Americans tend to think of Indian food as a single, monolithic cuisine consisting of basmati rice, assorted curries, and tandoori chicken. In reality, Indian food is as diverse as the country itself, where 1.2 billion citizens speak more than 300 languages, and each of the nation's more than two dozen states features at least a few regional specialties of its own.
Established in 2003, Taj Palace serves plenty of dishes most Indian food lovers will recognize. The restaurant's specialty is the Southern Indian food the owners grew up eating in their home village of Velvadam in Andhra Pradesh, in the kite-shaped country's southeast quadrant. The region is known for biryani, a layered rice dish with spices and vegetables; dosa, a thin, crispy crepe wrapped around spiced vegetables or meat; and sambal, a spicy soup/dip typically served with dosas.
Pullareddy Lakireddy, aka "Reddy," is the face of Taj Palace and the person who is most likely to greet you when you enter the downtown Bend eatery. His wife, Nagina, works in the kitchen with her sister, Lakshmi, and a few other family members. Everyone speaks Telugu as a first language; Reddy also speaks Hindi and English.
When I arrived last Sunday, Nagina was making paneer, a mild cheese that can be fried, grilled or sautéed for use in a myriad of popular dishes including saag paneer (with spinach) and mutter paneer (with green peas in creamy sauce). She boiled whole milk, added white vinegar, and wrapped the resulting curds in a clean towel to drain and firm up in the refrigerator.
Nagina and crew make all the curries fresh every day, starting with fried onions and tomatoes, which are blended, then spiced generously with garam masala and a ginger-garlic paste. All curries are naturally gluten-free, and the kitchen is completely peanut-free. "Many customers have serious allergies, so we want to be extremely careful," says Reddy.
917 NW Wall St., Bend