I eat a lot of Indian food, and I cook a lot of Indian food, but I still haven't reached much of an awareness of regional cuisine. My first experience with it was Madhur Jaffrey's An Invitation to Indian Cooking, which focuses on the food of her native Delhi. I also love Maya Kaimal's Savoring the Spice Coast of India, which explores the foods of the southern Indian state of Kerala, and has a quite different palate of flavors--coconut, jalapeños, different kinds of dal briefly soaked and then sautéed, so that they're crunchy and slightly nutty instead of the way you usually find them in rich stews.

Between (and beyond) these two bookends, there's a world of food--a country mapped out in spices, influences from different invasions, and the dietary restrictions imposed by the myriad of religions that coexist in India. In Seattle, it seems to me, we haven't yet got the kind of specific knowledge about regional Indian food that we have about, say, Italian food, with the well-known differences between Sicilian, Neapolitan, Tuscan, and Northern Italian cuisines. But I don't think much about regional specifics and nuances when I'm at Taste of India; I just eat a whole hell of a lot.

I almost always eat too much nan, bread cooked on the side of a tandoori oven, sometimes filled with spinach ($3.25) that's been cooked until it nearly falls apart. The edges of the bread are delicate and crunchy, the center is tender and almost gooey; the garlic version ($1.95) is also terrifically good.

Taste of India offers eight tandoori dishes ($7.95-$13.95), and a wealth of masalas, or curries, plus crazy-spicy vindaloo. On my last visit, I had something called "butter chicken"($10.95), which is chicken simmered in butter until it's so tender it hurts, and then served in a creamy tomato bath that's sweet and mellow like a pasta sauce. I've also tried Royal Biryani ($10.95), which is a pile of saffron rice generously mixed with lamb (or chicken, beef, and fish; but lamb, I think, is traditional) and nuts and spices, and Madras Chili Masala with fish ($10.95), which is delicious but a bit tame--I suggest ordering it extra-hot. Any flames can be put out with a lovely, thick raita, which is spiced cucumber yogurt ($2.95), and some Indian beer.

I almost never make it to dessert, but I recently tried a cardamom-spiced rice pudding that pushed me quite over the edge. It was delicious but unnecessary, and I could barely fasten my seat belt on the way home.

Taste of India 5517 Roosevelt Way NE (U-District), 528-1575. Mon-Thurs 10:30 am-9:45 pm, Fri-Sat 10:30 am-10 pm, Sun 3 pm-9 pm.

Support The Stranger