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Restaurant Review: Passage to India

Passageways, Hampi Ruins, India. Pic is mine.

This weekend, The Boy and I broke out of our normal Indian food rut (we love you India Garden!) and ventured to a new restaurant. Now, most people say "venture" when they really mean drove-at-a-reasonable-speed-to-an-easily-accessible-destination-slightly-outside-my-normal-five-mile-radius but this actually was a venture. It started out easily enough-we knew we wanted to try a place called Udupi Cafe, out on the west side, because it specialized in South Indian cuisine.

 Now, you'll notice the restaurant I'm reviewing is not called "Udupi Cafe." Just hold tight.

We found the sign for Udupi Cafe in a strip mall near Lafayette Rd. (If you're not from Indy, or you are and you don't venture into the Lafayette Rd area, read this NY Times article about the neighborhood. It makes me feel extra proud of my city.) We drove into the parking lot. We read the signs on the store fronts. We drove around to the other side of the parking lot. We read some more signs. We drove in circles, in figure eights, in zig zags. Whatever shape we made with our tires, we could not find a door marked "Udupi Cafe." So, we got out, and a nice lady who had been kindly averting her eyes from our struggles, asked us if we were looking for anything in particular. "Udupi Cafe!" we said. She pointed through a sliding door and directed us to go down a hall and take a left. Success! We walked in and our noses led us to the doors of the cafe -- a cafe with two names, apparently, "Udupi Cafe" and "Passage to India." Of course we'd seen the big, neon signs for Passage to India, but that wasn't what we were looking for, darnit! At this point, who cares what the GD name was- the smells were so good, we would have stopped even if it was called "Indigestion Express" (which wouldn't have been totally inaccurate, actually.)

Passage to India offers authentic, South Indian cuisine. Most Indian restaurants, at least around here, offer North Indian food-cream based curries, naan bread, grilled meats, mmm yummy. South Indian food often has more broth based soups and sauces, fruited rice dishes, and bready delicacies made from fermented rice. Food from the South is also more often vegetarian - as were all of the offerings on Sunday night's buffet. 

There are some memories that stick with you longer and harder than others. Mine mostly happen to be food memories. I can remember some of the great meals of my life more vividly than many of the seemingly important moments of my adult my life and certainly more than about seventy-five percent of my childhood. I'm not sure what that says about me as a person, but it does make me a good candidate to write about international food (just saying.) Anyways, some of my most compelling memories from India are of food. Idli and sambar, wrapped steaming hot in wax paper, eaten (carefully) in the jump seat of our jeep on the way to an early morning field trip. Dosa, filled with spiced potatoes and peas, made by a man with a three-legged dog outside a moonlit temple in Orissa.  Butter and pistachio dessert, fed to us by our sweet, bespeckled cook, Alice, after a delicious lunch at school. So, really the best part about Sunday evening was reliving these memories - and sharing them with The Boy.
 Eating was second best.
Traditional South Indian snacks, including Dosa, Idli, Vada, Sambar and curries from here
The food was awesome. The buffet had a wide variety of items, from your normal north Indian curries, to spicy Sambar - veggie based soup, vadda - little rice donuts, fried gobi manchurian - spiced cauliflower, and much more. To accompany the meal, we were served two dosa- thin, crispy pancakes made from fermented rice dough - think an Indian version of the French crepe. The dosa and idli, in particular, made me want to cry out in happiness.

The salad bar featured Pani Puri - a popular street food made of little hollow fried balls that you punch a hole in, fill with spiced water and crunchies, and pop in your mouth for a delicious, textural bite. These are the nemesis of travelers (water from a street vendor = recipe for intestinal disaster) but so so fun to eat.
Pani Puri, from here
We stuffed ourselves to the brink. Then we went back for more. And then we ate dessert, and chai -- which was almost right, but not quite -- and requested a wheelbarrow deposit us at our car. On the way out, the owner informed us that Friday nights are Indo-Chinese buffet nights.
 Oh Lord, here we go again.

I do have to mention that I had pretty offensive indigestion (I'll spare you the details) that evening and into the next day. The Boy, on the other hand, had few complaints (he who has never been to India and just started eating Indian food when he met me....sheesh.) But it won't keep me from going back.

So, if you're in the neighborhood, give this hidden gem a try. I recommend it. I wouldn't recommend the book though, (Passage to India, by E.M. Forster). I remember hating it in school.

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