with a whole manner of other delights. Juicy sultanas, peas, chopped vegetables, pepper, ginger and garlic.
It really is a feast for the senses.
Notice in my tasting notes that I mention 'creamy'?
This medium curry also benefits from adding a little yoghurt stirred through the rice to give a thicker texture.
Your best bet if you want to try this medium curry? Have it as a side dish to share with friends, and order another from the menu! It can get a little 'samey' after a few mouthfuls and is really filling.
Predominant Flavors, tangy tomato, crunchy peppers, garlic, medium heat, onions
Spice Level (out of 10): 5 – 6 (medium heat)
Order This If: You like traditional medium Indian dishes and don't like a sweet curry.
Balti is a little of an acquired taste. A word of warning, depending on where you order, it can be slightly spicy. The recipe normally includes fresh and powdered chilli; however, these are both in sufficiently small quantities to make this more of a medium dish.
Balti is traditionally served in a round bowl with two handles. In days gone by, the curry would also be cooked in this dish. However, typically it is prepared in a normal curry pan and then tipped in afterwards.
Unlike the predominantly sauce-based medium curries, like bhuna and rogan josh, balti is more akin to a stir fry with a little sauce. A roughly equal amount of tomato and onion base gives it a slightly acidic 'tangy' curry taste.
Predominant Flavors and tasting notes: Herby, strong curry taste, meaty, mild tomato, onions, garlic, slightly creamy.
Spice Level (out of 10): 5 (medium)
Order This If: You want a 'classic' curry that is about as perfect as it gets.
I don't often order medium curry, but when I do, Korai is the one. This dish is simply heavenly.
What's to love about korai? Well, this dish is all about balance. It is neither too hot nor too mild. Nor is it too sweet or too savoury. It's the perfect blend of all of the above.
Korai (sometimes called 'karahi') is still kind of true to its Indian roots, and there isn't much changed from how it was prepared back in the day. The spice mix uses Kashmiri chilli powder to carry a subtle heat through the dish. This is combined with cumin, turmeric and even a little lemon juice to produce a dish that is the perfect blend and really tasty.
Unlike heavy onion and chilli-based dishes, korai isn't red or deep brown. You'll find it a dark amber colour normally served with a luscious dollop of yoghurt or swirl of cream.
If you want to stay 'medium', keep a good lookout for fresh red chilis, which some places insist on sprinkling over the top as a final garnish.
Predominant Flavors and tasting notes: Rich, creamy, ginger, garlic, oily, creamy, sweet, slightly nutty.
Spice Level (out of 10) 4 (medium)
Order This If: You like butter chicken but find it too mild.
Mughlai cooking actually refers to a style of cooking more than a specific curry on the Indian subcontinent. However, in Indian takeaways, it has become associated with a certain taste.
And that taste is awesomeness.
Mughlai cuisine focuses on slow stewing meat for hours until it becomes tender. It is normally combined with dairy or cream, along with relatively few Indian spices such as turmeric, garlic and a little ginger.
It's basic, and I love it.
A medium Mughlai curry made in a takeaway won't have been stewed for hours. However, you can still expect a rich and opulent taste from ground nuts, like almonds, all backed up by a warm chilli heat.
Expect this dish to be a pale orangey-brown colour. It's great for eating with rice or served alongside a few floury chapatis.
Predominant Flavors and tasting notes: Sweet, sour, rich, soupy
Spice Level (out of 10): 6 (medium)
Order This If: You like something a little on the hotter side of medium and like both sweet and saucy curries
If there is one thing you are guaranteed when ordering medium curries, it is variety. Pathia is different from all of the others on my list.
Unlike some made with an onion base, Pathia uses stewed lentils to carry the bulk of the flavours.
And let me tell you.
There is a lot of carrying to do. Pathia is jam-packed with interesting tastes and flavours. Within, you'll find an undertone of heat, but this is cut through with sweet tastes such as mango, pineapple and a relatively mild curry taste.
Pathia isn't for everyone. Some will find it a little too overwhelming. Even though the spices are mild, it has a strong taste and is a really bold curry. Expect it to turn up at the table looking a little like a cross between a soup and a curry. The predominant use of lentils will almost certainly give it a strong yellow hue.
You'd be best advised to go with a spoon over a fork!
Choosing Medium Curry | 6 General Guidelines
Choosing a medium curry can be a little fraught. After all, get it wrong, and you'll either end up with a relatively mild 'boring' curry. Or, heaven forbid, one that is indelibly hot!
You want a medium curry, right?
Here's my expert guide to making sure you get exactly the medium curry you are looking for: -
1. Examine the Menu Carefully
It might seem a little obvious, but there are normally plenty of clues in curry menu descriptions that will tell you whether a curry is 'medium' or not.
Remember the little 'chilli' symbols I talked about above?
Yeah, Indian restaurants all have their own idea about what that means.
But, there is a way you can work it out.
Next time you look at the menu, head straight to the vindaloo and carefully note how the restaurant describes it. (No, don't order it!)
If they say 'fairly hot, ' you can recalibrate your scale accordingly. As everyone knows, vindaloo is one of the hottest things on the menu.
Be on the lookout for mentions of ingredients in the dish too. Anything featuring the word 'chilli' is bound to be medium as a minimum.
2. Ask Questions When Ordering
The last thing any Indian restaurant wants is an unhappy customer (or bad reviews). The staff will have plenty of experience in answering customers' questions, as well as plenty of experience with all the curries on the menu.
They will be glad to help you out.
Even if you are new to Indian food, ask away what different dishes are like. You never know; they might suggest a few 'secret’ curries that aren’t on the menu.
3. Know Some Common Curry Terminology
Whenever I order a medium curry, I have a few key phrases that I look for in menu descriptions.
Whenever I spot any of the following, I know I’m onto a winner: -
- “Slightly spicy”
- “Some fresh chilli”
- “Strong taste”
- “Fresh spices”
- “Chilli Garnish”
- “Slightly Hot”
4. Be Specific in What You Want
Look, if you don’t ask, then you don’t get.
Most Indian restaurants will prepare each and every curry from scratch using the BIR cooking method.
This is great!
Because it means you can quite easily order a custom curry.
Want all the taste of korma but with medium spice? You’ve got it!
As a general rule, most Indian restaurants are more than happy to cater to a customer's specific requests, so be sure to ask and get the medium curry you want.
5. Watch Out for Garnishes!
Often, you’ll find that the curry is, in fact, medium. So why does it taste so hot?
Three words, my curry-loving chums…
Fresh chilli garnish.
It isn’t unheard of for chefs to ‘brighten’ up the top of a curry with a few sliced chillis.
And let me tell you, you must watch out for the seeds.
Those things will give you a real case of ‘ring sting’.
Suppose you notice that there are fresh chillis on top of your dish. In that case, it’s a good idea to pick them off or move them to the side before tucking in, or you might find your medium curry becomes hot quite rapidly.
6. Cool It Down
So, you’ve followed all of my advice and have still ended up with a burning mouth?
Sorry guys, I tried my best to get you a medium curry.
Look, don’t worry. There are still a few tricks in the bag regarding reducing mouth burn.
Try any (or all) of the following: -
- White rice is great for tempering a curry that is the wrong side of spicy.
- Reach for dairy. Capsaicin (the hot part of chilli) binds to fats found in dairy. A glass of milk will work better than water
- Avoid fizzy drinks and alcohol.
- Check that you’ve got the right curry. Medium curries will rarely cause unpleasant and immediate burning.
Which Curries Are Medium? | Commonly Asked Questions
If you are browsing an Indian takeaway menu, you no doubt have many dishes to choose from.
I know, it ain’t easy.
The following questions used to crop up all the time in my restaurant: -
Is Madras Hot or Medium?
Madras is definitely a hot dish. If you are looking for a medium curry, this isn’t the way to go! As my article dedicated to madras states; It is at least an “8/10” on the heat scale. If you want a medium curry, give madras a miss!
Which Curry is Least Spicy?
If you absolutely can’t handle any heat, there is a range of mild curries for you to try. Korma is a really mild dish, as is chicken tikka masala. For a creamy treat, you could also consider giving butter chicken a try.
Is Rogan Josh Hotter than Korma?
Rogan josh is a medium curry and, subsequently, is most definitely hotter than a korma. Rogan josh features a little chilli in the recipe, whereas korma, a dish made with yoghurt and mild herbs and spices, does not.
Is Bhuna Hotter than Madras?
Traditionally, bhuna is not considered hotter than madras. While bhuna does contain some chilli, it is nowhere near the levels normally found in madras. The only time this is not the case is if Indian restaurants go their own way and adapt their recipes to their own style.
Is Jalfrezi Hotter than Balti?
Yes, Jalfrezi is hotter than a Balti. Balti sits well within the range of being a ‘medium’ curry, whereas Jalfrezi (depending on venue) normally occupies the region of ‘hot’. Jalfrezi literally translates as ‘hot fry’ in Hindi, which should be proof of its spiciness.
Which Curries are Medium? | Final Thoughts
By now, you should be in a good place to answer the question ‘which curries are medium’? If you struggle to choose, you’ll rarely go wrong with a nice dopiaza or a bhuna. Follow my guide above, and you’ll be in a great place to choose. What are you going for? Why not let me know in the comments. Feel free to check out my other curry guides. Just type your dish in the search bar on my main page.