For those of us who can’t or don’t eat dairy, Asian food is usually a safe bet. The one exception is Indian food, which often contains yogurt, milk or cream—such as in chicken tikka masala, korma dishes, mango lassi, raita, and chai tea. This is rotten news for me because I love Indian food. But I’ve found a way to dine at Indian restaurants without eating dairy—at least, at my favorite one, Flavor of India.
There are three Flavor of India restaurants in the Los Angeles area: Burbank, Studio City, and West Hollywood. Of all these, the best is Burbank. When my husband and I lived there, it was our favorite place to eat out. It’s got cozy booths, colorful murals, and big-screen TVs playing Indian pop videos and Bollywood musicals.
Most important, the food at Flavor of India—or as my husband and I call it, Flavor Flav—is interesting and spicy. It’s so good that once we actually started licking our bowls clean, like dogs, before realizing we weren’t in the privacy of our own home.
Now, keep in mind that if you have a dairy allergy, you might still be unable to enjoy some Indian food because a lot of it is cooked with ghee, a form of clarified butter. Technically it’s still dairy, but with the milk solids removed, it’s digestible by those of us who are lactose-intolerant. A nutritionist once even advised me to use ghee for cooking, as it’s considered a “healthy fat.”
Here are a few of the gems at Flavor of India that I love and can eat without getting the dreaded lactose-induced “bubble guts.”
Bhel puri. “India’s most popular railway snack.” A mixture of puffed rice, tomato, potato, onion, and cilantro. It’s a delightful mixture of tastes and textures.
Samosas. A vegetarian turnover stuffed with potatoes, peas and spices. An Indian friend of mine told me, “It’s impossible to mess up a samosa.” But I disagree; I’ve had some mediocre ones. Flavor of India’s are great. They’ve got a flaky exterior that’s not too doughy and an unusually long, pointy shape that makes them easy to bite into. I especially like them dipped in mint chutney (pictured above, right).
Bombay chicken. Like an Indian version of Jamaican jerk chicken. Unfortunately, it’s no longer on the menu, but if you ask for it, the chef will still make it. Long ago, it used to be called “dalla chicken,” and my husband insists on using the original name so that the server knows we’re old-timers and will tell the chef to make it extra spicy.
Mixed vegetable curry. I love dishes that contain a variety of veggies. This curry has cauliflower, carrots, peas, onions, and a savory tomato base and contains no yogurt or cream. Like all their dishes, you can ask for the spice level you prefer.
Rack of lamb. My favorite tandoori specialty at Flavor Flav. Four tender lamb chops covered in a spicy, flavorful rub. Comes with that mint chutney that’s to die for.
Lamb curry. Their best dairy-free meat curry. Tender chunks of boneless lamb in a garlicky, oniony brown sauce. Lamb vindaloo is also great, but much spicier, so beware…
Nimbu panni. Sparkling ginger lemonade. There’s nothing I love more than a cup of chai with my Indian food, but since it’s made with milk, I order a nimbu panni instead. It’s a mixture of lemonade and Reed’s ginger beer. Just sweet enough to put out the fire in your mouth!
There are quite a few vegan dishes on their menu, and some dishes that can be made vegan upon request. Give Flavor of India a try and let me know if you end up licking your plate, or at least thinking about it.
FLAVOR OF INDIA, 161 E. Orange Grove Ave., Burbank, CA 91502
FLAVOR OF INDIA, 12321 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604
FLAVOR OF INDIA, 7950 Sunset Blvd #105, West Hollywood, CA 90046