Is this the best lunch deal in the Twin Cities metro? I think it might be. It’s certainly the best Indian lunch deal—and for that matter this was the best Indian meal of any kind I’ve had in Minnesota in 12+ years. I ate it at what is almost literally a hole in the wall in Bloomington, in the same large strip mall that houses TBS Mart. I’ve noticed it out of the corner of my eye over the years but always assumed it was a Middle Eastern place; there’s another Indian place right there and I suppose I assumed there wouldn’t be two Indian places right next to each other like that. Anyway, the lesson, as always, is that I am an idiot. And specifically an idiot who has been denying himself not just an excellent lunch thali for almost a decade now but also the nostalgic charge of eating it in a place that evokes the no-frills canteens and mess halls that are a commonplace in Indian cities. Here, specifically, is what I—and maybe you—had been missing. Continue reading
South Indian food in Montreal? Why not? While associated with cooking in the French idiom, Montreal is home to a large number of restaurants featuring the cuisines of the large number of immigrant communities that can be found in the city. Jewish concerns like Schwartz’s and St. Viateur may be the most famous, having become iconically Montrealer. The Portuguese presence is also long established as are immigrants from Francophone countries such as Haiti and Vietnam. But there are other communities as well—Montreal is home to a dizzying array of languages. On our final full day in the city we spent the morning in conversation with two non-profit groups in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood that work with immigrant communities, especially people from lower income brackets. Right next to the building that houses the second group is Thanjai, a restaurant recommended to us for dosas. All 13 of us accordingly descended on them for lunch. Herewith an account of our experience. Continue reading
Another week, another Indian lunch buffet in Bloomington. I’ve been meaning to check out Hyderabad Indian Grill* in Bloomington since trying some of their food at India Fest, 2018 at the St. Paul Capitol last August (the next edition is on August 10). And on a trip up to Minneapolis this week I managed to stop in. They’re located further north than Surabhi and on the other side of the freeway (at the intersection of American and Penn, in the big strip that includes a Fresh Thyme market). They opened a year and a half or so ago—fitting well with my hypothesis that a new wave of South Indian-leaning restaurants have been opening in the Twin Ciites metro in recent years following an increase in the South Indian population in the area. Apart from the name of the restaurant there aren’t so very many nods to the South Indian connection in the lunch buffet (and even the a la carte menu seems less South Indian-leaning than at Persis) but they don’t put out the standard North Indian curry house spread. And on the strength of my meal today I’d recommend it for those looking for a good Indian lunch buffet in the area. Continue reading
I had to take an unexpected side-trip from London to Delhi recently on account of a family emergency. Fortunately, everything went well and things seem to be returning to normal. I myself am now back in London (where we’ll be for another six weeks or so). I didn’t really have a whole lot of time in Delhi for things that didn’t rotate around hospital visits but did manage to find time to lunch with two old friends. The first was this meal, a quick lunch in Connaught Place. I was for some reason longing for idlis and vadas and the CP outpost of Sagar Ratna is where we went, Continue reading
I think I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid and teenager in India (1970s and 1980s) south Indian food—outside of south India—really meant the idli-dosa-vada complex. Served in small towns all over north India in restaurants with names like Madras Cafe or Kerala Cafe (just as almost every Chinese restaurant was named either Nanking, Golden Dragon or Kowloon) this subset of south Indian cuisines was one of the three national cuisines of India—Mughlai and Chinese being the others. It wasn’t until much later that I became aware that there was a lot more to south Indian food beyond the vegetarian cliches and that in fact south India is more non-vegetarian than vegetarian. For many of us in Delhi in the early 1990s a restaurant in Hauz Khas named Malabar was our introduction to much of this food—it specialized in the food of Kerala and the southwestern coast. Later, restaurants like Coconut Grove and Swagath expanded Delhi’ites horizons further. Continue reading
My American friends are sick and tired of hearing me moan about the state of Indian food in the US. Thankfully, there’s far less cause for moaning on this score in London. On my visit last summer I ate at a few of London’s better reviewed Indian/South Asian restaurants and liked them all a lot: from the Michelin starred Trishna to the ever-popular Dishoom to the far more informal Hoppers. It is our plan during our current, much longer stay in London to explore the Indian/South Asian food scene far more thoroughly across different parts of the price spectrum. I know from past experience that even curry houses in London are a world apart from most of their counterparts in the US. Our first outing, however, was not to a curry house but to Quilon, the posh restaurant at the Taj hotel on Buckingham Gate in Westminster. Continue reading
Once upon a time in Delhi, restaurants at five star hotels were pretty much the only option if you wanted to go out for a fancy meal. The pre-eminent restaurants in the category were the Maurya Sheraton’s Bukhara and Dum Pukht, and through the late 1980s and 1990s they set the tone for similar restaurants at the other five stars: meat-centric North Indian food with either a Northwest frontier or nawabi focus. The hotels usually also all had Indian Chinese restaurants (each of which pretended to be “authentic” Chinese) and 24-hour coffee shops, and some had one outlier restaurant: the Meridien had a French restaurant, for example, (Pierre, I think its name was—for all I know, it still exists.) and the Oberoi had an excellent Thai restaurant for a while: Baan Thai. Continue reading
Malayali food is one of my very favourite cuisines and is one of the things I miss most about living in India. I don’t mean to suggest that I grew up eating Malayali food (Kerala is the state, the people, culture and food are Malayali; the language is Malayalam). Indeed, given how intensely regional Indian cultural identity is, and also how relatively recently it is that restaurants specializing in something other than the local cuisine, “Mughlai” cuisine and Indian-Chinese cuisine have begun to pop up in the major Indian metros, I didn’t really have too much of an opportunity to eat it. In fact, it wasn’t until my early twenties that I was really introduced to Malayali food. This happened at Malabar, a restaurant in Hauz Khas in Delhi that I would eat at often with friends from work. I left for the US shortly thereafter and on visits home seeking out Malayali food was a major highlight (though then it was to the Coconut Grove in the Ashok Yatri Niwas hotel that we’d go—see here for a brief account of a scandalous crime that resulted in the shutting down of the Ashok Yatri Niwas). These days there are lots of places to eat Malayali and other non-idli-dosa-sambhar South Indian foods in Delhi, but in the early ’90s there really weren’t and so there’s doubtless some element of exoticism in my attachment to Malayali food.
After a hiatus of a few weeks my slow-motion survey of South Asian restaurants in the Twin Cities metro area starts back up again with this review of a recent dinner at Malabari Kitchen in Minneapolis, which specializes in food from the southern Indian state of Kerala. I am pleased to report that this meal was much better than the previous and did not jeopardize the future of the series. (See here for my review of a lunch at Bawarchi, and here for my review of the Dosa King meal that almost brought this series to an end.) While not everything about the meal and experience was good it’s still a place I would recommend to people interested in exploring Indian food. Continue reading
More like Dosa Pretender. This was not a good meal and has put my proposed slow-motion survey of Indian food in the Twin Cities metro area in some jeopardy as it has led my wife to beg off attending any more of these meals—she thought our meal at Bawarchi was fine but nothing worth driving two hours for; but this she thought barely approached acceptability; and I’m not sure if the friend who accompanied us is enthused at the prospect of a possible repeat of this experience.
Caveats: We ate lunch on a Saturday and it was the predictable buffet. It is entirely possible that they do better at dinner (though reports I’ve since received suggest that that may not be very much better). Also, it’s only one meal; maybe we caught them on a bad morning. Who knows? I’m certainly not going back again to investigate.
What we ate—please click on an image below, if you dare, to launch a larger slideshow with detailed captions Continue reading
As mentioned a few days ago, I am starting a slow-motion survey of some of the luminaries of the Indian restaurant scene in the greater Twin Cities metro area. Why? Read on. (Or if you want to just skip to the review of Bawarchi scroll down a fair bit.)
I’ve lived in the US for 21 years now and learned from experience long ago to avoid most Indian restaurants, regardless of location. Short version of the reason: almost all of them run the gamut from mediocre to very bad. And somehow, most American foodies don’t get this even if in the last 10-15 years their awareness of and ability to make meaningful distinctions with various other Asian cuisines has expanded dramatically. The most obvious and striking parallel is with China, another large country with a dizzying variety of regions and cuisines. While the dominant mode of Chinese food in the US is still the Panda Express model, the major metros have a fair bit of granularity, with Sichuan usually leading the way. Certainly, the knowledge base of the average American food writer and foodie is much higher re various Chinese cuisines than it used to be in 1993 (I take this arbitrary date as a reference point as that’s when I arrived in the US). The same, alas, is not true of Indian food—leave alone the average foodie I can’t think of a single well-known American food writer who can be trusted on Indian food. Continue reading