While one of the original food marathoners was 8,000 miles away in India, I was in Little India in Artesia, California. Besides actually going to India, Little India has been our prized destination for years. We’ve eaten westside Indian food to the point of exhaustion. It wasn’t a fair comparison, as Little India features moderate and inexpensively priced meals for families, while he ate at lavish restaurants at hotels throughout India.
First, some interesting firsthand information about food in India:
- Indians do not eat out at restaurants. The best restaurants in India are typically inside hotels and are filled with tourists, rich Indian businessmen, or politicians.- The best food in India is street food. You can walk one block in India and see several dozen food stalls frying, dicing, blending, boiling, etc everything under the sun. A popular mid morning snack is what is called a “Sweet Lime.” You go to a cart where they are squeezing limes in a glass and grinding whole cane sugar. They blend the two together and make a wonderful beverage, more refreshing than lemonade. At lunch, you will see people line up eating curries, naan, nuts, fruit juices, deep fried samosa looking things, etc. Notably BBQ’d corn, roasted until the kernels turned agolden brown, rubbed with lime and salt.
- The food overall has the most amazing and diverse flavors. In one bite, you feel immense spice, and taste 100′s of ingredients that are unfamiliar to you:
- Even the airline food was spicy and delicious.- Most Indians are vegetarians. Lamb is clearly only for tourists. Some Indians eat chicken. Most restaurants are advertised as VEG or NON-VEG
- They serve no beef at McDonald’s in India and in fact beef is almost impossible to find to to its holy qualities. The Chicken Maharaja Mac was a spicy, curried, delicious Indian version of the Big Mac.
Back in Los Angeles a handful of restaurants rose to the top of the Little India list, the first being Ambala Dhaba
It’s in a strip mall on Pioneer Blvd, a street that resembles Palm Springs in its size, newly landscaped center divider and elaborate street signage. Right off the bat the colorful vision and sound of a high budget Bollywood film playing on two flat screen tv’s in each corner of the room set the tone. In another corner is a large indoor fountain that actually runs into a river that lies beneath glass flooring throughout the restaurant. So that was a first for a food marathon- an indoor river. The menu is vast, featuring many dishes that we regularly see and a lot that we don’t. As we were on a marathon we went with a the chef’s lunch special Dhaba Chicken (sauteed in yogurt, garlic, mint & green chilis) and Channa Masala (chick peas cooked with ginger, mango powder and other spices- their description, not mine). Each came with rice, beans, naan (we got chili naan) and rice pudding.
Moving on to Rasraj, the pinnacle of Indian foods I’d never heard of (phulkas, gujrati daal, dhokla, motichur ladoo). The and were by far the most unique flavor combinations of any food marathon. A crunchy exterior pastry shell was filled with cold, sweet, runny yogurt, a red salsa-type sauce, a green sauce, lentils and cubed potatoes. The balance of liquid to starch was weighing heavy on the juicy side… Without a thicker shell to absorb some of the sauces, the overall consistency was bad. The flavor didn’t help- sweet, cold and something else… The flakey, mildly flavored topping didn’t bring much to the table either. The mango lassi was very tasty, however.
Our final stop was by far my favorite on the marathon. Tirupathi Bhimas’s open floor plan reminded me of Palms Thai and had a large sky painted within the dome on the ceiling. Thalis are a selection of different dishes, served in small bowls on round metal trays- my favorite way to eat. I was full of naan and rice by this point so we didn’t order a dosa to accompany our spicy thali.
which featured rice, papadom and naan that were dipped into lentil, eggplant, yogurt, onion and soup-filled dishes (the names our waiter ran through too quickly to remember).
The sauces on the table weren’t as tasty or spicy as we often find in Thai restaurants.
Lastly, the marathon could easily have been called the Shah Rukh Khan Food Marathon- he’s the Johnny Depp of Bollywood and he was watching over us from televisions and posters throughout Artesia. He’s even bigger in India. It should be noted that present-day Shah Rukh Khan looks very similar to Johnny Depp circa his 21 Jump Street days.