Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Incredible Indian

I reckon you can judge a restaurant by the respect its menu gives to vegetarians. Making food tasty without the help of meat can be a challenge, but it's the successful meeting of this sort of challenge that justifies charging customers $30 each for a main, so a tasteless eggplant stack simply won't do. Good vegetarian food should be exciting, indulgent and packed with flavour. With this in mind, here are my favourite three Indian vegetarian restaurants in Auckland, in no particular order:

Jai Jalaram Khaman, 570 Sandringham Road
The easiest way to get from Ponsonby to the airport now takes a straight line from Bond Street, along Sandringham Road and then onto the new motorway. It was while driving that route to pick up my girlfriend from one of her recent world travels that I spotted this little restaurant on the corner of Sandringham and Calgary Street. We stopped in for dinner on the way home and had one of the most memorable meals I've experienced in Auckland, for which we paid about seven dollars each. The food is spicy, moreish and rich – no BYO or alcohol license but you'll get punch drunk on the deep fried crunchy bready things, possibly puris, that break open and fill your mouth with liquid goodness like some sort of Hindi cream egg.

Rasoi, 211 Karangahape Road
For Wellingtonians trying to get their bearings in Auckland, it might be tempting to think of K Road as the equivalent of Cuba Street: a funky, stylish open-air 'hang out' zone, where beautiful artists and bohemians drink, dine, then have funky, stylish sex with each other. That's what I thought when I arrived in Auckland and rented an apartment just off K Road, only to quickly discover that the entire neighbourhood is nothing more than a urinous, drug-addled wasteland. That's why it's so exciting to discover something on K Road other than 24 hour bars, liquor stores and prostitutes. Rasoi is small, sweet and cheap, and the food is good. For about $11 you can get rice plus two curries, and they have about six choices, all vegetarian. Chickpea curry, mung bean curry, eggplant curry, cabbage curry – they all taste different, and special, and they'll provide infinitely more comfort (and erotic satisfaction) than anything on offer down the street.

Roops Vegetarian Takeaways, cnr Richardson Road and Penney Avenue
Like many middle-class white people slightly out of their depth socially, I'll generally end up discussing cricket and food with my taxi driver if he happens to be Indian. I got picked up by a certain Lalits from Discount Taxis some months ago, and after he proudly told me about his son's prowess as a young (and award-winning) batsman, talk turned to good curry restaurants around Auckland. He recommended Roops without hesitation, and within a few days I had tracked it down in the heart of suburban Mount Roskill. Roops takes vegetarianism so seriously, they have a sign up stating that meat is not permitted in the restaurant. Well, I don't know what sort of monster turns up at a vegetarian establishment with BYO ham, but if anyone does, I hope he obeys the sign. The food is exquisite and plentiful, and there's always an interesting and curious local family to sit next to while you wait for your meal. You can dine in, and if you do I recommend you avoid visiting the restrooms, which are also authentically Indian.

Post script: I've subsequently discovered one more to add to this list, which you can read about here