Priya Indian Cuisine offers healthful, delicious vegetarian fare
Preservation or deliverance from destruction, difficulty or evil.
I am not a foodie. I am not a critic. I am not a vegetarian. What I am is a man searching for a pathway to salvation through food.
Vegetarian food, to be exact.
As one who lives with multiple sclerosis, the stakes are high when my relationship with food becomes destructive. Fast-food temptations and junk-food traps—greasy burgers and fries, super-sized sodas, and thick slices of pizza made with processed flour, and loaded with processed cheese and fatty, processed meats—while inadvisable for anyone, are even more unhealthful for folks with MS. Tummy aches, body pain and sick days are the difficult reminders that I need to eat more healthful food. As my war wounds mount, the idea of finding salvation by adopting a diet inclined toward more vegetables and fruit in order to reduce MS-related relapses has begun to take hold.
I am at the beginning of this veggie-led journey and I am not alone. My wife and young daughter are with me.
We went one evening to dine at Priya Indian Cuisine to partake in what has become my favorite vegetarian food in Chico. At 6 p.m. on a Monday in late-summer, the restaurant was invitingly serene.
The sun, on its westerly descent, peeked in through window blinds, casting angled shadows across the large dining space. Three of Priya’s walls, painted a curry-like, goldenrod yellow, are complemented by the Merlot-colored accent wall that greeted us as we entered. The color contrast of the walls was soothing. A glass-topped cabinet on which the cash register sits is fronted with two ornately carved panels depicting scenes of village life from an India of lore.
Raj Raddy, Priya’s owner, welcomed us in with a warm, inviting smile.
Now I am not an expert on Indian culture. What I am is a man searching for a pathway to salvation through food. Vegetarian food, to be exact. I have learned that vegetarianism as a part of Indian culture has roots in both Buddhist and Hindu religions. It’s an extension of the philosophy of nonviolence. According to a 2006 survey by India’s national newspaper, The Hindu, nearly one-third of India’s population is vegetarian. Accordingly enough, one-third of Priya’s menu consists of vegetarian dishes. On this particular night, we chose to delight in several of Priya’s vegetarian offerings.
Truly a family business, Raddy’s sister, Deayeatri, creates the culinary confections that Raddy himself has chosen for the Priya menu. Raddy’s wife, Sreaveani, waited on us, bringing out our dishes and taking the time to explain the ingredients and preparation. Though not vegetarian, Raddy and his family consistently present non-meat entrées with the same passion as they do the restaurant’s meat-centric meals.
We started the meal with the complementary papadam (fried bread made with chick-peas, flour, salt and pepper) and a trio of sauces. My wife’s favorite, the mint sauce, was both sweet and savory, with a flavor that hinted at its ingredients—mint (of course), lemon zest, cilantro, bell pepper, onion and yogurt. The tomato sauce was a bit spicier due to the jalapeño peppers and Indian spices. My daughter loved it. The coconut sauce (coconut milk, chickpeas, and Indian spices) was my favorite.
For our appetizers, we chose the fritter-like spinach pakoras ($4.95) and masala dosa, a potato-curry-stuffed dosa, or crepe ($5.95). The pakoras were served with a slow-cooked, sweet tamarind sauce that all three of us loved. The crispiness of the dosa was pleasantly juxtaposed against the texture of the delicious potato curry that contained peas, carrots, onion and curry spices.
There are 16 vegetarian meals offered on the Priya menu—from aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower cooked with special spices) to dal curry (lentils cooked with spinach and tomatoes) to mushroom mutter (mushrooms with green peas and spices). Each can be ordered either ala carte ($10.95), which includes the entrée, plain jasmine rice, and one plain tandoori naan flatbread; or thali (family) style ($13.95), complete with one main entrée, dal curry, sambar (thick lentil-vegetable soup), vegetable curry of the day, raita (homemade yogurt with cucumber and onions), plain basmati rice, one plain tandoori naan and a choice of dessert—gulab jamun (or “waffle balls”), rice pudding or fruit salad.
After devouring our appetizer, we went with ala carte versions of the dal curry, vegetable masala, and the navratan kurma (mixed vegetables in a creamy tomato sauce). All three came to the table in deceptively small metal bowls. Thinking the serving dishes too small, we wondered aloud if we should have gotten a fourth entrée (how American!). The answer, we would soon find, was a resounding no—the food was both savory and satiating.
Both the vegetable masala and navratan kurma had creamy tomato-based sauces with subtle, yet distinctly different flavors. The vegetable masala’s rich, buttery-flavored, smooth-textured sauce cradled the carrots, onions, snap peas, soy beans and green beans, while the sauce for the navratan kurma—which also included tofu and cauliflower—seemed to draw its almost-smoky flavor from being cooked with the vegetables, rather than being added later. The dal curry nicely complemented the somewhat meaty texture of the mashed lentils used in the dish.
We all felt physically satisfied, but for me there was an added sense of physical/spiritual symmetry that I had only ever superficially achieved in my relationship with food.
I imagine my journey for health salvation through vegetarian eating will be wrought at times with temptations to answer the call of health-robbing junk food, but if the mouth-watering vegetarian delights of a restaurant such as Priya Indian Cuisine are my rewards along the way, I suspect that victory is certain.