India Direct, My Workplace Cafeteria

by Steve, June 8th, 2007

I guess I’ve never done a food review on this blog (judging by the fact that I just had to add a “Food” category). But my coworker this morning pointed out that maybe I was born on the wrong continent when we were discussing where to go for lunch.

“I was thinking India Direct. Or maybe Lentil Garden,” I said. That’s when he made his comment. I responded that no, maybe I just chose the wrong continent to be vegetarian on. But luckily the Indians came and saved me from baked potatoes and salad bars.

I work in the “Silicon Forest”, the western suburbs of Portland, Ore., home to major Intel and IBM plants and offices. There is a pretty good-sized South Asian population here, and a handful of Indian restaurants. Some great, some okay, some, eh, not so great. India Direct is my default lunch destination, for reasons I will describe below. If you’re ever in Beaverton, be sure to stop by and check it out. India Direct is actually a grocery store with a lunch counter in the back.

I describe it as a lunch counter, but it specializes in vegetarian “chaat”, or snack foods. Don’t be put off by that, though; these are some serious snack plates, different from what most Americans think of when they think of Indian food.

My favorite is aloo tikki cholle, potato patties fried on a griddle, smothered in cholle (garbonzo bean curry), two kinds of chutney and topped with shredded daikon radish and cilantro. An alternate version of this is available, samosa cholle, which has two samosas (deep fried pastries filled with potatoes and peas), smashed and smothered in the same manner.

Another favorite of mine is the Masala Dosa, a crepe-like roll-up of spicy potatoes and onions served with chutney and a bowl of sanbar (soup). They also do a special “crazy chaat”, a cold dish with chips, potatoes and garbonzos smothered with yogurt and chutneys.

Hungry yet? I’ll keep going. A favorite quick meal after playing lunch-hour hockey is the cholle batura, which is basically fry-bread served up with cholle and Indian pickle.

If you’re really hungry (and you’d have to be to not be satisfied by the samosa cholle), you can get one of three thali plates. The all-India thali includes cholle, dal, the vegetable of the day, roti (bread), rice, raita (yogurt) pickle and desert. The regular thali has dal, veg of the day, raita and pickle. The sadhu thali is just dal, rice and yogurt.

Sounds good, eh? But the real treat is the price. All of the “chaat” items are under $4.00. Add a cup of chai (tea), and you’re well-fed for under $5.00. That’s unheard of these days, unless you’re talking fast food. And this is some quality stuff, cooked up before your eyes by Lisa, a very talented and friendly Mexican woman.

She doesn’t speak much English (or Hindi, from what I’ve heard), but she speaks Indian food just fine. Some days she makes an extra spicy sauce, and will add it to your dish. Be careful of this. I love spicy food, but she’s got a hidden sadistic streak. “Spicy?” she asks, smiling innocently. Spicy is an understatement. (We’ve had some awkward conversations in Spanglish about Mexico and the fact that her special red “chutney” is really a Mexican style red sauce.)

The proprietor knows me by name, and is always friendly and welcoming, which just adds to the list of reasons India Direct is my workplace cafeteria. Wacky Mommy gets jealous of me always eating this yummy food, so I bring it home for dinner quite a bit. The only thing I don’t like about India Direct is that they’re closed on Monday. Monday’s are tough.

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