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Over the next few weeks, along with our regular helping of product reviews, restaurant reviews and gluten-free news, Triumph Dining will be posting about Indian food, a cuisine with ingredients that are often mysterious and unfamiliar to the gluten-free consumer. You’ll be surprised to find that most Indian food can be enjoyed entirely gluten-free.

In the first installment of our series, we take you to Haandi Indian Cuisine, a typical Indian restaurant, to show you the ins and outs of making sure your meal is safe and delicious.

Indian Buffet

Haandi’s main dining room was laid out like I expect most Indian restaurants might – white walls with mirrors, neat in appearance, white tablecloths, waiters eager to refill your rapidly diminishing water glasses. Haandi also shared a common feature many Indian restaurants now boast – a lunch buffet, complete with five stainless-steel pots containing foods varying greatly in taste, ingredients and seasonings.

When we sat down, we immediately asked the manager if any of the dishes contained gluten. His response would irk even the most seasoned gluten-free restaurant pros. “Gluten? What’s gluten? Isn’t that in Chinese food?”

Gulp.

When faced with a waiter, chef or manager at an Indian restaurant who’s never heard the word gluten in his life, don’t panic! All will be okay. But before you order, be sure to do the following.

  1. Pass over our Dining Card for Indian Cuisine (shown below), which lists Indian ingredients that often contain gluten and more precautions chefs should take when preparing food that’s gluten-free. The directions are listed in English on the front and Hindi on the back.
  2. Explain to him that wheat, barley and oats contain gluten. We don’t necessarily suggest you mention rye. Why? Rye is an ingredient that’s almost unheard of in India. (In fact, when we created our Dining Card for Indian Cuisine, we consulted with three Hindi translators, none of whom knew what rye was!) Another common mistake – rye is often confused with the identically-pronounced Indian spice rai, which is safe for your consumption.
  3. Finally, be sure to ask if the restaurant has a tandoori oven or tandoor. A tandoor is an extremely hot clay oven used to cook tandoori dishes as well as the wheat-based naan, an Indian flatbread. Often times, chefs will slap the naan onto the sides of the oven when cooking it, creating a “poof!” of flour and a near guarantee for cross-contamination with other dishes inside. Some Indian restaurants have tandoori ovens, others don’t. If your Indian restaurant does not have a tandoori oven, cross-contamination generally is not an issue, but be sure to check with the chef beforehand.
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The reverse side of our Dining Card for Indian Cuisine lists, in Hindi, precautions chefs should take when preparing a gluten-free meal. Flip it over, and these same directions are written out in English.

This might seem like a lot to handle, but Indian food is unique in that it is among the few types of cuisines that rarely has hidden sources of gluten. We discussed the main cross-contamination issue earlier. Another gluten-containing ingredient, a spice known as hing (which is listed on our dining card), also causes problems from time to time, as it is often milled with wheat.

Gluten-Free Indian Food

As it turned out, Haandi did have a tandoori oven, making the tandoori chicken entrée in the buffet off-limits. However, the other dishes in the buffet – aloo gobi, dal makhani, saag paneer and chicken tikka – were gluten-free, the chef told us. We sampled them, and all were tasty and delicious. We’ll delve into each of these dishes over the next few weeks and show you how to make them, along with our usual helping of product reviews, restaurant reviews and gluten-free news.

Though we were disappointed that Haandi didn’t offer gluten-free tandoori chicken, it’s a dish that’s easy-to-make at home and tomorrow we’ll show you how.

Are there any other fans of Indian cuisine out there? What are you concerned about when you eat gluten-free at an Indian restaurant? We’d love to answer any questions in later posts in this series so let us know!