Given the first wave of Indian immigration to Aotearoa kicked off in the 1900s and only started to grow post 1980s, it could be said that Indian food in this country is still in its infancy. Most of us still equate it with going out to grab a curry from our local takeaway. The problem may be that the cuisine of the subcontinent is not something you can neatly package into a box and export because it is so diverse.

Curry is such an inadequate broad-brush term; we can’t smell or taste a ‘curry’ because it doesn’t exist as a dish in itself. My mother’s cooking may have 10 different ‘curries’ that will be totally different to those made by a friend’s mother. What we can be sure of is that Indian cuisine is ancient and the colonisation of India has influenced almost all other cuisines in the world. Black pepper and cardamom, for example, would not have made it to European palates were it not for the existence of India.


Thankfully, we are slowly seeing some creative producers emerge who are bold enough to bottle up the authenticity so we can taste it at home. Nelson-based Kalpana Laitflang of Mixed Roots is busy concocting spice rubs, award-winning curry oil and spiced honey for chai. Join Kalpana for cooking classes if you are in the Nelson area.

Banu’s in Te Atatu offers a five-hour intensive cooking class for those who are Auckland based. It’s hot chilli oil is the business dolloped on almost everything, especially eggs. Banu Sidharth’s spice blends (such as Tadka masala) are integral for tempering a dahl.

Paneer is our haloumi, our tofu and so much more; we batter-fry it, marinate it and stir-fry it. The Guise family in Southland makes paneer to celebrate, made the traditional way with no additives or preservatives. Next time you want to go meat-free try using paneer instead. The creamy Southland milk makes Good Guise Paneer our family favourite.

Food by Dona Lou’s

Dona Lou and her daughter – dona means ‘lady’ in Portuguese – are bringing a taste of Goan food to our table from their kitchen in Blockhouse Bay. Goa is a state in India that was colonised by the Portuguese and so developed its own particular style of food. Choris pao made with Goan couriço, a spicy chorizo-style sausage, is a must-try. The company’s sausages can be delivered nationwide and it also makes authentic Goan dishes such as vindaloo, cafreal, xacutti and sorpotel with 48 hours’ notice, for those who are Auckland based and can collect.

Perzen Patel is determined to carry on the legacy of her grandma ‘Dolly Mumma’. Through her batch-made curry pastes and spiced ghee she is arming Kiwis with the tools to create authentic-tasting Indian dishes at home that are beyond butter chicken. Pick up a traditional Masala dabba (spice box) that holds all your favourite Indian ground spices from

Dolly Mumma sauces

Post Covid, Cassia at Home was launched after regular guests to the restaurant asked for bottled sauces so they could get their fix. Just add a protein of choice to the makhani, korma, madras and karahi simmer sauces to make an authentic curry in minutes. There are no colours, no added dairy and all the sauces are certified gluten free.

Indian spirits are undergoing a renaissance of sorts – long gone are the days when Johnnie Walker and Old Monk were the only bottles in our liquor cabinets. Award-winning single malt Indri whisky, Moji cashew feni (a spirit indigenous to Goa) and Hapusa gin all have distinctive spice notes and will make a great addition to your bar. Locally, two amazing Kiwi wahine, from Moksha, have crafted a Spice of India gin with notes of cardamom and ginger. Gin perfectly complements the robust flavours of Indian cuisine and Moksha’s gins are the ones to buy if you want to support a homegrown spirit.


Indian home cooking is nothing like what you get at an Indian restaurant – you simply could not eat naan with rich creamy sauces and meat seven days a week! Keeping it simple, Mrs Kaur from Shubh in Sandringham is making sure Punjabi home cooking is not being missed by her Auckland community who flock to her restaurant in droves: think smoked eggplant stir-fried with spices, spiced okra, bitter-melon rounds and different dahl (lentils). You’ll also find parathas (wholemeal flour breads stuffed with potatoes or paneer) and rotis – not dishes you’d see much of in mainstream restaurants. At Shubh you can order these to go and feel like your friend’s mum has invited you for dinner to her home. Don’t forget to get a pani puri kit (pani is water and puri is a crispy flour shell) with the mint water, potato stuffing and tamarind chutney to DIY your own pani puri for $15.

Sandringham has become the little India of Auckland. Down the road from Shubh, two food trucks Chai Wala Bhai and Mumbai Vada Pav are a late-night haunt of hospo and night-shift workers. Chai Wala Bhai serves traditional masala chai and a bread omelette, the perfect late-night fix. Vada pav is an iconic dish from Maharashtra in India where potato is boiled and mashed with spices then coated in a chickpea batter and deep fried. It’s then stuffed into a soft bun with coriander and garlic chutneys. Mumbai Vada Pav also offers Mumbai sandwiches with chaat masala and coriander chutney slathered on white bread.,

Sammy Akuthota is a second-generation hospo hero, the man behind Satya Chai Lounge and he’s making Indian food trendy. Sammy’s parents opened Satya, South Indian restaurant more than 20 years ago, bringing dosas and chicken Chettinad to Aucklanders’ attention. Sammy’s chai lounges in Ponsonby and Sandringham serve craft beers and Indian snacks such as chilli chicken, peppery mushrooms and lamb nukkad (a slow-cooked lamb leg).

At VT Station in Newmarket, there’s butter chicken on the menu but the standout dishes are the mutton pepper fry, paneer maska and tandoori chicken.

Mumbaiwala in Auckland and Christchurch is another family-run restaurant business that does justice to Indian cuisine. The menu features slow-cooked lamb curry with shredded fried potatoes, Goan fish and prawn, and a selection of chaat dishes. Chaat is unique to India and the dishes typically have spicy, sour, tangy and sweet flavours all together, often with hot and cold components in the same dish. Sev puri, dahi puri and aloo tikki chaat are a great introduction to chaat at Mumbaiwala. We also love the naanwala naan wraps for a quick grab- and-go meal.

If you’re in the Waikato, stop in at Beeji Dhaba for a paratha thali. Thali means ‘plate’ and this one comes bearing bread stuffed with potatoes and onions, rich buttery dahl, rice, pickles and home-churned butter. It’s a must-do pit stop while crossing SH1. Finish the meal with a traditional Indian ice cream (kulfi) with pistachios.

Vaibhav Vishen in Wellington is making anda bhurji and egg hoppers for breakfast at Chaat Street. The main menu has kheema pav (lamb mince with buttery buns), rajma chawal (red kidney beans in a tomato-based sauce with rice) and chole bhature (chickpea curry served with a fried puff bread and achar).

Bolina Indian Sweets and Restaurant in Hastings might be the only restaurant in the area that offers Indian mithai (sweets) from Punjab and Bengal. Mithai can be really sweet, but they are an artform in themselves. Traditional recipes are passed between families of Halwais who perfect the skills in cooking these milk-based treats. Jalebis are crispy swirls of batter soaked in sugar syrup and Rasmalai are pillowy cottage-cheese dumplings soaked in spiced milk – both are unmissable. Bolina’s menu also has chaat, street snacks and South Indian dosas and idlis.

Eighteen years ago, the Gill family of Little India restaurants catered for our wedding in Wellington. While that restaurant has since closed, the original one in Dunedin still exists and locals in Merivale, Christchurch swear by their Little India restaurant, too. Besides excelling at Mughlai cuisine, Little India’s menu also has Bengali fish and Parsi lamb dhansak to showcase regionality.


Cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey is the Julia Child of Indian cooking, and her recipes are a great place to start your journey while Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India is another well-thumbed tome in our home. Locally we have Ashia Ismail-Singer’s My Indian Kitchen, a solid introduction to Indian food with the comfort of knowing that the ingredients can be sourced easily.

Regional Indian food is hard to find in restaurants so, for now, the gap needs to be filled by books such as A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That which explores Gujarati recipes (written by Jayshri and Laxmi Ganda).

The other way is to actually travel and experience the cuisine firsthand; Sarah Meikle, former director of Visa Wellington on a Plate, is taking tours to North India and South India and has written about her travels on page 120 in this issue.

Personally, Sid and I have teamed up with to take small-group tours to India. You can explore Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa and Mumbai while experiencing Diwali, the biggest festival to be celebrated in India, with me (27 October to 6 November). Sid will take a tour of South India in early 2025.

Cookbook author Ashia Ismail-Singer


Somebody Feed Phil S2 Ep1 (Netflix): Phil Rosenthal explores Mumbai from street eats to South Indian seafood dishes at Trishna. Phil tries regional cuisine at Soam and new interpretations of traditional dishes at Bombay Canteen.

Street Food Asia S1 Ep3 (Netflix): Understand the history behind food in Delhi, street food such as chaat and Mughlai dishes like nihari. The episode leaves you salivating.

Ugly Delicious S2 Ep2 (Netflix): This episode entitled ‘Don’t Call it Curry’ is an eye opener and questions the origin of ‘curry’, the influence of spices on world cuisine and our perceptions of Indian cuisine. Presenter David Chang is honest and unabashed about his ignorance of Indian cuisine, and we love how genuine he is with his learnings about the food and culture as he seeks help from friends Padma Laxmi and Aziz Ansari to navigate his way.


India is the seventh-largest country in the world and its food is not a simplified cuisine that can be captured on TV via a series, in a book or on a single menu. Growing up there I would only have experienced 25 per cent of the unique dishes the country has to offer. My advice is to let your stomach be your guide and keep experiencing this multifaceted culture in every way you can. Immerse yourself and allow yourself to be educated, rather than trying to define the cuisine or contain it within a plastic takeaway box.