Craving The Spicy Food Of India

Jo McGarry
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Friday - August 11, 2006
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A couple of weeks ago, I had such a craving for Indian food that I spent an entire Sunday shopping, cooking and sweating in the kitchen. The shopping was the easy part. India House on South King Street has everything needed to make great Indian food, and although dinner turned out fine (we had chicken tikka masala, beef Madras, cauliflower and peas with cumin and coriander, lentil dahl, cucumber raita, basmati rice, three kinds of chutney, and homemade naan bread), it was a huge amount of work. When I got the craving again last week, I headed into town in search of the fragrant and spicy food instead of back into the heat of the kitchen.

It’s tough finding good Indian food in Hawaii. In Honolulu there’s such a small Indian community that the restaurants, for the most part, don’t really represent the best of the culture. Café Maharani (also on South King Street) is the exception, however, and offers the best taste of well-spiced dishes that are representative of good Indian food. I have always been impressed with the food, and it now has a tandoor oven - an essential in the creation of great bread.

I’ve not been to India House in years. I went so many times when I first moved here and was singularly unimpressed with anything on the menu. But it would be unfair to assume that nothing’s changed, so I will go back soon and check it out.

I’ve always found the food to be fine at Zaffron on Nuuanu Avenue; the all-you-can-eat buffet style offers plentiful amounts of a variety of dishes and is a great favorite with vegetarians, although they do some very nice lamb and chicken dishes too.

But the other day I ended up at India Bazaar (on South King Street in the same mall as Kiawe BBQ and Kozo Sushi). Don’t go on a really hot day. The café-style restaurant is clean and welcoming, but there’s a pretty ineffective air conditioner. Combined with the recent hot weather and the spiciness of the food, it might be more heat than you can handle.

India Bazaar has been in business for more than 19 years, so they’re doing something right, and certainly if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian you’ll probably love their choices. There’s a counter facing the door as you walk in, with a choice of about nine different items. Plate lunch-style, you choose two or three items to add to rice, and you pay at the counter.

There’s a chicken plate ($6.75) that comes with a choice of two vegetable curries, and a variety of curried vegetable dishes that include Corn Curry, Tofu Curry, Lentil with Eggplant, and Potato and Mushroom. The Vegetable Coconut Curry Korma was nice and flavorful, and the Lentil Spinach and Potato Stir Fry dishes had traces of the cumin, coriander and fresh herbs that you’d expect from Southern Indian cuisine. There are a couple of different chutneys too - a basic one that was a little too sweet for my taste, and a fiery red pickle that you can add as a side for $1. I was excited to see parathas for $1.59, but these were doughy and tasteless, and after one bite it was clear that they added nothing to the meal. The restaurant is very casual, very friendly and very cheap. A plate lunch Indian style with rice and sides is just $6.95. In fact it’s hard to really spend a lot of money on lunch here -and you do leave feeling full. And while there’s nothing to absolutely rave about, it’s certainly good value, and an excellent option for vegetarians and those looking for filling, healthful, value meals.

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