Indian restaurants in Cologne
From fluffy to hellishly hot
Indian cuisine is incredibly diverse – a veritable festival for the palate. Crispy samosas stuffed with spicy potato, fruity coconut curries, hellishly hot lentils with garlic and ginger… there’s something for everyone. For some people, Indian cooking is akin to soul food; for others, it’s a go-to post-night-out breakfast; for yet others, it’s the stuff of life itself. Personally, I’m in the stuff of life camp and so am constantly on the hunt for that perfect masala. Here are my five favourite Indian restaurants in Cologne.
“A good chef fills his guest’s heart, not his stomach.” This aphorism, printed on page one of Ginti’s menu, perfectly summarises what this restaurant is all about. Ginti’s dishes are precisely and authentically flavoured. The menu carries all the usual suspects such as tandoori specialities, biryanis and korma, vindaloo and Kashmiri curries – and the quality is outstanding. Indian cuisine generally does a good job of catering to vegetarians, but at Ginti they’re given special attention: the meat-free options stretch to an incredible three pages. The Bombay potatoes are beautifully spicy and aromatic, while the homemade tikka-marinated paneer has a distinct cardamom flavour and is a great partner for the grilled bell peppers. “Bullet” naan with green chili and garlic is a fluffy, crispy sensation. Hidden away between the fried side dishes is a must-try option called papri chaat. This typical Indian street dish unites all possible textures and aromas: crispy dough pieces, soft potatoes, al dente chickpeas, creamy yoghurt and spicy tamarind sauce, all of which are offered on one platter that leave the discerning diner very happy indeed.
Indian Curry Basmati House
I vividly remember my first encounter with the Indian Curry Basmati House a few years back, when I was walking down Severinstrasse and an irresistible smell wafted past – a basmati and curry scent that felt totally out of place between the innumerable nail salons and tanning parlours. It was so good my mouth started watering instantly. At the time this joint was nothing but a tiny snack bar with just a few seats; and after exiting the restaurant one was best advised to get in the shower fully clothed, so intense was the smell. Meanwhile Severinstrasse has transformed, with boutiques, ice-cream shops and small cafés popping up all over. The Indian Curry Basmati House recognised the sign of the times and relocated to a much larger, shiny new space with many more seats and a functioning air extraction system. Thankfully, the food has remained as good as it ever was, and the smell is still divine. On the menu are typical staples as well as delicious specialities, including the beautifully spicy chili masala mushrooms and dal dansag, a sweet-and-sour lentil stew with spinach, garlic and fruit. The menu is regularly updated, with changing lunchtime offers.
Indian Curry Basmati House
Severinstraße 53, 50678 Cologne
The Masala Empire stands out visually, too. Indian restaurants in Germany often adopt a certain appearance and offer practically identical menus. Joel Vilangappara, has decided to do things another, more modern way. The few folklore items he has chosen are placed very deliberately, pairing them with brilliant illumination and modern design elements. And he’s taken the wonderful decision to divide his menu into dishes from northern and southern India. Added to this are tandoori specialities, a brief list of biryani dishes and a selection of Ayurvedic options. The southern Indian dishes are less known and usually hotter than northern Indian cuisine, mostly with some form of coconut in evidence. Given that the menu has neither pictures nor numbers nor chili icons, you have to engage with the staff. What exactly are drumsticks? What does bitter melon taste like? And what on earth is kovakkai? Portion sizes are on the smaller side, leaving more space to try out more things. The Masala Empire is definitely a valuable addition to Cologne’s gastronomic scene.
The Royal Punjab leaves no doubt as to the provenance of its food – clearly, the north. Punjab is both a province in Pakistan as well as a neighbouring Indian state. In culinary terms, this means a disproportionate number of of meat (notably lamb) dishes on the menu, along with dairy, especially yoghurt and ghee, nuts, oriental spices and dishes prepared in the tandoor, a charcoal-fired oven. The dominance of meat is unusual, given that vegetarian dishes are typical of Indian cuisine. And yet the menu offers as many as 35 main meat-free options. All dishes are served with a choice of fresh naan bread or spiced basmati rice. The Royal Punjab has been a mainstay of Cologne’s dining-out scene for more than a decade and unashamedly belongs in the “typical Indian joint” category, but really that should read “typical joint with really outstanding food”. The Royal Punjab’s philosophy of “more is more“ is reflected in both its interior and its food. An overload of folklore in the dining room, a festival of spices on the plate including ginger, fenugreek, tamarind, cardamom and much more. To cool down, diners can choose between chilled Indian beer or a variety of lassi drinks, for instance; my personal favourite is the woodruff-flavoured type.
The most recent addition to Cologne’s Indian restaurant scene has just opened between Rudolfplatz and Friesenplatz. The Eatdoori chain follows a gorgeous modern approach, and its Cologne outlet is airy and spacious with lots of urban design elements. Compared with its more typical peers, Eatdoori’s menu is on the shorter side, but in turn is composed almost exclusively of exciting Indian street food options, with a few traditional dishes thrown in for good measure. When you go, make sure you’ve fasted a bit in advance so you can choose from as many delicious dishes as possible. Maybe papri chaat and chickpea salad for starters, followed by dal makhani and 24-hour marinated grilled paneer? And why not add a few ginger-and-lime prawns and a mini naanwich (think naan sandwich)? The cocktail list is just as extensive: lots of bartender classics with an Indian twist. Eatdoori, like the Masala Empire, is impressive proof that modern Indian restaurants really do work, and that the decision to dispense with tradition and folklore does not necessarily mean you’re ot getting top-notch Indian food. On the contrary: Eatdoori is a wonderful urban space offering very respectable quality on the plate.