The State of Vegetarian Indian Restaurants in Houston

Saidas M. Ranade, Houston, Texas

Note: It is great that the Indians are one of the richest minorities in the US. I am proud of our achievements. I am eager and excited to introduce our wonderful culture to everyone. Unfortunately there is a problem of perception about our culture when it comes to quality and ethics. I have illustrated the problem with three separate articles. One blog-entry uses examples from cricket, the other is about the state of Bollywood and this one is about the state of local vegetarian Indian restaurants in Houston.

I love Indian food. Who doesn’t? I am also a vegetarian. I am grateful that there are many Indian vegetarian restaurants in Houston and surrounding areas. I understand that running a restaurant is tough business. So, at the outset, I want to say thanks to the restaurant owners and chefs who have fed me for the past 25 years. Unfortunately, I have seen a dramatic decline in the quality of food served at these establishments. Their idea of vegetarian seems to be someone who eats starchy snacks, candy and sweets. Considering that there are close to 25 amazing vegetables all I see at these restaurants is dishes made from potato, milk, lentils and other starches. In one restaurant that serves Gujarati style food they had cabbage as the vegetable for three days in a row.

Another restaurant that has been in business for many years and sells many different sweets, the quality of buffet seems to be highly inconsistent. I have seen chefs add boiled water to dishes on the buffet bar. Some of these restaurants call themselves vegetarian but I have a suspicion that the Paav in Paav-Bhaji and the noodles they use contain eggs. For a vegetarian that is an issue. When I questioned the owners they advised me to eat something else on the menu. To me this is a matter of ethics. The most troublesome part for me about all these owners is that they do not seem to like feedback. My American friends love the fluffy naan bread. Unfortunately, the naan bread or chapati at these restaurants is either raw, undercooked or burnt. One owner defended the state of naan by saying that he had not heard any complaints from others. On one occasion when I pointed out that the potato dish on the buffet bar seemed raw and under cooked, the owner attempted to humor me by saying that I had come in too early and that within a couple of hours the potatoes would have been cooked. We the people deserve better.

Good vegetarian Indian food is simple, fresh, served hot, has the right balance of spices, cooked to the appropriate extent and uses natural ingredients.

These restaurants continue to use artificial colors and preservatives when they could easily do without such additives. And what makes me say “Ata mhaji satakli” is that some of the new comers to the Indian restaurant business are treating these businesses as cash cows. They know desis have money and seem to exploit the “Chalta Hai” mentality.

It is time we the Indians demand ethics, transparency and quality. I hope you agree. We the CONSUMERS deserve better!

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