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How to eat at an Indian buffet

This comes from a real expert:

Stick to the water; don’t order any beverages off the menu. Scan the buffet area and commit all the dishes to memory. Then go back to your table, look at the menu and identify which entrées are the most expensive to order à la carte. It is inconsequential whether you like these entrées or not. The purpose of eating at a buffet is to get the most value for money by selectively feeding the face with the most expensive dishes. As a general rule, avoid the rice, samosas (and other fried food), raita and dal. Gulab jamuns are usually microwaved straight out of cans, so don’t go near them. Paneer dishes never have any paneer, so you can avoid those, too.

At a quality buffet, there will at the least be a lamb, goat or shrimp entrée. You should be good at fishing out only the high-value bits from the curry with an elegant, clean Azharuddin-worthy flick of the wrist. If a cooked-to-order masala dosa is offered, you are permitted to eat the dosa, but not the potato-based masala. The rationale behind this is that even though the dosa is made from cheap ingredients, it is a value-added product because of the specialized expertise and time required to make it properly. If you eat the tandoori chicken remember not to pick off all the meat from the bone as you would at home. As a rule of thumb, round up 0.5 or greater of consumed food-unit to higher whole number. If others stare at you, it is their problem, not yours ... remember that you are pitted against desi restaurateurs who will try to thwart your noble objectives by making curries as oily, creamy and hot as possible. So, tactically it is to your advantage to avoid the gravy altogether.

(Via Tyler Cowen.)

By Ezra Klein  | September 27, 2010; 11:47 AM ET
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I've seen buffet battle plans like these for Asian restaurants as well and they're usually amusing. I think, however, that they undermine what is for many (possibly most) people the real value of the buffet: the ability to try a wide variety of foods. If you're the type of person who usually orders the same thing, say chicken tika masala, a buffet lets you try other food and potentially find a new favorite dish while still being safe in knowing that if you don't like the new stuff your standby is available to save the meal.

Posted by: MosBen | September 27, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh man, this is too devastating (myself being born Desi....)!

Most of these things are applicable to most Indian Restaurants. I live in Bay Area where we have large concentration of Indian Restaurants and hardly few cut our mark. It is tough.

Few I tried in LA / Orange County Area, I liked those. Those were better ones.

Carb and Fat content in most Indian Buffet is too high and at the same time 'taste' is very standard, nothing unusual there.

So yes, there is some merit in considering above advice.

Posted by: umesh409 | September 27, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

yeah. lame. i go to a buffet to eat what i want. battle plan schamttle plan. i like it, i eat it and i don't think anything else beyond it.

Posted by: eriklontok | September 27, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

erinlontok, well, but there is an issue with whether the buffet is cost efficient, since it usually costs more than just ordering an entree. If a person is going to get a buffet and only eat a standard portion of one item then they're probably better off just getting the entree.

Posted by: MosBen | September 27, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

This whole plan sounds like an excellent method to make your trip to the buffet as expensive for the restaurateur and as joyless for the customer as possible; it also is the strategy most calculated to diminish the enjoyment of the other customers. If I wanted to maximize the cost-effectiveness of my meal, I'd stay home; when I eat out, I do so for enjoyment. That's a dining out strategy I can recommend to the author of the misanthropic little essay you quote.

Posted by: WarrenTerra | September 27, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

and if all else fails....just take lots of yummy mukhwas, before leaving!
i always mean to make it at home, but i dont think it would taste quite the same.

Posted by: jkaren | September 27, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Reminds me of a college friend of mine who used to go to seafood buffets and would never eat anything except plates of Alaska crab legs, with no potatoes, vegetables, salad or anything else. I'd ask him - is your purpose to have a nice meal or to bankrupt the restaurant?

Posted by: Virginia7 | September 27, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

All that's missing is the waffer-thin mint.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | September 27, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

When at a buffet, don't eat the rice. Unless you happen to really like rice.

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 27, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

I may not agree on the battle plan - i eat what is fresh and my Fav ( its easy to recognize fresh food the ingredients have retained most of their color. here is the list of top Indian restaurant buffet dishes

Posted by: vahchef | September 27, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Forgotten in the battle plan:

If the guy in front of you also has a battle plan, you must kill him, lest he fish out all the "high-value bits" before you. This can be accomplished with one of the many sharp utensils and a simple flick of the wrist ...

Posted by: dpurp | September 27, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Buffets are rarely cheaper than a la carte in Indian restaurants, because the a la carte menu inevitably nickel-and-dimes you for every little thing, like condiments.

Oh, Sir, you wanted salt with that? We'll bring some for $2.00...

In contrast, the ability to pick and choose at a buffet is the advantage, with (as others point out), an enjoyable meal, not consumption of the highest value of food and labor. Just like an economist...(I hope Tyler was being sarcastic!)

Posted by: PQuincy | September 28, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse

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