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A UNR student from India looked around Reno for the taste of home

Thali serves vegetarian thalis—traditional meals made up of a variety of foods on one platter—that taste like India.

Thali serves vegetarian thalis—traditional meals made up of a variety of foods on one platter—that taste like India.


It’s been over 300 days since I left my home in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and moved here to study journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. I have struggled with homesickness, and I now live by myself for the first time, which has been challenging. But the biggest struggle has been answering one question—what am I going to eat today?

My mother was wise to send me here with a lot of packed spices and food. Although it took me a few burns and cuts to master the art of Indian cooking, the food that comes out of my kitchen in Reno is edible and, in fact, tasty. On occasion, I have run out of spices, but all it took was a trip to one of the Indian grocery stores in Sparks and Reno to pump up the supplies.

As I’ve cooked Indian food for myself and my Reno friends, I’ve learned that a lot of Americans find the spiciness of Indian main dishes and the sugar in Indian sweets both a bit much. Almost every Indian savory dish contains at least two teaspoons of chili powder—and some fresh green peppers, too. Sometimes, I miss the punch of spices and the hit of chili, while my friends from other countries sweat and cry tears when they eat the very same dishes. This led me to wonder how the restaurants in Reno deal with the issue of varying taste buds.

So, I took a tour of some of Reno’s Indian restaurants, and although there are not a multitude of them here, there is some good food to indulge in.

Heat adjustment

Craving a sense of home when I first set foot in Reno, I tried India Kabab & Curry, 1091 S. Virginia St. This restaurant is known for its lunch buffet, which is common in restaurants in India. Here, classic Indian dishes, accented with the colors of turmeric and chili, were a feast to my senses. That smell of rich spices conjured the feeling of sitting in my house, watching my mother and grandmother cook. The nostalgia hit me hard.

When cooking for American friends, the hardest part is creating a balance of spices. For a potluck, I cooked the classic chickpeas curry with one fourth the spice that I would normally use, and, ever since then, my friend refuses to eat any food I cook, as she no longer trusts my heat radar.

Gurdip Kaur, who co-owns India Kabab & Curry with her husband, Bishan Singh, has a similar problem to mine when cooking for Americans—and it’s not just the heat that needs to be changed. Cooking Indian food is a type of art form. If you ask my mother or grandmother to give you a recipe, they would not mention quantities. For them, cooking is mostly done by touch and sight, and changing the ratio of chili in a dish could make it completely out of balance.

“We try to keep it as authentic as possible, but the balance of spices is critical,” said Kaur.

She found a good balance, and I decided that on days when I crave a taste of good Indian food, going to a buffet is my best solution.

Biryani by way of California

Anyone who knows Indian food knows the staple dishes such as naan and chicken tikka masala. These are from northern India. Foods from my native southern India are harder to find in the U.S. Living without dosa, a crepe made of lentils and rice, breaks my heart. Biryani, though, is one Indian dish that’s prominent throughout India and not too hard to find in the states. It’s a spiced rice dish with meat or eggs, and it is so popular that I have seen some of my friends in India eat it seven days a week. I have never been a huge fan of biryani, though, probably because I’m not someone who could eat the same food on consecutive days.

Bawarchi Indian Cuisine, 9333 Double R Blvd., is a chain from California, famous for its biryani and curries. Although this restaurant is new to Reno, it’s already popular among both Indians and Americans. It has an extensive menu of over 100 dishes. Most of them seem alien to me, since they’re from different regions of the country than I am, so I wondered how they appear to Americans who have not grown up hearing weird-sounding names such as punugulu, which is a rice and lentil fritter.

I talked with Drew Sheehy, a native of Reno who lives across the street from the restaurant. He’d ordered the curry goat and garlic naan. He was quite pleased with his seemingly exotic meal, and he also spoke highly of the chicken cooked in spinach sauce that he’d had during a previous visit.

“I like the flavor of curry and curry dishes especially,” Sheehy said.

Finding home

Thali started as a once-a-week pop-up restaurant inside DeLuxe Café on Wells Avenue, which is now closed. It shifted to a small building at 148 West St. where they serve thalis—meals comprised of a variety of dishes served on one platter. This is a very common way to eat in the northern regions of India.

The secret to Thali’s success is the mother’s touch in the food.

“The head cook is my mom, Amarjit Kaur, who runs everything,” said owner Sukhjit “Serj” Johal. “It is family-run with my mom, myself, my wife and my aunt. Everyone else is friends who wanted to help out. … My mom makes all the food by hand. She even rolls every single roti that goes out by herself.” Roti is a flatbread made from whole grain flour that’s a constant on every dining table back home. Kaur and her family and friends serve it alongside a variety of Indian classics such as dal, spinach with paneer—a fresh-made cheese—curry, pinto beans and rice.

Most of the food and produce in India is organic and produced by independent farmers, since farming is one of the main occupations in the country. Keeping true to tradition, Johal procures most of his produce from the Great Basin Community Food Co-Op and local farmers.

Kaur is vegetarian, as are most families in India, and as head chef she deemed that the restaurant should serve only vegetarian food.

I was a vegetarian for 17 years, so, for me, it was fascinating to find authentic, delicious, vegetarian Indian food in the country of beef and burgers.

Although the restaurant serves north Indian food, it hit close to home with its authenticity and flavors. In India, food is always a family affair, and in most households the women crowd into the kitchen to cook up a meal with variety. That is exactly what I found here—and it was like coming home.