When I first moved to the University City area in 1994, we had to travel all the way to south Charlotte to visit the Indian restaurant and Indian grocery store. And they were the only Indian restaurant and Indian grocery store in town.
How things have changed. Now, nearby instructors teach Indian dancing, painting, music and singing. The movie theater at Concord Mills screens Indian movies every week. A second Indian Temple of worship is now going up on Mallard Creek Road. And, of course, the annual Festival of India, held in uptown Charlotte Sept. 3-4, allows visitors to experience India through a variety of food and arts vendors.
Today, Indian food is now very much a part of UCity’s fabric. I can enjoy a meal of dosa (fermented rice and lentil crepes) and roti sabji (Indian flat bread and vegetables) at one of the half-dozen Indian restaurants nearby, or shop for the available only in India groceries, kitchen ware, toiletries and DVDs of the current running movies in India, at one of the five grocery stores.
UCity’s Indian community has grown leaps and bounds – and this is especially evident in the food choices. Let’s explore some of the offerings:
RESTAURANTSSitting opposite Concord Mills Mall is Spice 9, a fine dining Indian restaurant serving up north and south Indian cuisines. It offers a lunch buffet every day of the week for diners who need to eat on the go, but on the weekends the buffet fare tends to be more elaborate, which is a good time to try out the different menu offerings. The biryani dishes (basmati rice slow cooked with spices and served with vegetables or meat) and mirchi ka salan (large green chillies cooked in a tamarind peanut base with fresh Indian spices) is well worth a try. But be careful and let them know in advance your level of spice tolerance – which they will gladly adjust.
As for the inspiration behind the restaurant’s name, Jagan Gundala, one of the owners, says most Indian dishes are made up of nine Indian spices – chili pepper, black mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, asafoetida, ginger, garlic and cinnamon. Besides, he found the name to be catchy and cool. 8455 Pit Stop Ct., Suite #150, Concord. 704-979-5300. www.spice9cuisine.com.
Also check out:
Passage to India: A simple and clean restaurant with no fancy decorations right across from UNC Charlotte, this restaurant serves an extensive menu with South Indian, North Indian and Indian Chinese fare. The buffet is good for a quick bite; the weekend buffet is almost double the weekday fare. Try the variety of dosas offered here. 9510 University City Blvd., Suite 101, Charlotte. 704-549-1886, 704-512-9177. www.passagetoindianc.com.
Chingari: A well-decorated fine-dining restaurant serving North Indian cuisine with an elaborate non-vegetarian menu and a full bar which is prominently placed in the center, Chingari has taken the place of earlier Bombay Cuisine. 230 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., Unit C6, Charlotte. 980-355-0931.
Royal Kabab Hut: Known for its halal menu, Royal Kabab serves tandoori and Pakistani fare. It started pretty small, but now it’s a 75-seat restaurant. 8829 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., Charlotte. 704-563-8666.
Asiana Fusion Sushi: Finally an Indian Chinese restaurant this side of town, this restaurant serves what is literally a marriage between Indian and Chinese cuisine. The Manchurian pakoras, manchow soup and the hakka noodles are my favorite. One has to taste it to believe it. 20601-107 Torrence Chapel Road, Cornelius. 704-896-8827. www.asianafusionsushi.com.
Sangam: This was the first Indian restaurant in Cornelius. Serving predominantly cuisine from north India, serves lunch buffet every day of the week. Be sure to try the different Indian breads from their bread section of the menu. 20910 Torrence Chapel Road, Cornelius. 704-655-9600. www.sangamindia.com.
Mint: This Mooresville-based restaurant, which serves North Indian as well as Indo-Chinese cuisine, has a pleasant ambience and satisfies your Indian food craving. 591-N River Highway, Mooresville. 704-660-8899. www.mintindiancuisine.com/mooresville.
GROCERIESWhat’s great about grocery stores in India is the variety of items all under one roof – all kinds of snacks and breads, prepared entrees and desserts, and many different types of vegetables. Fortunately, we have an option like that in UCity: Bharat Bazaar, which is bright and airy with a friendly staff that will guide you and make helpful suggestions. Also, the range of Indian snacks is pretty good. I like to buy the fresh dry south Indian snacks like murukku, as well as fresh vegetables available every Thursday. It is also a good place to buy Indian style plain yogurt (desi dahi) when you run out of homemade yogurt. 3509 David Cox Road, Charlotte. 704-494-4845. http://bharatbazaarcharlotte.com.
New Jersey-based franchise Rajbhog Foods is a combination of grocery store, Indian sweet shop and restaurant. The variety of Indian food served is amazing. Rajbhog serves food from all over India, from starters to desserts. Its grocery store sells batter to make dosa, an Indian crepe made with fermented lentil and rice paste. Try some of the different dosa combinations at the restaurant, then get instructions from Laxmi, one of the owners, on how to make it at home. The sweet shop carries more than 100 different types of sweets from all parts of India. Rajbhog also carries ethnic fancy boxes for the sweets to give them away as gifts. 9539 Pinnacle Drive, Charlotte. 704-909-7783. www.rajbhog.com.
India Town, which has almost doubled in size since it opened, stocks an array of groceries and DVDs. 2809 W. Sugar Creek Road, Charlotte. 704-494-0422. www.indiatowncharlotte.com.
Gandhi Indian Market, conveniently located a few blocks from UNCC, is really convenient for the students, and stocks a range of Indian groceries. 9630-G University City Blvd., Charlotte, 704-548-1973.
BAKERYA unique bakery and eatery started by two enterprising friends, Cakes N Flakes is like a slice of India in the U.S. Sonia Jain and Anjali Tewari missed the soft, delectable pastries they found in their hometown – so they established their own taste of home. Here, you can indulge in excellent varieties of mouth-watering treats, like chocolate truffle, black forest, mango, pistachio and many more, made with eggs or without, for vegetarian clients. The Indian pav bread and cookies are perfect treats when I’m craving a walk down memory lane. You can also enjoy Indian street food, as well as soul food. The hot seller is paninis with an Indian twist a fusion of Italian technique with Indian ingredients, as well as biryani, a dish made with rice and curried vegetables, slow cooked in the oven. Cakes N Flakes also offers a catering menu with choices different than what’s sold in house. 2015 E. Arbors Drive, Suite 270, Charlotte. 704-688-7100. www.cakesnflakes.com.
Davis Lake resident Priti Doshi is an instructor in the Charlotte Cooks program at CPCC and writes the Cooking Etc. blog at UniversityCityMagazine.com.