Travel Channel Feature: Raja Indian Fast Food and Sweets
Located in the heart of the Mahatma Gandhi district, Raja Sweets was a 2013 feature on the Travel Channel with Andrew Zimmern. This 28 year old establishment is by far the most authentic Indian restaurant in Houston. As an “eater”, I have always believed that if you’re looking for good Indian food, eat where the Indians eat. If you want good Japanese food, eat where the Japanese eat. If want good soul food, eat where the soul is…
I knew I was in the right place because Raja sweets had a steady stream of customers during my visit and most were heading straight to the plentiful and radiantly rich dessert display. Raja’s is definitely a place I will return to with my family. The service and food were impeccable and the cultural experience made me feel like I was on vacation in another country.
As an avid, self-pro-claimed dessert junkie, I jump at opportunities to sample sweet treats. Especially candies from other parts of the world. While watching a re-run of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” I learned of Raja Sweets. When I realized his location I immediately grabbed my pen and pad.
Upon entry I was drawn to the glass case that contained all the sweets and fried street foods. Jalebi, a shockingly bright orange funnel cake shaped candy beckoned me to come closer. I had to try one! Jelabi is made by deep-frying a wheat flour (maida flour) batter in pretzel or circular shapes, soaked in sugar syrup. They are particularly popular in the subcontinent during Ramadan and Diwali.
Though I’ve had tons of samosas in my life, these were perfect and consisted of a unique balance of potatoes and spice. The Pakora was scrumptious, there’s nothing like some good ole deep fried vegetables. Makes me feel like I’m getting back at the system when I eat fried, healthy stuff. I sampled a piece of the Chaat. A deep fried, mildly spicy wheat flour bread. I could have easily eaten these 3 things, and left, but no.
One thing I truly enjoyed about Raja was the quantity of food. This is a great place to enjoy “family style” service. My date and I tried 2 meals: the Chicken Curry with Rice and Chick peas, and the Lentils with Naan and Cauliflower.
The Naan here is like none other. I didn’t get to go into the kitchen but there must be a tandoor in there. There’s absolutely no way that a regular oven was doing that… because I have one of those. They sale Naan for a dollar per round. People where coming in just to buy it and after tasting the warm, pliable and soft bread, I totally get it!
Not being able to decide which sweets to try let me to order one of everything. Here is what I learned: Indian desserts are SWEET. Almost everything was soaked in syrup, made with syrup, or breaded and syruped. I personally (with the help of a couple loyal followers) tasted every single dessert and I will be honest with you..we spit out most Raja’s “sweets.”
The Gulab Jamun was good, but I could only handle a teeny tiny piece. The bread ball soaked in syrup was simply too sweet! Some of the Burfi was doable. The flavors of cashew and almond were more mute and tolerable. Same for the Chum Chum. Nope! I am not sure if it was the saffron, lemon juice, coconut or milk that lost me but something wasn’t right.
I plan to stick with the savory dishes during my next visit to Raja.