In celebration of India Fest this Sunday in Marion Square, this week's installment of Eat This Tonight is giving you a crash course on Indian cuisine. West Ashley is Charleston's veritable Indiatown neighborhood, home to several ethnic restaurants and grocery stores. We got some recommendations on what to eat this weekend from those who know the dishes best. We hope it inspires you to expand your knowledge of Indian culture past the "Chaiyya Chaiyya" video on YouTube.
For the DIYers, check out Nelli Grocery, right next to the West Ashley Crab Shack on Ashley River Road. Opened for two years now, the restaurant offers a variety of grains, meats, spices, and snacks to create your own dishes at home. Owner Sundar Balasubramanian recommends trying your hand at making the South Indian dosa, a type of pancake that's not limited to breakfast. Typically made with rice, it's a great food for those with gluten allergies. Dosa is typically served with a coconut chutney, made with coconut, dal (dried lentils), chiles, and coriander. Another common side is sambar, a vegetable stew made with lentils, coconut, and a variety of spices such as turmeric, pepper, mustard seeds, and red chiles. A bonus for the health nuts, turmeric, which is found in most Indian dishes, contains many medicinal properties. The spice has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, while working at the same time to stave off Alzheimer's and cancer.
For the novice not knowing where to start, Nelli employee Smita Shukla recommends checking out one of the buffets at either Nirlep or Taste of India, both located on Savannah Highway. "Just get a little bit of everything and see what you like," she suggests.
As for her favorites? "I like chhole, which is a chickpea dish, and bhature, a fried bread. They're spicy and full of oil. We like our food heavy," Shukla laughs.
Balvinder Banga at Nirlep told us of two special dishes available this weekend at the restaurant's buffet. The first is the kalamai chicken, a sweet and spicy dish that's a customer favorite. For those not wanting anything too spicy, Banga recommends the lamb korma, a milder dish featuring a creamy curry made with yogurt.
Sinjay Kumar at Taste of India also shared a selection of his most popular dishes. "Customers keep coming back for the chicken tikka masala. It features yogurt, cream sauce, and spices. Customers can order it as spicy as they want it," Kumar told us. Another fave is the lamb vindaloo, a spicy curry dish made with red wine.
For those curious about curry but not wanting to make the trip out to West Ashley, Nelli will have a booth set up at India Fest in Marion Square this Sunday. A selection of spices and snacks will be up for sale. Furthermore, Balasubramanian himself will be performing a demonstration of Silambam, a mixture of martial arts and drum work.