Paneer, India's favorite fresh cheese, gets the most prominent place in all vegetarian menus. Faced with no meat and no fish, restaurant menu designers often fill a major chunk of their vegetarian sections with paneer dishes. Which ends up dividing the diners in two camps. There are those who order paneer at every opportunity, and there are some who can't stand the sight of a paneer dish. No points for guessing which camp I belong to. Give me some well cooked paneer and I rarely ask for anything more.
From my sampling of paneer dishes through the city, here's a list of what to eat as a vegetarian:
1. The fiery Paneer Tikka Masala and its milder cousin, Paneer Makhani should be your first point of call. And no one does it better than Copper Chimney. Or go to Kareem's and order their Lahori Paneer.
2. The Paneer Pizza: After eating my way through Indianized versions of Dominos and Pizza Hut and everything paneer-like on local pizzerias, I've found a clear winner. It's the Kadhai Paneer from Pizza Hut. A Mughlai-inspired spicy tomato sauce, paneer tikka pieces and paprika - its the best combination out there.
3. Chinese Connection: Here you need to look at the outlets selling Indo-Chinese. And while paneer schezwan is a universal favorite, I will suggest you look instead at China Gate's Crispy Spinach Paneer. It's some seriously delicious sauteed paneer and babycorn, with other half of the plate covered with crackling slightly sweetish spinach.
4. You've heard me say this before, but there ain't a better way to eat paneer than the Paneer Tikka Indi Sizzler at Pop Tates (or Jugheads as it is now called).
5. Street Food: Go for Tibbs, Mumbai's favorite frankie. A large parantha stuffed with paneer curry, onions and a special frankie spice usually perks me up.
And now for a list of things you are better off avoiding. Really, hard day-old paneer annoys me a lot. But there are other ways to mess it up, so stay away from:
1. The Mughlai Mess: When at a Kebab place, order paneer tikka. Everything else that mashes up paneer with other stuff - things like galouti kebab and malai kebab - are dishes you don't want to eat. And while we're at it, stay off seafood places like Mahesh Lunch Home or hardcore kebab joints like Bade Miyan. They might have a dish or two to please vegetarians but it's not really that good.
2. Dosa Diner and Dosa Plaza both offer a paneer dosa. But the light crisp dosas and the heavy cheese filling, they just don't go together.
3. Paneer Shawarma just doesn't cut it. Specially when Maroush slowly grills the paneer. It toughens up and is best avoided.
Is your list any different. Am I missing a paneer experience - do write in.