An Official Ranking of All the Indian Groceries at Trader Joe’s
My family — and honestly, most of the Indian community — is unsure of frozen American versions of Indian meals. (Surely something is bound to get lost, forgotten, or overlooked.) So, I had a hard time convincing a group of my Indian friends to come over and try a bunch of Indian food products from the freezer aisles (and beyond!) at Trader Joe’s. But loyal shoppers consider TJ’s the place to find essential yet “trendy” global flavors. And because Indian flavors have now become pantry staples, I was sure we’d find some good options at TJ’s.
The results were surprising — and I am happy to report that some of my friends became fans of a few products!
First, a note: Trader Joe’s has a reputation for following trends to create approachable products in beautiful-yet-understandable packaging and with a price tag that creates awe. If only they would use less of the word “authentic.” Because, what does that even mean? And after taste-testing all the products, I can attest to the fact that all the recipes have been tweaked to suit the American palate.
Read more: Trader Joe’s Has an Authenticity Problem
And now, on to what we tried and what we thought of each dish/item.
1. Korma Fish Curry, $4 for 10 ounces
This was our favorite. It’s a frozen entrée that would make a great light lunch for one. The fish is swai, a southeast Asian fish that’s similar to catfish, which is rubbed with a spice mixture, roasted, and packaged with a sauce that includes coconut, cashews, tamarind, cilantro, and turmeric. The curry comes with a side of basmati rice, which none of us were a fan of. (Basmati is a delicate and aromatic long rice, and the rice used by TJ’s is on the coarser side.) The fish was soft enough to soak up an adequate amount of the sauce, which made the overall dish a mouthwatering experience. Warning: The spice level was higher than average.
2. Chicken Tikka Masala, $7 for 8.5 ounces
Now, chicken tikka masala is not an Indian dish, but something that has been concocted to suit the taste of a certain group of people outside of India. So there goes the “authentic Indian recipe” label! Our go-to in India or Indian restaurants here in the states is butter chicken (also sold by TJ’s and on our list). And that is exactly what this entrée tastes like! This is a flavorful, buttery, creamy, and mildly spicy tomato-based curry with succulent chicken chunks and a side of cumin rice. The flavors in this dish competed for the first spot, but we Indians are not fans of the name — and that pulled it down a notch!
3. Jaipur Vegetables, $2 for 10 ounces
We found a treasure trove in this vacuum-sealed pouch of vegetable curry cooked in a sweet and mildly spicy cashew sauce. We were so surprised by the wholesome flavors that we checked the nutritional information and found that this curry is prepared in India and imported to the states by Trader Joe’s. That explains it! We were unanimous in our love for this curry and thought that it was great with both bread or rice. It’s great for transporting, too, as it’s microwaveable and does not require freezing.
4. Vegetable Masala Burger, $3 for 10 ounces
Vegetarian burgers made with mashed potatoes, carrots, and peas, along with turmeric and paprika are (and have been!) quite popular in India these days. But Indian burgers haven’t been seen much in the States. So, I was genuinely amazed and intrigued to find these affordable patties in the frozen aisle! They cook up in minutes and are succulent, flavorful, mildly spicy, and tasted pretty good sandwiched in an egg twist roll with lots of grainy mustard. This was another crowd favorite!
5. Mango & Cream Bars, $3.50 for 11.29 ounces
This gluten-free ice cream bar — made of mango purée with a cream-filled center — need not be classified as Indian (but they are supremely popular in India!). And this version by TJ’s made us all very nostalgic about our childhood. These bars were delicious and an absolute hoot in their little 60-calorie packages.
6. Vegetable Biryani with Dumplings, $3 for 10 ounces
Another delicious find at TJ’s! This vegetarian rice entrée features turmeric-flavored rice, vegetables, and so many soft, fried dumplings. These dumplings resembled mini koftas and were a great addition by the TJ’s recipe development team. Definitely Indian-inspired, but with a twist!
7. Channa Masala, $2.50 for 10 ounces
This chickpea curry is on the favorite list for a lot of my non-Indian friends, but we were slightly disappointed by the spice level and undercooked chickpeas. This felt more like a buffet dish, and we would skip it next time.
8. Malabari Paratha, $2 for 14 ounces
Move along, naan — Trader Joe’s Malabari Parathas are here! Once again, these puff pastry-like breads are prepared in India and imported to the States by TJ’s. Take one bite and that’s pretty clear. Plus, five fist-sized breads for $1.99 is a total steal! I would highly recommend you toast one in a skillet over medium heat to get the perfect crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bite. (Microwaving makes these breads soggy.) We loved pairing these with any and all the curries — especially with chicken tikka masala.
9. Tandoori Naan, $4 for 4
We found the naan to be on the chunkier side. The thickness of the naan made it difficult to sop up curry or sauce. Although a heathy amount of TJ’s ghee made the toasted naan taste much better, we would definitely pick up the parathas over naans.
10. Yellow Tadka Dal, $2 for 10 ounces
This lentil dish was flavorful and, again, an easy travel pack, but we found it too spicy. The spice was from the garam masala and not the heat from the chili. This leads in feeling a prick at the back of the mouth after a bite. Not one of our favorites.
11. Palak Paneer, $3 for 10 ounces
Once again, we were surprised by this preparation. The box says it’s palak paneer, but it seemed more like saag paneer to us. The difference between the two is simply the composition of leaves and how, in the former, the spinach is blended to a purée and in the latter, spinach along with other leaves are coarsely chopped. Palak paneer is a creamy and buttery blend of spinach sans turmeric with paneer cubes. This curry was not it.
12. Paneer Tikka Masala, $3 for 9 ounces
The flavors were not in harmony in this paneer curry, and the taste felt flat and unseasoned. However, we loved the spinach rice that it came with. This dish felt more like a spinach rice with paneer rather than vice versa.
13. Butter Chicken, $4 for 10 ounces
As I mentioned earlier, butter chicken is a go-to dish in India (and not chicken tikka masala). Of course, TJ’s had a butter chicken frozen entrée too! Unfortunately, it tasted like a watered-down version of their chicken tikka masala. The sauce was not creamy, tangy-sweet, or buttery. Once again, it felt flat and disappointing, considering it is such a popular curry in India. If you want butter chicken at TJ’s, just get the chicken tikka masala.
Do you have any favorite Indian dishes at Trader Joe’s? Share your thoughts in the comments below!