First, by way of qualification, I’d like to state that I not only love Indian food, but I’ve had the privilege of being mentored in its nuances by many close friends from different parts of that vast country. I’ve never been to India and therefore cannot say that I have experienced its authentic taste from that intimate perspective, but I’ve come as close as one can on foreign soil. I have eaten Indian food in restaurants in Montreal, Toronto, New York, and London, the latter two having reputations for some of the best Indian cuisines in or out of that country.
One of my oldest and closest friends is a Sikh. Every time his Mom would visit him from India, he would have her slaving for hours cooking up a buffet of authentic dishes for my ongoing tutelage. Once, when visiting one of his childhood friends in Connecticut together, he let it slip that I was an Indian food aficionado. We stayed at his friend’s place overnight and had to get a very early start to make some morning meetings in New York. We awoke to find that his friend, Bupindar, had asked his wife to cook up a massive buffet of every imaginable dish for our breakfast! She had worked all night cooking up a storm of at least 15 dishes, which we graciously devoured at 7 AM!
Montreal has hundreds of Indian restaurants, and I’ve been to at least two dozen over the years. They are generally pretty good, the best being either the very high-end ones, or not surprisingly, the little neighborhood holes-in-the-wall in Indian conclaves. The least good ones (although they are still pretty good) are the middle-of-the-road restaurants that are either part of chains or cater to tourists.
Making Indian food at home is a nightmare and never works out well. The critical issue is the use of spices, an art that Indian cooks learn over many years and for which the novice or even the experienced non-Indian cook are poorly prepared. There are nevertheless, some pretty good Indian spice-packs in oil that can produce a decent result for the home cook. OTOH, good, packaged Indian food was never something I would have imagined or looked for; it just wasn’t on my radar.
A couple of weeks ago, while grocery shopping with my wife (an activity I despise BTW because she is from the “We don’t need it, let’s go” school of grocery shopping, while I like to browse for inspiration), she presented me with several packages of pre-made, packaged, heat-and-eat, Indian vegetarian dishes. “Put that shit back”, I said to her, “It’s loaded with crap”. “No, no,” she replied, “Read the ingredients, it’s all good”. And she was right. Not a stabilizer, color, Xantahn gum, carageenan, “natural flavor”, citric acid, or hydrogenated fat in sight. Just simple ingredients one would use in a home preparation. “Probably tastes like dung”, I said, as I grudgingly put a few of the packs in our basket.
Back home, we made some saffron rice, heated up a couple of the curries, and had a vegetarian dinner. Terrific! It was as good as any middle-of the-road restaurant; not gourmet or home-cooked for sure, but an absolute re-do for a middle-of-the-week quick adjunct to a meal. I went back to the store and bought about a dozen assorted dishes. Very nicely packaged in pouches that you can re-heat in boiling water, or just empty into a bowl and microwave. Ready in a couple of minutes.
The taste is way beyond “Just passable”. It is in fact, outstanding for a packaged product, or even in comparison to many restaurants’ outputs. Well worth a try. The two brands we bought are: Patel’s, and Kitchens of India.