My dad was born in Chennai, a city on the southernmost tip of India. My mother was born in a neighboring village called Vellore. Chennai and Vellore are both part of the state of Tamilnadu, a region that’s literally known for how much its people eat. Other regions of India like to joke that we Tamilians are always munching on sweets and sopping up sambaar with vadai after vadai. Tamilians are known for eating. The owner of Malgudi Garden is a Tamilian. Therefore, it only makes sense that the food there is fantastic.
In all seriousness, I am very picky about eating Tamilian food outside of the house. So many restaurants in this area are prone to messing it up. However, I love Malgudi Garden. My whole family does. It’s where we go to celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or graduations or… Sundays. Which is why I was so excited to experience the restaurant with my coworkers.
The best way to experience this South Indian restaurant is the buffet. The lunch buffet is open 7 days a week and is usually laden with at least ten South Indian dishes, two sweets, and chai.
*A quick note on chai. Chai literally translates to tea. There is no chai tea. That would be “tea tea”.
Malgudi Garden is a pure vegetarian restaurant and most of the dishes they offer are traditional, but they do experiment with fusion cuisine as well. I’ve seen ompodi pizza there. When the Plano Profile editorial team went, I saw broccoli soup, sweet potato fries, and “healthy rice”, which was kind of like puloa made with quinoa instead of rice. In all honesty, I usually just go for the traditional stuff, because they taste just like dishes that you could get at a restaurant in India.
Another bonus about Malgudi Garden is that they always know what’s gluten-free on their menu. This is not the case with all Indian restaurants. As someone that’s Indian and gluten-intolerant, I really appreciate how each and every waiter at this restaurant can tell me with certainty what to avoid.
On my visit with the editorial team, I loaded my plate with tomato puloa, a moist, tomato-based fried rice, spicy okra curry, and palak paneer (Indian cheese in creamy spinach sauce). The puloa was perfectly sauteed in oil and blossoming with tomato flavor. It wasn’t too spicy, but it did provide a kick. Upon eating it, I was transported back to my grandmother’s house in Vellore, eating the same dish off large palm leaves on the ground. My great-aunt knew I loved the dish and despite her arthritis, would cook it for me often.
The okra curry was a perfect thick, soupy texture and infused with spices. I’m somewhat spice-tolerant, so it didn’t send me running for water, but it did make my nose run a little (in the best way possible). The okra was cooked tender, and the whole dish complemented the puloa wonderfully.
The palak paneer was probably my least favorite of the dishes, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It was thick and creamy, and the paneer cubes were just spongy enough. However, it didn’t feel spicy enough to be palak paneer. The spinach flavor was really mild as well, so it felt more like the paneer was covered with thick heavy cream. I do know Rebecca enjoyed it though, for the reason that I didn’t: it was mild. To each his own!
Almost every time I have the buffet at Malgudi Garden, they have my favorite sweet out: mysurpa. Mysurpa is actually the most delicious Indian sweet (don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise). It’s made of sugar, water, gram flour, and ghee (crystal-clear clarified butter) crystallized into crumbly golden-brown cubes. When you put one mysurpa into your mouth, it melts almost instantly. The mysurpa at Malgudi Garden have the perfect amount of sugar. Just enough to be satisfying but still conservative and classy. The texture of the sweet is unrivaled by anything except the mysurpa my mom makes on my birthday every year, and when I go, I always have to eat at least one, but probably two or three.
The lunch buffet on the weekends includes appam, a spongy rice pancake large enough to eclipse a plate, served with thick, sweet coconut milk. Unfortunately, the buffet on weekdays does not include appam, but we were able to order separately. Appam is one of those dishes that you can’t make at home, so when I go to the restaurant with my family, everyone gets at least one. At weekend buffets, you can watch the chef make appam by spinning the dough around on an iron plate, but we just got it catered out to us from the kitchen. Regardless, it was still delicious. The outsides were perfectly crisped and as you got closer to the inside of the appam, it became spongier, and spongier. You eat appam from the outside in, tearing strips as you go and dunking it in the sweet coconut milk. My favorite part of the appam is the middle, which soaks in the milk until it’s sopping and saturated with sweetness.
After the meal, I got some fresh chai from the buffet to finish off. It was hot, billowing puffs of steam actually, and was made just like in India, with the ratio of milk to tea being almost 1:1. The chai was also lightly flavored with just a whisper of masala.
We left Malgudi Garden with happy, full bellies, and I got my dose of India, my dose of home. As a first-generation Indian-American, Plano is my home, but so is India. Food can give me the chance to remember that sometimes.