Today, I met a friend of mine, a former teacher at my middle school, who I typically introduce to new Indian restaurants and he usually leaves satisfied. This time I decided to introduce him to Mahan, located on Main street in downtown Alhambra. There is a second Mahan in Old Town Monrovia on Myrtle Ave, which opened in 2018.
Mahan is run by a Sikh family; their members alternate working at the Alhambra and Monrovia locations. A Sikh chef hailing from Punjab, “the bread basket of India,” is reason enough to eat there. Sikhs are entrepreneurial and hard working. While Mahan specializes in Punjabi food, the menu also offers diverse dishes from different parts of India. You can order a full-fledged a la carte dinner or a $20 dinner thali with a choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
Their meat is halal and they serve meat specialties, nihari and haleem, which are popular among South Asian Muslims. I was surprised they offered haleem, which is a tasty blend of wheat, barley and lentils with meat. The owner’s son explained he was inspired to serve it after his Hyderabadi friend’s mother cooked it for him. I highly recommend this dish. Unlike most Pakistani restaurants which serve it with shredded meat, Mahan mixes in large pieces of flavorful lamb instead. Their bar offers an extensive selection of beer, wine, and creative Indian cocktails. They are not afraid to experiment.
Today’s lunch buffet was the best I have had in a very long time. A buffet is the best way to expose a newbie to Indian food. It is cheap (about $11 per person), and it offers a sampling of a wide variety of dishes. The best dishes served today were palak (spinach), chicken tandoori, curry pakora and goat curry. And as with all buffets, I ended my meal with a sweet, delicious dessert, kheer (a cardamom flavored rice pudding), which has no resemblance to the stodgy British rice pudding.
My friend loved Mahan’s food: within minutes he finished two servings from the buffet. This is definitely one of my go to Indian restaurants in the Pasadena area.
On Saturday, my friend and I concluded our long adventurous journey around Riverside County with a meal at Al-Karam, a few months old Pakistani restaurant in Riverside. I justified the amount I ordered as a belated Eid Al-Fitr treat with my friend, whom I had last seen in the middle of Ramadan. All together, our meal consisting of three dishes came out to $76, but I can proudly say it was worth every dollar and cent!
The family who owns the restaurant hails from Jhelum in the Pakistani province of Punjab. That alone is an indicator for excellent food, which is proven by many of the best Indian restaurants being owned by Punjabi Sikhs. Since the Partition of 1947, the region of Punjab has been divided between Northern India and Pakistan. Punjab is a highly diverse province consisting of large numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, the latter mostly residing in Pakistan. But the one thing they all share is that they cook delicious food. Punjab, means “land of five rivers,” and consists of very fertile lands, hence resulting in an agriculture based economy, producing excellent food in the process.
The three main dishes we ordered were haleem, chicken biryani, and a mixed tandoori platter, all of which were delicious! Haleem is a stew consisting of lentils and shredded meat (chicken, lamb, or beef) which is very popular in Pakistan and among Indian Muslims. Its origins are traced to the Middle East where it was known as harees. During the Mughal Period, it spread to the Indian Subcontinent where many Muslims adopted it as part of their local cuisine.
Preparing haleem is a cumbersome process taking up to six hours. Wheat, barley and lentil are soaked overnight, while a separate meat gravy is prepared. Once everything is ready, all the ingredients are blended together into one thick paste, and served with fried onions sprinkled on the top. Fortunately Al-Karam did not put a lot of oil in their haleem, and it was hands down the best I have ever had! With every bite, I could feel the rich, flavored taste melting in my mouth.
The Tandoori Mix Platter was also excellent. Muslim cultures are known for their tasty meat dishes, which made it difficult for me just to select one individual dish. Thus, I decided to try different kinds of meat in the platter, which consisted of Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Boti, and chicken and beef seekh kabob. All of these dishes, including naans, are cooked in a tandoor oven, a large, cylindrical clay cooking pot with fire in the bottom. Although all of the meat was extremely flavorful, my favorite was the beef seekh kabob. Living with my mother who is Hindu, and my efforts to be health conscious do not allow me to frequently eat beef. Thus, I only eat it as a treat when I go out to a good halal restaurant. Thinking of beef kabob as a “treat,” always makes it all the more memorable if it is really good, just like it was at Al-Karam.
Lastly, our Chicken Biryani was also amazing. Biryani is a mixed dish consisting of rice, any choice of meat and spices. Similar to many other South Asian Muslim dishes, biryani’s origins lie in Western Asia, and became a popular delicacy in India under Mughal/Turkic rule. Through the years, Indian cities with sizable Muslim concentrations created their own variation of the dish. Today, it has become one of the most popular dishes in India and Pakistan. Many Middle Eastern nations also have a mixed rice and meat dish, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States which eat Kabsa and Mandi. However, none of them are as flavorful and appetizing as South Asian biryani! You can even ask the Saudi’s themselves, who just love biryani!
Even before we began eating, my friend who’s family lives in India looked at the way it was cooked and told me, “this is the way biryani should be cooked, one side a bit browner than the other, just like in India. Most restaurants don’t cook it that way.” A Muslim is definitely the best judge of biryani as throughout South Asia it is one of their staple, most popular delicacies. On that positive note, I excitedly began munching away on the biryani, and my friend’s prediction was completely correct! Both the chicken and the rice were filled with delicious spices, are were a perfect addition to haleem and the tandoori mix.
This was the best Eid dinner I could have imagined, great company, and delicious food! Unlike other South Asian restaurants which put a lot of oil in their food, Al-Karam’s mission as described on their business card is to serve “traditional, fresh and healthy Punjabi clay oven cooking.” So regardless if you are a health freak, looking for some authentic Pakistani food or whatever else, hit the road and get your grub on at Riverside’s Al-Karam!
On 2406 South Barrington in West LA is a small Indian, Pakistani restaurant called “Chutney’s.” Many of you might associate the name “Chutney’s” with snack food such as Samosas and Pakoras, but at this place, some quality Desi main entrees are prepared. The hospitable and friendly owner, who hails from Lahore, will truly make you feel at home, as she makes sure you are comfortable and satisfied. Typical of most Pakistani restaurants, the meat dishes should be the customer’s priority, but vegetarians will also leave very pleased. My dinner was comprised of diverse dishes, ranging from dry meat to a meat curry and a vegetarian dish, all of which were very good. For those who want to avoid something oily, the beef seekh kabob and chicken tandoori were excellent and filled with flavorful spices. Undeniably one of the best seekh kabobs I have ever had! Also, the Nihari, a beef curry dish, popular among Indian Muslims and Pakistanis was very good. Nihari is commonly regarded as the national dish of Pakistan, which in fact originated in Delhi and Lucknow, today in modern day India, prior to the 1947 partition in which many chefs moved to Pakistan, hence introducing their flavorful recipes to their newly founded homeland. And of course, a standard of mine at any Desi restaurant is of course, garlic naan! Pakistani restaurants make the best naan, thick and mouthwatering, and it goes great with Nihari. So now, if you are anywhere in West LA, or after a long day at Santa Monica Pier or Venice Boardwalk, you know just where to go to satisfy your cravings, Chutney’s!!
In Pomona, CA tucked away in a strip mall lies a take out Indian Halal restaurant called Curry Up. In the front are various vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes laid out, which include Chicken Tikka Masala, Saag Paneer, Daal, among other Indian delicacies popular among Westerners and Indians alike. Although their menu is less extensive than other sit down Indian restaurants, the best part of this restaurant is that you get good food in decent quantity for a great price. My 2 item combo, consisting of a vegetable and chicken coconut, along with one naan and rice cost only around $8.50. The food tasted quite authentic, was not swimming in oil or cream, and filled me up well for the night. So if you’re on a tight financial budget but still crave some authentic Indian food, hurry up and go to Curry Up!