Getting Your Indian Fix in Denton

Getting Your Indian Fix in Denton
Digital Art by Shea Scott

By Rob Curran

Shaun Ryder, the lead singer of the Happy Mondays, famously left England for Barbados to kick heroin because the Caribbean nation was devoid of the substance. Ryder was unable to find heroin in Barbados, but very able to find crack cocaine.

Indian food in Denton was as scarce as heroin on Barbados when I moved here in 2009. I substituted Pizza Patron’s $3 pizza, the world’s first crack-cocaine edible. Sometimes, I would nibble on the end of a slice, and the entire cheese triangle would become unmoored from the crust. I tossed back my head and gulped that two-square feet of mozzarella down like a Great Dane.

About seven years ago, Sangam moved in next door to Patron, the other side of the laundromat. They still serve the best Indian buffet in town. They also deliver, which got me through the Pandemic. You couldn’t travel more than 400 yards, but, with a quick phone call, Sangam took you to the fragrant alleyways of Calcutta, the buoyant orange of the chicken-submerging sauce evoking Brahmin monk robes or a tiger’s base coat.  

In the last 10 years, the South Asian, meaning Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Nepali and Sri Lankan, population of North Texas has boomed. Almost one in ten people in Collin County and almost one in 20 in Denton County now identify as South Asian. In Texas as a whole, the number of Indian Americans roughly doubled to more than 430,000 in the decade up to the 2020 census, second only to California. A life-sized statue of Mahatma Gandhi was put up by the Indian community in Irving, in 2014. 

The University of North Texas has recruited heavily in India and South Asian nations, and has become reliant on the South Asian students’ work in campus service industries. As a result of this influx, the Indian food scene in Denton is incredibly rich and diverse. If you’re a curry fan, Desi Adda at the old Sweetwater location on South Elm is the place for you. The name refers to the Calcutta tradition of embracing diversity, and roughly translates to “welcoming Indian vibes.” The youthful staff and laid-back atmosphere fulfill this promise (I found it endearing that the restaurant once received a citation for setting off fireworks).  The food would impress at a London curry house. The vibrant red Andhra sauces, a style of curry developed in the Southeastern state Andhra Pradesh, create an internal oral firework display all of their own. To complete the embrace of cultural diversity, I usually buy an imported Cadbury’s chocolate bar, a fellow survivor of the British imperial system who cannot kick the empire’s confections.

For biryani, which is a rice-based feast with variants all over India, and most popular in the South,  the best spot is Namaste. Namaste is across the street from another favorite of Denton’s Indian scene, the Bhavya’s Indian grocery store, more on which further below.

Biryani traces its roots back to Persia, which engaged in a centuries-long cultural exchange with India. The word in Farsi means basically “double-fried.” Long-grained basmati rice is cooked in the juices of a pre-cooked sauce or meat, with saffron and other spices added for coloring. In the best versions, like Namaste’s, the meat is concealed in a veil of fluffy rice, and part of the joy of the meal is uncovering it. The tartness and extreme spiciness of the meat portion is a pleasing contrast to the fresh and feathery rice. Best of all, Namaste runs lunchtime biryani specials so you can have this subtle delight for the price of a cheeseburger special at a drive-in.

Spicy Chowk is a new Nepali restaurant in the sprawly mally area on 288. If anything is spicier than Indian food, it might be Nepali food. An anthropologist friend of mine suffered internal burning when he overloaded his naan bread with the dip at a party in Nepal; and he had already spent three years acclimatizing his gut to the heat. The Spicy Chowk food lives up to this heritage of fire. The restaurant decor gives it the feel of a small, somewhat generic diner, but the food served tastes like it’s made by a private chef. My Dal Tadka was particularly excellent. This yellow lentil dish was as variegated with flavor layers as any meat sauce.

Spicy Chowk also serves the Momo, a Nepali dumpling, and a range of fun fusion dishes from spicy fries to Hawaiian fried rice and sausage on a stick. Classic Indian dishes such as Tikki Masala and Tandoori are also on the menu. Chicken tandoori is never a bad order. I’ve ordered the spice-infused chicken dish in both Sangam and Desi Adda to great satisfaction. You can learn how to make it yourself here, using the spice package sold in Bavya’s grocery.  Bavya’s feels like a portal to the subcontinent. There are large sacks of rice of various grains, several plastic Ganesh elephant-headed icons and many brightly coloured snacks and spice racks.  

The subcontinental boom in Denton puts us at the center of the American melting pot, and the flavors coming out of that pot are an addiction worth chasing.