While Western attitudes about ethnic food have evolved over the past few decades, the American philosophy of the melting pot has morphed various cuisines from around the world to suit our own tastes. America is not unique to this cuisine alteration. When youlook at ethnic foods throughout history, all cultures influenceother countries’ food styles.
But when you look across the globe, the cuisine that was perhapsmost influenced by other cultures over time is that from the Indiansubcontinent. What we eat in an Americanized Indian restaurant,however, is dramatically different than what you’d get if youvisited India. The styles there differ greatly from one part ofIndia to the next, much in the way that northern Italian differsfrom southern Italian food.
Throughout the centuries, waves of invaders brought new stylesand ingredients to India. Within the last few hundred years, Indianfood was influenced by British colonialists who changed the natureof curry. They often added much more meat to the dishes and turnedthem to sauces whereas before, curry was used more as a flavoringagent on rice and vegetables. Prior to the British, Muslim invadersbrought a variety of lamb and other meat dishes. Before them,Central Asian, Greek, Persian and Aryan invaders brought their owncuisine, spices and flavorings. Ironically, the spiciness of somemodern Indian cuisine (modern being the last few centuries or so)can be attributed to a reverse migration of the pepper from theAmericas.
In Reay Tannahill’s Food in History, we learn that typically,two thousand years ago, Indians ate about two meals a day. Meals,ideally, consisted of 32 mouthfuls of food. Today, the typicalAmerican would triple or quadruple that number of mouthfuls in atypical meal. Tannahill also tells us that Indians were supposed tovisualize their stomachs in four parts for a meal; two to be filledwith food, one with liquid and a fourth to be left empty “to allowfor the movement of wind.” With lentils and curry common in Indianfood, the wind is not something I want to spend much time thinkingabout.
Bombay Deluxe is located along Northern Lights Boulevard, in atwo-story commercial strip center that looks architecturally likeit was imported from a busy city section of any of the numerouscountries I have visited in Southeast Asia. The ethnic grocerystore on one end of the building and the Korean restaurant on theother add to the ethnic fantasy of being somewhere other thanAnchorage.
Walking in, one sees the kitchen with the traditional Tandoorclay oven through a large window. It’s nice to see into a kitchen,and especially rare to have a view into an ethnic one.
The dining room is rich in red colors, with high-backed boothsand a central server station lined to the ceiling with glassware.The room is comfortable and cozy, with an aroma of rich foodscoming from the kitchen. I peruse the diverse menu, with acollection of dishes representing many different eras and styles offood from across India and surrounding countries. An assortment ofvarious seafood dishes, breads baked in the Tandoor, vegetarianspecialties and desserts round out the menu. For those who can’tdecide, there are combination dinners that have an assortment ofdifferent dishes. That’s what I go for.
The Chef’s special has a choice between Tandoori Chicken (withthe signature redness) or lamb Korma with Mattar Paneer (cheese,peas and tomato) or Palak Paneer (the creamed, spicy spinach withhomemade Indian cheese). Dal Makhni (lentels), Rice Pilau (longgrained basmati rice colored yellow from seasonings includingturmeric), Naan (traditional Indian flatbread) and Kheer Badaam,for dessert, are also included in the meal.
When the stainless steel platter with conveniently shapedsections for the different dishes came to the table, I knew that Iwouldn’t be able to finish in 32 bites. I chose the lamb Korma -juicy lamb in a cream sauce with fruit and nuts. This dish,according to Tannahill, was brought into northern India by theMughals, a Muslim empire that brought the concept of mixing fruitwith meat – typically a no-no in western cuisine, because, as mygrandmother put it, it “generates the vapors.” Could this be thewind referred to in the Indian rules for eating? These thoughtsevaporated as I directed my attention to the warm Naan bread. Ifound it divine. (The divine wind? No, that’s Japanese.) And when the Naan is used to sop up the sauce, it is even better.
The Palak Paneer was just the right amount of spice and the meal wrapped up with a wonderful rice pudding “flavored with cardamom and garnished with almonds and raisins,” according the menu. Ididn’t see any raisins, but the crunchy almonds and the sweetnessof the dessert cooled any lingering spice blowing around mymouth.
The menu says “serving the finest and authentic Asian IndianCuisine in Alaska,” which is an obvious statement as Bombay Deluxe(and their sister restaurant in Eagle River) are the only game intown when it comes to Indian food. Regardless of its monopoly, therestaurant gets my stamp of approval. It is worth the trip to thisfar away land. I think they do a great job of bringing a bit of the subcontinent to the far north.
This review originally appeared in Anchorage Press, October 31, 2007