My mother-in-law has opinions about food: where to get the best cheese in France, which noodles to order at the Chinese spot, why you have to try this particular octopus when you’re in Australia. She grew up in northern India, married her European husband, and spent her adulthood with friends and colleagues from around the globe. Away from her homeland, Indian food became something rare—a treat, even—enjoyed only when visiting relatives or at Indian restaurants.
Well over a decade ago, I remember seeing Trader Joe’s Indian meals commanding space in my mother-in-law’s freezer. Back then, the only places you could get frozen Indian foods were in specialty grocery stores, often requiring an hour-long or longer trip. The appearance of not just one, but a variety of options at Trader Joe’s was not only startling, but also elicited a sense of relief.
What’s most extraordinary about Trader Joe’s frozen Indian meals is that they taste authentic. They are actually spicy—most other brands shy away from heat—and have bold flavors. My mother-in-law still laments the fish curry being discontinued. But like any products, there are hits and misses. Here are my mother-in-law’s picks for the best (and worst), whether you’re looking for a quick microwavable meal, or want to serve an Indian buffet at home.
Best Overall: Trader Joe’s Palak Paneer
Hands-down my mother-in-law’s favorite, this curried spinach with paneer is spiced aggressively enough for her tastes, but is still mild enough that her grandkids will eat it. It’s worth noting that the kids have a pretty high tolerance for spice since they have grown up on hot peppers.
Plus, according to her, “It’s not bitter!” Overcooked, under-seasoned spinach in curries often have a offputting bitter taste. Not this one. Plus, the cheese doesn’t disintegrate into the sauce and holds up firmly for a chewy bite.
Best Appetizer: Trader Joe’s Mini Samosas
Trader Joe’s has frozen chicken and veggie samosas, and both are tied for best appetizer. They are fairly spicy, have “just enough filling that they don’t leak everywhere,” and they “get a good crisp in the air fryer.” My mother-in-law stocks up on her own chutneys in the freezer, so we usually enjoy these samosas with her mint chutney as neither come with a sauce for dipping.
Best Chicken Curry: Trader Joe’s Fiery Chicken Curry
Trader Joe’s currently carries three chicken curries: Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Fiery Chicken Curry. The latter, according to my mother-in-law, is “good and spicy.” I can attest to watery eyes and needing an extra slice of naan to tame the spice. It has a generous amount of tender chicken to make it a satisfying meal. She deemed the other two options merely acceptable. “You’ll eat them if they’re there, and they’re good enough.” A polite way of saying they were bland and she would pass.
Best Frozen Bread: Trader Joe’s Malabari Parathas
While Trader Joe’s carries several frozen and non-frozen Indian breads, the Malabari Parathas were a clear favorite. When asked why, my mother-in-law threw her hands up and proclaimed, “They’re cheap!” When pressed, she said they taste handmade and confessed to liking them much more than the brands imported from India. She shakes her head no to the garlic naan, which I confess to liking, and says they never taste right and are always too hard.
The 2 Products My Mother-in-Law Would Pass On
The Channa Masala and Lamb Vindaloo weren’t her favorites. The channa masala is “so-so” as she considered it too bland. The spicy lamb vindaloo certainly is not mild, but she dismissed the flavor as strange and too sour.