BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
On a hot summer day, the kitchen at Taste of India is way hotter. The air is heavy with exotic spice, the scent catching in your hair, on your clothes, teasing you with the promise of something delicious soon to come.
The tandoor, a deep clay oven in the back of the kitchen, radiates amazing heat, the better to turn out fragrant chickens and the crusty flatbreads that, slapped on the tandoor’s sides, bake in seconds. Not every Indian restaurant goes the extra mile of having a real tandoor in the kitchen, but for owners Sunil Yadav, 27, and Tiffany Clark, 23, going the extra mile is good business.
Even before they found a home for their new restaurant, the pair shopped painstakingly online to be sure they could afford topnotch equipment. By the time they signed a lease on the building that had formerly housed a 4th Street crêperie, they were well outfitted and ready to renovate the building. They did the work themselves, on the tight budget familiar to most first-time restaurant owners. Taste of India opened in July 2009, just two weeks
before the couple married. Today the restaurant is a Bloomington hotspot, its big open dining room and umbrella-shaded patio full of happy eaters, its outstanding lunch buffet packed, its carryout business booming.
The secret? It helps to have onsite parking, of course, a rare commodity on East 4th Street (or anywhere in downtown Bloomington, for that matter), but the real draw at Taste of India is the food. “Going out for a curry” might be shorthand for eating Indian food, but the cuisine is so much more complex and fascinating than the flavor often identified by Americans as “curry”—a bright yellow spice with a dull, powdery texture—would lead you to believe. “Curry” refers to dishes made with a variety of herb-and-spice blends—combinations of chilies, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, coriander, cinnamon, and many, many more, depending on the traditional region of the dish. Yadav roasts, grinds, and mixes the restaurant’s spices himself; kitchen staff make their own yogurt and paneer (a fresh Indian cheese); and a chef from India is on duty bringing a level of authenticity that is unmistakable.
Unusually, Taste of India has not only the foods Americans are most used to finding in Indian restaurants—the tandoori dishes, the vindaloos, the tikka masalas (all excellent)—but also dosas from southern India. These lentil-and-rice crêpes are stuffed with tasty fillings and eaten with coconut chutney and sambhar (a spicy vegetable stew). Dosas are on the menu thanks to Clark, whose friends at the IU India studies program where she’s majoring had a yen for the student-friendly, affordable snack. Clark, a vegetarian, is also responsible for the restaurant’s terrific choice of meatless and vegan dishes (the latter marked on the menu with a tiny leaf), especially on the lunch buffet, which offers no less than five vegetarian choices.
Taste of India is open seven days a week, a cause of exhaustion for its young owners, but a reason to smile for the rest of us. Find more information, and the delectable menu, at tasteofindiabtown.com.