Indian cuisine is on fire

Indian cuisine is in the news in Southwest Florida recently and in new, elevated, and healthy ways. I remember when the Indian Palace at Fort Myers was the only representation of the subcontinent. He offered a buffet and I reveled in the new exotic flavors. Loved the bold spices and heat, although definitely tame for American taste. I have since immersed myself in Indian cuisine from all over the world, including more and more in my own backyard.

In June, Indian Cuisine Flavor opened in the north of Naples in the Tamiami Square shopping center. Earlier, Bombay Ahana Grid moved from its postage stamp cafeteria-style location on Bonita Beach Road, through Tamiami Trail, where it expanded into the Sunshine Plaza. India debuted on Pine Ridge Road in July 2020, the third in a series of upscale Indian restaurants owned by Suman Chaniyil, including Fort Myers’ Indian Grill Spice Club and Indian grills, both of which opened in 2016. I like curry launched a showcase in late 2020 on Bayfront Drive, due to the popularity of its food truck, which currently only handles private events.

Although you would usually find Indian restaurants in the windows of shopping malls, the decors have also become more sophisticated. And, luckily, the more authentically spicy food.

The prime example and undoubtedly a forerunner among this new generation of local Indian restaurants, Chef Asif Syed has made a name for the genre and himself in the United States, far beyond his chic dining room in the United States. ‘East of Naples. His 21 spices from Chef Asif opened in December 2015 and immediately caused a stir as the chef proved his talent to modernize and popularize traditional Indian cuisine.

My recent visit brought mind-blowing Kashmiri tandoori chicken tastes, which bolstered Syed’s reputation when he beat Food Network’s Bobby Flay in a setback in 2018; the inimitable 21-spiced lamb chops, lean and loaded with layers of distinctive flavor; tender chicken tikka masala; garlic naan (not to be missed); a superb appetizer called Palakwala Chaat — crispy fried baby spinach with yogurt, tamarind and dates; and paneer skewers (Indian cheese) charred in tandoori with peppers and onions. Even the chef’s signature cocktail brought texture and complexity to the cucumber infused gin with grated cucumbers and a touch of spice.

Complexity is a hallmark not only for Chef Asif, but in the art of Indian cuisine in general. Spices get a lot of credit, especially chili peppers, which give food its reputation for fiery flavor. Most of these places give you at least a mild, medium, and hot option, while 21 Spices offers five levels of heat for diners. The spices themselves impart health benefits to Indian cuisine, says Chef Suman. The prolific and creative use of vegetables, especially in South Indian cuisine, reinforces this reputation.

At Suman’s favorite restaurant, Le Indya, I sampled some vegetarian appetizers. Samosas are already practically legendary for their friability. The delicious vegetarian samosas, stuffed with potatoes and peas, were accompanied by a tamarind chutney and a mint-yogurt sauce to enhance the flavor. I chose the paneer, available in a variety of rich preparations, with tomato sauce and bell pepper and savored it with a mango and lassi yogurt drink while watching Indian dancers on a TV screen. It was like a delicious escape. Weekends bring a buffet, a mainstay of Indian restaurants that has been interrupted at others like India’s Grill since the pandemic.

AT Masala Mantra Bistro, which launched in Cape Coral in 2019, the Butter Chicken (I ordered it extra spicy) is unforgettable. Masala Mantra, like other modern Indian restaurants, boasts its vegan menu. In Bonita Springs, Ahana’s takes the modern vegetarian route, in addition to offering North Indian traditions of lamb and chicken. I dined there in 2015 when it opened on Bonita Beach Road west of Tamiami Trail and, along with the grass-fed lamb, I was captivated by its amazing vegetarian dishes that change daily, like the green beans in tomato sauce with potatoes and lentils. with whole mustard seeds. I only had the chance to peek out the window of the new Ahana, which has tripled in size and looks more like the Old World with a vintage piano and all the Baroque Indian attributes.

Right on the line between Bonita Springs and North Naples, Passage from India finds its place with Bangladeshi specialties. There are subtle differences between the food of Bangladesh and India, which embraces it on three sides. Just across the border from Naples County, Aroma tempts, as most Indian restaurants do, the wide array of Indian food groups: curry, tandoori, biryani, southern vegetarian dishes, and northern meat dishes. . The owner, Vishnu “Vinny” Pratap Thalappil, operated Flavors of India in Port Charlotte for three years. When I spoke to him, he had just celebrated his grand opening at Aroma to a full house – one more indication that Indian cuisine is on fire, in more ways than one, in Southwest Florida.

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