When I was a relatively broke graduate student living in New York City, I would treat myself, occasionally, to meals at the dirt-cheap Indian restaurants that lined East 6th Street in the East Village. Dinner with drinks could be had for seven bucks or so and I developed an addiction to searing hot and spicy Indian fare. Of course, Indian cuisine isn’t necessarily spicy; much of it is quite mild.
I still love Indian food and will travel far to get it. Sandy, for example. Since 1998, Royal India in Sandy has been a can’t-miss dining destination for Indian cuisine in Utah. Not only is the food excellent at Royal India, but chef/owner Emmanuel Shanthakumar and his family provide warm and friendly service in a very appealing atmosphere. There is a second Royal India in Bountiful, but in my opinion, the decor and ambiance aren’t quite as rich as at the Sandy location. Currently, both Royal India locations offer only takeout meals, so ambiance isn’t really an issue. Recently, my wife and I visited both Royal India and a second Indian eatery – Taste of India in Layton – for takeout meals.
I really like the rice-based biryani dishes at Royal India. There are vegetable, chicken, shrimp and lamb versions of biryani. We opted for the lamb biryani ($14.95) this time around, which was a generous portion of aromatic basmati rice tossed with tender pieces of lamb cooked with spices, herbs and butter.
Royal India makes excellent traditional Indian breads that are cooked in their tandoor oven. Variations include garlic naan, butter naan, batura, aloo paratha, roti, Peshwari naan, poori, onion naan, traditional naan and more. We opted this time to try the Peshwari naan, which was wonderful. It is a traditional Indian naan that’s stuffed with sweet tasting coconut, raisins and cashew nuts, then baked in the tandoor oven.
There’s an array of killer curries to be enjoyed at Royal India, including coconut kurma, tikka masala, boti masala and others. My favorite curry is Goan-style vindaloo, which Royal India does very well. I ordered the chicken vindaloo ($12.95), which is tender cubed boneless chicken pieces bathed in a spicy curry with hints of vinegar, tamarind, traditional Indian spices like cumin and red chilies, with cream and potatoes.
Of course, with curries and such you need something tasty to soak up the delicious sauces. Basmati rice fits the bill nicely and comes with the curry dishes. But you can order extra for a mere $1.95.
My wife’s favorite Indian dish is saag, so she ordered shrimp saag ($15.95) – there’s also saag aloo, saag paneer, lamb saag, and chicken saag available. My wife’s dish was tender, plump shrimp in a creamy spinach sauce with onions and spices.
Some notable dishes that we didn’t order this time include chef specialties like Butter Chicken ($14.95), Royal Paneer ($12.95), Chicken Madras ($13.95 and Lamb Rojan Josh ($15.95). And, in addition to Northern India fare, Royal India also serves some Southern dishes like a variety of dosas. If we want to continue to enjoy outstanding cuisine such as that offered by Royal India, we need to continue to support these restaurants by ordering takeout meals or dining in if that’s an option.
When it was first opened by Punjab native P.J. Singh, Layton’s Taste of India restaurant was one of my favorites. Unfortunately, the ownership changed hands a few years ago and I felt like the food quality diminished somewhat. So, we decided to give it another try by ordering a takeout meal starting with a very generous port of papadum, which is crispy lentil wafers – like thin crackers – seasoned with cumin seeds and served with ($3) mint sauce and tamarind sauce for dipping.
For an appetizer at Taste of India, I recommend the keema samosa ($4.50). This was a pair of crispy turnovers stuffed with ground lamb, peas and spices, deep-fried and served with dipping sauce.
To be honest, the naan from Taste of India was a disappointment. It was flabby and a bit soggy. But perhaps that’s because the oven-baked naan doesn’t travel well and gets sort of steamed in its styrofoam container due to residual heat. Other breads to choose from include cheese naan, onion naan, tandoori rota, paratha, aloo paratha, garlic naan and keema naan. Or, select the Naan Fusion Basket ($8) and get one regular naan, plus garlic naan, tandorri roti, and onion naan.
I wanted to compare the flavor of Taste of India’s chicken vindaloo ($13) with that of Royal India’s. There’s a major difference. To me, the Royal India vindaloo tastes like it’s made from scratch, with the spicy heat flavors coming naturally from ground chili peppers and such. At Taste of India, I ordered the chicken vindaloo “very hot” and it arrived nearly neon red in color, causing me to think that hot sauce was just dumped into the vindaloo. It didn’t taste like a naturally spicy sauce to me.
One attraction at Taste of India is their unique thali-style lunch, which consists of an entree choice with rice and an assortment of side dishes. It’s a welcome change from the all-too-routine Indian lunch buffet that most restaurants offer.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“So often these days eating Indian food passes for spirituality. I don’t meditate, I don’t pray, but I eat two samosas every day.” — Dan Bern
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.