I've been endeavoring to diversify my home cooking menu and it's been rather difficult for various reasons. One of the major reasons is that my husband is a picky eater and can't tolerate hot and spicy dishes. Both of us enjoy Indian dishes though they have to be on the mild side for him. I read Mallika's excellent Quick Indian Cooking site regularly and have attempted to make the dishes she writes about there on occasion. The main problem I have is that some of the ingredients aren't available in Japan. Even when most of the ingredients are in a shop, I've found spices are pretty low quality. I'm guessing this is because they aren't used in traditional Japanese cuisine and sit around the store for ages.
I have made Mallika's chicken pulao recipe twice before. I had to substitute ground cumin for whole and a dried red chili for the green ones. The first time, it lacked flavor because my spices were so anemic. The second time, I doubled the dried, whole spices and it was better. This time, I'm considering tripling the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and star anise to try and create some deeper flavor from what I'm sure are well aged spices.
The only problem with my plans was that I was out of star anise. There's only one market nearby which carries it and I trekked over there and searched the spice rack. The only "star anise" they had was a bottle of smashed up little bits. While I'm sure this will add flavor just fine, it's going to make removing the anise (which is hard and bark-like) from the finished dish before eating rather difficult.
Nonetheless, the chicken pulao recipe is worth the hassle. If you're interested in trying your hand at some Indian cooking, it's a winner. If you live in Japan though, consider going a bit heavy on the whole spices.