When I got the invitation from Haresh Gangwani to come to his Indian restaurant at 96th and Allisonville Road, I was eager (although perhaps a bit reticent to try those Indian spices). Nonetheless, my tastebuds enjoy a good adventure, and I’d never given them Indian food before!
So off I went to meet with the new owner of Masala Kitchen, which has been open for two years but was purchased by Gangwani and his partners—Sudheer Thondapu of Fishers and Amar Bukkasagaram of Geist—in March.
Haresh allayed my fears of fiery hot dishes, saying most Indian food is not super-hot. Indian cooking uses a lot of herbs and spices – particularly cardimum, cinnamon, ginger, saffron and mint – but not necessarily hot chilies. Nor do all Indian dishes feature only curry, Haresh assures.
“It’s flavor spice, not hot spices,” he says. (Incidentally, the name “Masala” means “spice” in Hindi.)
While the dishes may resemble Chinese food (vegetables and meat over rice), the distinct spices definitely set them apart as Indian. I hit the lunch buffet, served weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from noon to 3 p.m. on weekends. It features dishes from North and South India, including several made in a clay oven called a Tandoori Grill. Vegetarian dishes are separated from meat dishes, as most South Indians are vegetarians, Haresh said. The restaurant also features dinner hours from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. weekdays and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The later hours reflect the Indian tradition of eating meals later than Americans are usually accustomed.
The mix of clients at Masala Kitchen is about 80 percent Indian/ 20 percent American. Haresh, who immigrated from India 19 years ago to attend the University of Indianapolis and now works for a software company, is hoping to up the number of American guests. He’s implemented “free beer” night on Thursdays and says his friends and co-workers love it.
“It’s about marketing, and, of course, great food” he said. “We’ve got to reach out to people.”
Masala Kitchen is located next to an Indian grocery store, and on the other side, Haresh and his partners are planning to open a banquet hall later this month. Autaak, which means “to gather” in Sindhi, will accommodate up to 180 people. While Masala will be happy to cater events at Autaak, outside caterers also will be accepted.
In addition, Autaak’s owners are planning to open the facility on Wednesday nights for karaoke featuring Indian, American and even Mexican music. According to Haresh, Bollywood is the No. 1 movie producer worldwide, and all Bollywood movies are musicals.
“The Indian people love singing Bollywood songs,” he said.
Haresh, an active member of the India Association of Indianapolis, estimates there are about 300 Indian families in the Fishers/Geist area and 1,500 in greater Indianapolis. He’s glad to see more Americans getting into Indian cooking as well.
Here’s a tip I learned from Haresh (call it, “Eating Indian Food for Dummies”): If something has a bit too much bite for you, tone it down with Raita, a yogurt sauce with cucumbers, onion and mint. The buffet featured a host of other sauces as well, including coconut sauce, tomato sauce, tamarind (a sweet & sour sauce), mint sauce and ranch dressing (for those die-hard Americans).
I particularly enjoyed the Naan, traditional unleavened bread baked in the Tandoori grill. The cook actually smacks the dough onto the side of the clay oven to cook it! Another surprising delight was the Mango Lassi, a yogurt smoothie-type drink. The “deserts” were a little soupy for my taste (nothing like cheesecake and brownies), but overall, my tastebuds were happy and thanked me for the break from pizza and sandwiches.
There are more than 100 items on the menu at Masala Kitchen, so you’re sure to find one to make your tastebuds happy, too! Visit Masala Kitchen at 9546 Allisonville Road or call 849-2996. For more information about events at Autaak, call 444-1778.
Murali Krishna, one of the three cooks at Masala Kitchen, just took this naan out of the clay oven, called a tandoori grill.