Growing up, we never ate Indian food. My parents generally eschewed anything with even a reputation of being spicy, so no Korean, no Indian, no Thai (we went out for Thai once, and the new flavors literally made my dad ANGRY), and nothing from a Chinese menu with a flame or pepper icon next to it. Back in the ’90s, even Mexican was a rare treat for me, and that usually meant driving through Taco Bell — which helped sustain me through high school and college.
When more adventurous friends introduced me to Indian food, it opened me up to a whole new world of flavors and spices, but it was still a rare event to go out for Indian. I used to eat it once a year at most, usually by myself — sometimes even when I traveled to work conferences out of town. And I’d always seek out Indian buffets to maximize the number of different dishes I could sample and the amount of food I could eat. All-you-can-eat buffets are not only economical, but they are a great introduction to the cuisine for unfamiliar diners.
That said, India is a huge country — a whole subcontinent! — with many different regional styles of cooking. This really became apparent when I attended a festive weekend lunch at the Hindu Society of Central Florida’s temple earlier this year and enjoyed a vegetarian feast full of giant dosas and other unfamiliar offerings, all South Indian specialties. With that in mind, Indian buffets are going to stick to the most popular, familiar dishes that American palates are used to, and probably nothing too intimidating or spicy. There are a lot of lamb dishes in Indian cuisine, which is great if you love lamb like I do, but since it’s a more expensive meat, I’ve never found a buffet that offered lamb. That’s too baaaaaaaad.
Since I started working with a particular colleague at the beginning of 2013, we’ve gone out to lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant for lunch more times than I can count. She’s vegetarian and loves Indian food, and I’m always happy to get out of the office and hang out with her. She is not only a legitimately good person who I’m honored to call a friend, but she’s amazing at her job, and I’ve learned so much from her over the years. I’m a better librarian and professor because of her ideas and influence, and thanks to our occasional lunches out, I’m also way more familiar with Indian food than I would be otherwise.
That restaurant is Moghul Indian Cuisine (http://www.moghulindian.com/), located on the east side of busy Semoran Boulevard, between Aloma Avenue to the north and University Boulevard to the south. Moghul has a very affordable lunch buffet ($8.95), but also a longer menu full of delicious dishes you can’t get from the buffet. I have recently decided to broaden my horizons and order a new entree on each subsequent visit.
Here’s a look at the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, which I have ordered from countless times, but decided to forego on my most recent two visits, which I’m reviewing here:
Since I started ordering off the menu, I get thin and crispy pappadams served at our table, the same ones available on the buffet. They come with spicy tomato and onion chutney, sweet and tangy tamarind chutney, and cool, creamy, and slightly spicy coriander and mint chutney.
I love samosas, but in all my lunch visits to Moghul where I ordered off the buffet, I had never ordered them. I decided to order the vegetable samosas ($3.95) on these two recent trips, and I realized I should have been ordering them all along. You get two in an order, so on both of these visits, I had one and gave the other to my vegetarian co-worker. The fried shell was very light, airy, and flaky — not greasy at all. The lightly curry-seasoned potatoes and peas inside were tasty, and that shell was really something special.
A look inside that samosa:
This was a non-vegetarian friend’s trip to the buffet. Looks like she got butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, and saag paneer (the stewed spinach in the top right), among other things — all Indian buffet classics.
And my vegetarian colleague got all this good stuff, including eggplant, pakoras (vegetables breaded in chick pea flour and fried until crunchy), and naan bread.
On one recent visit I ordered the Goan dish lamb vindaloo ($13.95) for the first time ever, and I was brave and ordered it HOT. Not “Indian hot,” because I still had to go back to work, but not my usual, safe medium either. And I am relieved to report I could handle it just fine. Moghul’s menu describes vindaloo as “lamb marinated with vinegar, chilies and spices,” and it definitely had an acidic tang to it, no doubt from the vinegar.
Apparently vindaloo has Portuguese roots, and historically it called for meat to be marinated in wine and garlic. Along the way, and especially as the dish rose in popularity in British Indian cooking, palm vinegar replaced the wine. But I love vinegar, so it’s all good!
On my second, more recent trip, I ordered a different lamb dish, the Kashmiri dish rogan josh ($13.95), also HOT. Once again, it was delicious, and once again, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to handle the heat. The menu describes this dish as “lamb cooked in curry sauce with yogurt, tomato and spices.” This sauce was richer and thicker than the vindaloo — not as tangy, despite the addition of tomato. I liked it so much I slurped up all the leftover sauce with a spoon after finishing the chunks of tender lamb, no additional rice required! Despite my pledge to try new things every time, I would totally order the lamb rogan josh again.
Since these entrees don’t come with bread, I ordered onion kulcha ($3.50) for the first time ever with my vindaloo, as an alternative to the standard naan. Like naan, kulcha is a bread baked in a tandoor (a clay oven), and this one is stuffed with onions, cumin, and cilantro. I loved it so much!
Even though I am forcing myself to order a new entree every time, I had to get that onion kulcha again on my second recent visit, to accompany the rogan josh. It was so rich and buttery and soft and fragrant. I just love sauteed onions and soft, fluffy, buttery bread. They probably use ghee in the kitchen at Moghul; I am happy to clarify that.
I drive by Moghul almost twice a day on my way to and from work, and it sure is tempting to order just onion kulcha every night on my way home. I can’t do it, but have I thought about it?
(What I’m really going to have to do is learn to make my own onion kulcha at home, and maybe regular naan bread too, if it can be done without a tandoor. But I’m going to leave the rest of this deliciousness to the professionals.)
The good news is Moghul is close to work, my co-worker loves Indian food even more than I do, and I have every intention of returning often to keep expanding my palate, both in terms of new dishes and spice levels. Just keep in mind that Moghul is closed on Mondays.