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Tampa restaurant owners proud to spotlight India's diverse, complex cuisine

At Flames Restaurant, they’re serving up classic dishes, but ones most don’t realize have roots outside of India.

TAMPA, Fla. — Dishes like tikka masala and butter chicken are probably what most of us think of when we think Indian food.

After all, they’re some of the most popular choices on the menu at Flames Restaurant in South Tampa. But tracing the origins of those dishes will likely lead you outside of India, says Anil Nagarappu, one of the owners of Flames.

“Most Americans know the U.K. version of Indian food,” Nagarappu said. “British ruled India for so long, a lot of Indians migrated to U.K. and they made the creamy dishes… and then those dishes become international dishes like chicken tikka masala.”

For a country with as vast a population, spread over 30 states, and shaped by African, Asian and European influence, Nagarappu says if there’s one thing he wants people to know it’s that there is no one way to sum up Indian cuisine.

With authentic flavors and diets varying by region, and sometimes religion – Muslim, Christian or Hindu, vegetarian or not – the vast range flouts easy classifications.

For example, the majority of Indians – while not fully vegetarian – do limit meat in their diets, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Those restrictions can include refraining from eating certain meats, not eating meat on certain days, or both, according to the survey.

“Reason being, vegetarian food is much cheaper and easy to cook,” Nagarappu said. “When the British left India, like 60 percent of the population were under privileged and most of the Indian population at that time was farmers.”

What it all means for us is a tasty, albeit extremely limited idea of what this cuisine truly has to offer which Nagarappu said can be a point of frustration at times given customers of their restaurant dine with certain expectations of what they’ll be getting.

“Sometimes we feel happy that people like our food,” he said. “But sometimes we feel like it is frustrating because we didn't have a chance to show our skill.”

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