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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 12, 2002

Balance of flavors spices up the dining at India Bazaar

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

India Bazaar on King Street serves up delectable dishes from cuisines of both northern and southern India. Dishes come mild or spicy.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

India Bazaar

2320 S. King St.


11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. daily


For 13 years, India Bazaar has been tucked away quietly in a mini-mall off South King Street across from Stadium Park. It is a meeting place for those in the know, vegetarians and meat eaters alike, who enjoy the unique flavors of Indian food. Here, where food is dished up from behind a glass divider, you can pick up something to take home, or make a choice and sit down at a small number of tables scattered around the room.

The cafe serves elements of the cuisines of both northern and southern India. Northern regions, such as Kashmir, offer a conglomeration of Indian, Afghan and Iranian cuisines, the "Wazawan" style of cooking — nonvegetarian and spicy. In Southern India, in areas such as Kerala on the coast, a tropical environment, rice is the staple crop, and a part of each meal.

Most days, there are nine different vegetable dishes to choose from, sometimes more, including a few mild choices as well as those that sizzle with chilis. Most of the dishes here are spicy enough to give you the sweats and a runny nose. Many people believe Indian food "is not authentic if it doesn't make you sweat"— and I agree.

All the plates at India Bazaar are built around a large serving of filling rice. Unfortunately, they do not use the famous fragrant Basmati rice, or saffron to flavor and color the rice — too costly. Still, the rice they choose is light and fluffy, colored yellow with the addition of turmeric. You can choose three vegetarian dishes to go with the rice for $6.25. For those who like meat or seafood, there usually is a chicken dish ($6.75) or a shrimp curry — $7.25 with rice and two vegetables.

The chicken masala I had recently was a saucy, stewlike dish with wonderful flavors. In any given mouthful, I could taste some combination of ginger, garlic, coriander, chilis, onions, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, fennel or cumin seeds. Any Indian chef worth his or her garam masala (a common Indian spice blend) knows the value of contrasting and complementary flavors.

Lentils — called dals — play a very important role in Indian cooking, providing necessary protein, and being versatile enough to use in both saucy dishes and drier concoctions. Indians use a much wider variety of lentils than we do — whole and split lentils, and lentils in green, yellow, brown and orange.

Among the dishes we noted recently at India Bazaar: tofu and green peas (spicy), lentils with tomato (mild), stir-fried potatoes, garbanzo bean curry (spicy), lentils with zucchini (mild), potato-vegetable curry, coconut vegetable korma (mild and creamy), lentils with eggplant sambar (spicy) and mushroom potato curry (spicy).

Indian breads such as the crispy chapati ($1), and my favorite, paratha ($1.50), are available here. Because of the lack of a tandoori oven, you won't find well-known Indian breads such as poori, bhatura, dosai or naan. But the parathas are definitely worth trying, used in traditional Indian fashion to scoop up food and sop up juices. They are soft, round, deliciously chewy and tasting of ghee (clarified butter used in Indian cooking).

To help cool down your mouth, try a small cup of raita — a light condiment of cucumber and onion in plain yogurt. You can also get some sweet and zingy mango chutney to help round out the flavors and eke out the spiciness. Raita and mango chutney are 50 cents apiece.

India Bazaar is bare-bones Indian food in a very casual setting. If you enjoy this type of food, or if you fancy yourself an adventurous type, give them a try.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.