Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala - Trader Joe's: Marlton, NJ

Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala - Trader Joe's: Marlton, NJ
It's rainy and gross here in New Jersey, and I have absolutely no energy, so it's going to be a lazy lunch/dinner kind of week. Unlike a lot of my reviews, where I'm eating an item for the first time, this is an item I buy every now and again for days like today when water seeps into my sneakers and soaks my socks. (The worst feeling ever.) I hadn't really planned on reviewing this item, but I figured I might as well review it.

Here we have a cardboard box holding a plastic tray filled with frozen food. This is the typical go-to freezer packaging because it works and it helps the food stay fresh while avoiding dreaded freezer-burn, but it's boring, so there's not much to talk about in the way of form or function, the art however...

This is another one of those weird anachronistic Trader Joe's designs. The image has a yellow-ish tint to it, giving it an odd vintage feel, and that border really isn't helping. Visually, this reminds me of all the vintage record album art I have hanging on my walls, which I obviously like as far as art goes, but this is food. Why does my modern day frozen Indian food look like a vintage advertizement? It doesn't make visual sense to me. As much as I pick on Trader Joe's designs, they aren't that bad. I just don't understand this time-warp-like packaging. Why are their photos always so warm toned? Why does their packaging always have a vintage flare? I just don't get it.

Inside the package is your typical plastic frozen tray of food, broken up into two compartments. The heating instructions are the same as every other entree on the market, so it's super easy. Puncture film, microwave, stir, microwave, eat.

As it cooks, the sauce releases a deliciously spiced aroma. I  can smell onions, tomatoes, yogurt, and a blend of spices that I typically relate to Indian take-out. (Cumin, Paprika, Pepper, you know, all that deliciously spiced goodness.)
It may not come with a handy little fork, like my instant noodle bowl, but I still really enjoyed it.

Indian food gets a bad rap for not looking very appetizing. (At least I find that to be the case in America. Also, a lot of the typical American families and consumers still seem to be afraid of trying it. I know that sounds like a stereotype, and I totally thought it was, but more and more people I run into won't new things, let alone Indian food. So sad!) It's kind of a running joke in television and media, picky eaters referring to Indian food as looking like vomit and all kinds of nonsense. Now while I normally love the look of Indian food, we all have to admit this freezer meal won't be winning any beauty contests. It's mostly a problem of presentation. If I were to plate this properly and garnish it, it would look a million times better. (This might be a fun post to write up, making freezer food look gourmet.) Still, this little plastic tray may not look all that appealing, but it sure smells great.

Time to dig in. The sauce is thick and creamy, and the rice has a pretty good texture considering it's microwaved. The flavoring is a bit hard to describe if you've never had Indian food before, but I'll try my best. The cream sauce is thick and flavored with onion and tomato, but thanks to the yogurt it has a cheese-like quality that makes it really comforting, and the overall flavor profile is sweet in the sense that caramelized onions are sweet. There is a bit of spice, but it's nothing I would consider "spicy." It's sweet, yogurt-y, slightly spicy, and the chicken has surprisingly good texture.

As far as authenticity, this is a lot more mild than the Indian food I get from my local restaurants, but it's on-par with the jarred Indian-inspired sauces I have bought from American grocery stores.

I've had this meal a dozen time now, give or take, so I obviously like it. With it's well balanced flavors and nice texturing, eating this always feels like I put more effort into things than I actually did, and that's awesome. The guys over on Cult Moo once said that whenever you're looking for a satisfying frozen meal, go with Indian food, and so far they're right! I've never been disappointed with any frozen Indian meal, but this is my go-to. My only real complaint is that when it's all gone, I always wish I had more. But I think that's a good sign that this frozen dinner is definitely doing something right.
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  1. Hi Maria, could I ask you to also try Cafe Spice's Tikka Masala? It's fresh, not frozen, and is available at the North Brunswick Costco this Thursday-Sunday only for a special trial. Also, the Cafe Spice Cookbook author will be there on Saturday! More info here: http://bit.ly/1E8sQmO

    1. That sound sounds very interesting, but I'm sadly not a Costco member, and this Saturday we'll be recording the next episode of our food podcast Candyology101. If it's available at any other location at another time I'd love to check it out.