Some of my favorite childhood meals were eaten at the ubiquitous snack carts of Bombay (now Mumbai)–dosas at Juhu Beach, spiced milkshakes at Chowpatty Beach, bhel puri at the stand on Linking Road, thali’s at Shoba. The closest I’ve come to getting that style of food in Austin is at a little place called Swad on North Lamar.
Two caveats: Swad only serves vegetarian food (atlhough I’ve taken lots of friends there and they’ve never missed the meat); Swad serves the equivalent of Indian Fast food so expect about the same level of service as a Taco Cabana–you stand in line to get your food, you get your own water and utensils. Service can be a bit slower than a fast food place particularly if they have a cook missing in the kitchen. That being said, if you’re craving this style of food it is difficult to get anywhere else in the city (in fact in quite a few cities I’ve visited).
In Chicago they argue what place has the best Thali, in Bombay they argue what place has the best Thali. I remember stopping at little restaraunts on the way to the mountains near Bombay just because someone had recommended the Thali. A Thali is a selection of different dishes usually served in a round stainless steel plate with little stainless steel bowls. The bowls are filled with different dishes–dal, raita, chola, vegetables, pickle. Swad gives you a choice fo flat bread–rotis (not fried, similar to tortilas) or puris (fried and puffy) and a variety of vegetables and dals. Unlike most places in India you don’t get refills but there’s plenty of food.
Want to see an impressive crepe? Order the dosa. Dosa are crepes made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils. They can be served plain (sada) or stuffed with potatoes. I prefer plain. They are usually served with a variety of chutneys and sambar (a spicy lentil soup). I prefer Swad’s to other places in town because they’re not as oily. I’ve tried a number of the other dishes at Swad and liked each of them, chole bhatura, pani puri (small crisp puri’s that you fill with a spicy water), sev puri. Can you believe that they serve all this food from street stalls in India?
If you want to get a unique taste of India, be adventurous and try out Swad. Austin Food Data Bank has review of Swad where the food is described in detail. Might be useful if you are not familiar with these dishes. After eating at Swad, pop into the Taj Grocery store next door. It’s a great place to get fresh spices a lot cheaper than you can at Whole Foods.
Swad, 9515 N Lamar Blvd # 156, Austin, TX 78753, (512) 997-7923