Last week we had the good fortune to dine at Rasika, a popular restaurant in the "Penn Quarter" area of Washington, DC...just blocks from the Verizon Center, where we were going to see an NHL hockey game with our hockey-playing sons.
We'd heard a lot about the restaurant -- and the buzz was that it was very gluten-free friendly. Not surprising, since most Indian restaurants don't use many gluten-containing ingredients in their preparations.
It's hard to get a table here...most people have to make reservations well in advance. However, when I called (rather last minute) to inquire about getting a table, I was told that they keep the tables across from the bar open for walk-ins. How nice...I wish more places would do this. Otherwise, it can take weeks to get reservations at popular spots like Rasika.
Although they don't have any information about gluten free options on their website, they assured me when I called that almost every item on the menu is gluten free, with a few exceptions. When we arrived (early) and secured a table, our server was most helpful and friendly. He pointed out the few items that would be off-limits due to gluten. This really was in no way limiting, as they have a very extensive menu. About the only thing you might "miss" if you are gluten free and a big fan of Indian food is the naan (their popular form of bread, baked in a tandoor oven). However, they make a pancake-type bread from rice and garbanzo bean flour which makes a nice alternative and balances out some of the spicier curry dishes. Of course, most entrees are also served with basmati rice.
We began with an appetizer recommended by our server: a dish called Palat Chaat which is crispy baby spinach dusted in garbanzo bean flour and lightly fried. It was divine...and apparently their most popular menu item. We shared another lamb kebab appetizer and 2 chicken and 2 lamb entrees -- varying in degree of spice. We found many familiar options on Rasika's menu (Tandoori Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tikka Masala) in addition to interesting new dishes (at least for us) like the Ananas Gosht (lamb with cashew nuts, pineapple, mace, and cardamom). All were delicious, but perhaps our favorite was the Lamb Kohlapuri, tender with just the right degree of spice.
It's such a treat to dine at a restaurant where all the servers seem to know exactly what is in each item on the menu...and are more than happy to help steer you to safe and delicious choices. If you're at a restaurant where the staff is less savvy, just make sure you let them know you can't have the following ingredients, which can be used in some Indian recipes: suji/rava (forms of semolina), roti, maida (finely milled wheat flour), seven (fine vermicelli noodles used in a dessert), hing, and kofta (meatballs). You should also avoid saag paneer, as it may contain maida. And, of course, traditional naan bread is off limits.
Indian food uses many ingredients which are naturally gluten free like meat, vegetables, spices, yogurt, and rice. Fried items are often dusted in chickpea flour, which is a staple ingredient in India.
So even if you've never tried Indian food, I encourage you to seek out some of the highly rated ones in your town or city. Give the restaurant a call during a slow period (mid afternoon works best) and ask to talk to the owner, manager, or chef to discuss your options. Chances are, you'll be pleasantly surprised by their knowledge -- and all the choices you'll have on their menu. And you may just find you discover a new favorite cuisine!
If you already have a favorite Indian restaurant near where you live -- or one you've discovered in your travels -- PLEASE share your feedback by submitting a quick review on our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite. It's a great way to help the restaurant spread the word to others in the gluten free community!