British takeaway curry in San Francisco?
March 6, 2012 9:33 AM   Subscribe

What defines the quintessential British takeaway curry, and what's the closest I can come in San Francisco?

When I watch BBC shows or read books set in the UK, I keep coming across people getting takeaway curries. They look delicious on TV.

I imagine (perhaps incorrectly) that there are differences between British takeaway and getting Indian food to go at your average San Francisco Indian restaurant.

What's a typical takeaway curry like? In particular, is it packaged as curry-over-rice (in one container) or is rice separate?

Can I get a reasonable approximation in San Francisco? I saw recommendations for Brit-like curry and chips at The Chieftains, The Irish Bank, and Kennedy's in this previous curry and chips thread, but the takeaways I see on TV don't come with chips; they're curry in a rectangular aluminum container.

posted by kristi to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have never eaten Indian food in SF but I have eaten plenty in England. Curry and rice comes separately, unless it's a biryani. Chicken tikka masala and pilau rice is the classic English curry dish, but I prefer a korma myself with no rice and a peshwari naan.

This place looks like it might do what you want.
posted by corvine at 9:44 AM on March 6, 2012

Best answer: A few years back I realised how easy it is to make a huge batch of jalfrezi or pathia and freeze it in batches so it's been a while since I ordered but you could have a look at the menu of my local takeaway.

A typical order for two would be a starter then a meat or vegetarian curry, rice and possibly a vegetable side dish such as saag aloo. All are delivered/collected in aluminum containers with white card tops bearing unintelligible symbols denoting their contents. There follows a sniff 'n' serve session.

Some restaurants add free poppadums to orders.

As for chips, I will confess to sometimes ordering them since mothballing our deep fat frier.
posted by humph at 9:47 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've eaten curry in SF and in Britain (both England and Scotland) and to be honest the main difference to me was the poppadums, I'd never even heard of it before I moved here. It is very common for takeaways to throw them in for free with some chutney.

In addition to the poppadums, I order a starter nibble or two (like some onion bajis or samosas) now that I live here.

Rice and curry are always packaged seperately. Plain basmati vs. pilau is a matter of personal taste I think.

Tikka masala is a very stereotypical British curry dish. Second place would be tied between vindaloo for spicy (it's so embedded in British culture that it's a football song) or a korma for not spicy.
posted by like_neon at 9:57 AM on March 6, 2012

Indian food in the UK and Indian food in the average US restaurant are indistinguishable. Except when people get chips. There are also more peas in UK Indian food.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:57 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't think of British style takeaway curry in San Francisco, though I'm sure there are examples. But if you want fantastic fast Indian food in SF, the Gujarati style rolls and plates at Kasa is unbelievably good. 18th and Noe. They have a truck, too.
posted by gyusan at 9:58 AM on March 6, 2012

Oh god, yeah. Curry with chips. Definitely a British thing as well and something I still can't get on board with.

(As a side note, my British friends also order chips with their Chinese takeaway. Sweet and sour chicken with chips is so so wrong)
posted by like_neon at 9:58 AM on March 6, 2012

Poppadoms are ubiquitous on the east coast of the US, less so on the west coast of the US. Don't know why.

Oh, the only other difference is that every Indian restaurant in the UK has butter chicken, and it's harder to find in the US.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:59 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sidhedevil, are you sure it's not just masquerading as chicken makhani? That's on most Indian menus in the US that I have been to, although that's mostly midwest and a few on the east coast.
posted by cabingirl at 10:09 AM on March 6, 2012

To add to what cabingirl said, any place which serves paneer makhani or paneer makhanwala should be able to whip up chicken makhani (makhan = butter), provided they serve chicken to begin with.
posted by Gyan at 10:12 AM on March 6, 2012

Best answer: IrishBank was one of my favourite places to eat, while I never had their curry (preferring to make my own) I'd say if the rest of their food is anything to go by, it might be a reasonable approximation.

Even more 'traditional' English 'curry' as was served in boarding schools, according to old friends in the know, contained raisins and tended to be more green. This is not the same as in the Indian takeaway, from what I've heard but more like this:

Did the British invent curry? No. Is there such a thing as a British curry? Yes.

When I say "British curry" I don't mean something like Chicken Tikka Masala which is a restaurant invention created by British Asian restaurateurs to satisfy the British taste for curries. What I'm talking about goes way further back than the 1970's when Chicken Tikka Masala was first concocted. I am talking about the sort of curry which was served by British memsahibs in colonial India in the 19th century and which subsequently became as British as roast beef.

So let's look at the dish that fuelled an empire.

posted by infini at 10:20 AM on March 6, 2012

UK curry is very different from what you'll find at the Indian restaurants here in the city, despite that the dishes share names. If you want a thick, darker brown, gravy style curry I'd actually suggest you get a Japanese curry in Japantown.

The Indian food I've had here since moving from New York has been universally meh.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:30 AM on March 6, 2012

Sidhedevil, are you sure it's not just masquerading as chicken makhani?

No, I am onto that trick. It's just hard to find butter/makhani chicken in Boston and New York. However, you can get a decent frozen version at Whole Foods.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:42 AM on March 6, 2012

Best answer: Although I live in the bay area, I am a Londoner and have never eaten curry with chips or even seen anyone else do it. We eat curry with rice and nan and a ton of beer. Where are you getting your information from? Maybe it's a northern thing.

The most UK style indian food in the Bay Area is the Pakistani stuff. Down here in Sunnyvale I frequent Shalimar and it's pretty good, so you might want to try one of their San Francisco locations on 532 Jones St or 1409 Polk St. Alternatively look for places that put "Pakistani and Indian" on the sign.
posted by w0mbat at 11:27 AM on March 6, 2012

Best answer: If you want a thick, darker brown, gravy style curry I'd actually suggest you get a Japanese curry in Japantown.

Ooh, no.

Chips with curry sauce is a chippy thing, and perhaps a northern thing -- the curry sauce is usually mouth-searingly hot and in a styrofoam cup, and has the consistency of a watered down German currysauce. Actual takeaway meals come in foil containers with cardboard lids, with the rice separate.

I agree that you're best off looking at Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurants: there's a Chowhound thread on balti and bhuna, which points to a couple of closed restaurants, but also to Little Delhi in the Tenderloin, whose menu looks pretty familiar to a British eye, even if there are no actual balti or bhuna dishes on it.
posted by holgate at 12:29 PM on March 6, 2012

(And while the Shalimar menu looks very good, it reminds me more of the British restaurants that proudly specialised in northern, tandoori-centric dishes than the "chicken bhuna, lamb korma, sag aloo, pilau rice" kind of takeaway.)
posted by holgate at 12:37 PM on March 6, 2012

One difference is that in my experience in the US "vindaloo" is not thought of as inherently extremely spicy. It's a similar dish - vinegar and potatoes being the defining elements - but you can generally order it to any level of spiciness as with any other dish. Whereas it is my impression that in the UK it is always very spicy.
posted by yarrow at 1:41 PM on March 6, 2012

Everything about the foil containers and separate rice is right. But you need to add pakora and the Calomine-looking pink sauce. Nom.

To really complete the effect, have a very drunk friend who orders the phal, claims he can handle the heat, but then vomits flesh-burn-inducing spew down his front. Basically, the exact opposite of Go For an English.
posted by scruss at 2:46 PM on March 6, 2012

Jalfrezi is now more popular than tikka masala.
posted by knapah at 2:51 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Now the pink sauce really is a regional difference (don't know if it's a UK/US difference or an Indian/Pakistani difference--I've never noticed the pink sauce in a Pakistani restaurant in the US that I remember). What does the pink sauce taste like? I've always been afraid to try it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:30 PM on March 6, 2012

I'm a curry fiend in the UK, the spicier the better. This is what I know:

If it's got 'Naga' in the title, it's going to be hot. I think this is a new thing. The curries contain the Naga chilli, which is said to be one of the hottest in the world. I haven't had a curry with it in that hasn't failed to be delicious.

But my favourite curry in the world is known in my local curry house as a 'Jointapuri'. This is the hottest curry I've ever had, and I can manage about one every six months. It hurts both on the way in and the way out, without wanting to be too specific. I've never seen any anywhere other than my local.

I always have vegetable rice. This is - as the name suggests - pilau rice cooked with a whole whack of vegetables. It goes well with hot curries as the vegetables go some way in absorbing the hotness.

Raita is served as a side dish - it's yoghurt with cucumber and mint. I've often ordered it by mistake and received a huge aluminium tray full of congealed yoghurt. Mint sauce, on the other hand, generally comes in a small pot for dipping poppadoms in.

I can never eat a really hot curry in one go. I eat as much as I can, and then the rest goes into the fridge for consumption as a (usually hungover) breakfast or lunch the next day. In my mind, this effectively means I'm getting two curries for the price of one.
posted by hnnrs at 2:10 AM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers!

I'll try Little Delhi and Shalimar, and maybe Tikka Masala as well ... and I'll probably check out the Irish Bank just for comparison's sake, although it seems like that should be eaten on site with a Guinness.

As it happens, several of the sit-down Indian places I've eaten at do serve poppadums. It's nice to know that's part of the traditional takeaway experience.
posted by kristi at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2012

Indian restaurants in the UK make their curries the same way, and the methods and ingredients are well documented. Get a copy of Kris Dilon's The Curry Secret and make it at home.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:09 AM on March 8, 2012

> What does the pink sauce taste like?

Slightly spicy. Nothing too harsh.

I'm from Glasgow, so most of what we got tended to be northern or Pakistani. Pretty mild. None of the head! asplode! gonna! die! kinds of flavours I get from the Toronto Chettinad/Tamil restos, tho.
posted by scruss at 5:18 AM on March 9, 2012

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