I seem to have gotten on an Indian cuisine kick lately – not just Indian restaurants, but also grocery stores, where I can buy those colorful Indian sweets, made with condensed milk or lentil flour or sesame seeds, and flavored with pistachio, coconut and mango and all sorts of spices. Patel Brothers Groceries and Video, 1835 Central Ave. N.E., Minneapolis, has one of the best selections in town, but you can also find them across the street at Asia Imports, or at South Asian Foods in Fridley.
My other Indian food habit is Indian vegetarian entrees, like paneer makhani (curried cheese in tomato sauce) and bhindi do piazza okra in a spicy onion sauce), packaged in shelf-stable foil retort pouches and sold under a whole variety of brand names, like Priya and Ashoka, for about $2 per 10-ounce package. I gather they are the Indian Army’s equivalent of MRIs – some of them carry the label, “Technology Developed by Defence Food Research Laboratory, Ministry of Defence, Mysore, INDIA.” (Insert joke about gas warfare here.)
The latest trend on the local Indian food scene seems to be grocery store-restaurant combos: Patel Brothers has the Hyderabad House right next door, Asia Imports has a little snack counter called the Bombay2Deli, and South Asian Foods has a little cafe hidden inside the grocery.
My latest discovery on the Indian restaurant and grocery front is Curry Up! in Maple Grove, a big new grocery store offering fresh produce, lots of packaged goods, a little sweets and chaat (snack) counter, and a counter-service café in the back. The menu offers staple North Indian and South Indian dishes, vegetarian and with meat, plus some regional dishes that you don’t usually find in the US, like peppery Chettinad chicken from Tamil Nadu, or a famous Gujarati specialty called Undhiyu.
I have only sampled a few dishes so far, but I have enjoyed everything I tried, including the massive masala dosas, crisp lentil flour pancakes stuffed with a spiced mixture of potatoes and peas; the spicy sambar soup, and the spicy Hyderabadi eggplant. The selection of dishes offered on the $6.95 lunch buffet is limited in variety, but above-average in quality. I am eager to go back sometime soon and try some of the other items on the menu, including the chaat, a bunch of different kinds of street food snacks made with crunchy lentil flour wafers and noodles, yogurt, chick peas, onions, cilantro and spices. When I was there, the owner mentioned that they can also cater chaat for parties – a couple of their employees bring all the ingredients, and make the snacks to order.
I also had a chance to stop by last weekend at another old favorite – Kabobs, a little strip-mall storefront at 7814 Portland Ave. S. in Bloomington. The place is tiny, and nearly every table was taken, so I ordered take-out. I have had the kabobs before (beef, lamb and chicken, $7.99-$10.99), and they are terrific, but this time I decided to concentrate on the vegetarian side of the menu. The aloo baigan, a potato and eggplant curry, was extremely hot and spicy, but the bhindi masala, baby okra in a tomatoey sauce was pungently flavorful without being overwhelming. At $4.99 for a big serving, these dishes are an incredible bargain – and much tastier than the versions that come in retort pouches.
Apparently, Chinese cuisine is in vogue in India – many of the grocery stores carry Indian versions of Chinese noodle dishes, packaged ramen-style, and Kabobs has a whole section of its menu devoted to Indo-Chinese dishes, including Szechuan beef and chicken ($6.99) , but I opted for the chili gobi, ($5.99) a dish of breaded deep-fried cauliflower florets in a spicy tomato sauce – delicious.