Indian food is one of my very favorite cuisines. In the US, I ate it all the time, whether it was going out to Rasika or buying cans of prepared food or cooking it up myself.
Moving to Korea, I really like the food. But I still get cravings for Indian food, among other things.
Both Korean food and Indian food can be said to be spicy. But we have to clear something up here – which type of spicy do we mean? There are two kinds: hotness and amount of spices (we could call it flavorfulness, but that’s not a word).
Korean food is hot spicy. Go into a Korean grocery store, and you won’t see many spices as we think of them beyond varieties of pepper (other than imported stuff for foreigners in some places). But hot red pepper is in absolutely everything. Garlic is plentiful and easy to find, but interestingly it’s not really used as a spice as we know it. It is put into things uncooked to add strong spiciness or comes as a side dish for galbi and other barbecue meats.
Indian food, on the other hand, is both kinds of spicy. It’s not always hot spicy but it is always flavorful spicy. That’s part of why I love it so much. There are so many varied flavors, it’s like an explosion of taste in your mouth.
Of course, I’ve never had Indian food in India because I haven’t yet been to India. I’m sure Indian food in America is adjusted to suit American palates. Just as in New Zealand, Indian food is less hot spicy because it seems they like hot spicy a bit less there.
So how is it adjusted in Korea? Remember that most foods in Korea are hot spicy, and Indian food is sometimes hot spicy. I think that Indian food in Korea is more hot spicy than in America but less flavorful spicy. Talking with my coworkers, many of them dislike Indian food because it is too full of flavorful spices.
To be fair, many places in Korea claiming to serve Indian food are actually Nepalese restaurants. However, I’ve also been to a Nepalese restaurant in the States and it was similar enough to Indian in its preparation of Indian dishes that I think my analysis is not too flawed. Of course, there are some uniquely Nepalese dishes, which some places here in Korea serve, but I haven’t tried them yet.
I have also only been to two Nepalese/Indian places so far. One was Bihanee in Bupyeong. The other was Everest in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul. I preferred Everest because it seems to maintain more of the flavorful spices than Bihanee does. Bihanee’s Paneer Butter Masala was blander than I’d like (and had only 3 pieces of paneer! shame). On the other hand, the Chana Masala at Everest was spicier than I’m used to but still nice and flavorful.
The naan does not get changed much here – it is your faithful old naan. However, the rice is a different story. Korea has its own rice, which is short grain and usually kind of moist and/or sticky. This doesn’t pair that well with saucy foods. Basmati rice on the other hand is dryer and soaks up the sauce, which is what you want. So far all the restaurants I’ve been to have both – but basmati rice is more expensive. My advice, pony up for basmati rice, it’s totally worth it.
Speaking of expense, Indian food in Korea is not much different in price from what it is in America. A main dish is about 7000 to 9000 Won, naan is 2000 Won, and basmati rice is 2000 Won. At Bihanee you can get a two-person feast for 30,000 Won – a great deal I think.
You can buy the canned prepared Indian food similar to what I’m used to at certain import shops. There was one of those down the street from Everest and there are numerous ones in Itaewon, Seoul.