Sunday Chaat

North meets South on NASA Road 1

The host at Annapurna South Indian Cuisine on NASA Road 1 brings some puffy pooris to our table. Served hot out of the oven, the paper-thin flatbreads look like inflated pancakes. I tear one apart and use some of the flimsy skin to wrap up a bite of buttery lamb curry and a dab of the creamed spinach and cheese called palak paneer. The daily lunch buffet at Annapurna is pretty good, but it isn't nearly as impressive as the weekend buffet, which must be one of the best Indian food experiences in Houston.

Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of food and cooking. In most likenesses, she holds a gem-studded bowl filled with food in one hand and a golden spoon in the other. There's a little shrine to her in the back of this unassuming shopping-center eatery. And I, for one, am ready to offer this restaurant and its goddess some praise. The Clear Lake crowd is lucky to have an Indian restaurant this good.

As in most South Indian restaurants, you get a dosa with the buffet. A dosa is even larger than a poori. It's a thin flatbread with a crispy crust rolled around a filling. Annapurna's dosas are about 18 inches long. They look huge but pale in comparison to really big dosas. The Woodlands Garden Cafe in Bombay reportedly serves a "family-style" dosa that's five feet long.

Northern-style curries share space with southern 
pooris at Annapurna's weekend buffet.
Troy Fields
Northern-style curries share space with southern pooris at Annapurna's weekend buffet.


Weekend dinner buffet: $10
Weekend lunch buffet: $9
Weekday lunch buffet: $7
Chicken korma: $8
Lamb kadai gosht: $9
Palak paneer: $8

Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Dinner: 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

1020 West NASA Road 1, 281-316-2662.

Like tacos, dosas are served many different ways. A plain dosa is made with rice flour; a bubbly kal dosa is made with fermented rice flour; and a rava dosa is made with a combination of rice and wheat flours. At Annapurna, you can get these with such fillings as butter, homemade cottage cheese, plain potato, spicy potato, or rice and lentils. The dosa that comes free with the buffet is the plain one filled with your choice of plain or spicy potatoes. Get the spicy.

The first time I got a dosa, I was confused about the discrepancy between the little bit of filling and the long expanse of flatbread. I tried my best to spread the filling along the length of the thing to make a proper taco. And then, to the amusement of nearby patrons, I attempted to pick the whole thing up and shove it in my mouth. Finally, somebody explained that you don't eat dosas the way you eat tacos. Instead, you tear off little pieces of the pancake and use them to wrap up some of the filling. It was one of those red-faced moments that put the "duh" in dining.

Once I got over the embarrassment of that first dosa, I came to love Houston's South Indian restaurants. The extensive yet inexpensive vegetarian buffets at places like Bombay Sweets (5827 Hillcroft), Madras Pavilion (3910 Kirby), Anand Bhavan (6662 Southwest Freeway) and Udupi Cafe (3559 Highway 6 in Sugar Land) are hard to beat for value. Madras Pavilion is also certified kosher, which makes it a popular holiday hangout for the Jewish community. (It's open Christmas Day.)

But for those of us who are neither vegetarian nor kosher, Annapurna goes the others one better. You can get all your favorite South Indian vegetarian dishes and breads here, but you can also get the fabulous North Indian lamb curries, chicken stew and fish.

In fact, the first time I looked over Annapurna's menu, I didn't even realize it was a South Indian restaurant. It was on a Sunday around dinnertime. After dropping off a friend at Hobby Airport, I swung by to pick up some food to go. I'd always been told that it was unfair to judge an Indian restaurant by its buffet, which is often loaded with cheap popular stuff like chicken tikka masala. So I ordered chicken korma, lamb kadai gosht, palak paneer and Manchurian cauliflower off Annapurna's menu. The manager took my order, but he was disappointed. He argued that the buffet was a better idea, especially on a Sunday night.

While I waited for my order, I browsed the buffet and watched some of the other patrons fill their plates. That's when I realized what an interesting blend of South and North Indian foods they had going on here. Tandoori, nan and meaty northern-style curries share the steam table with southern pooris, idlis and spicy vegetable dishes. And on the cold end of the buffet, an assortment of chutneys, pickles and raita surround the makings of the South Indian snack food called chaat. I took my food home, making a mental note to return on a Sunday night.

The korma (chicken stewed in a mild coconut-curry sauce) was a big hit ladled over jasmine rice. And so was the spinach, which was exceptionally rich and buttery. Most of the buttered cauliflower went uneaten. And I seemed to be the only one who liked the lamb kadai gosht. The lamb pieces were cooked on the bone with bell pepper in a tomato-and-onion curry sauce. It was a little too chewy and a little too spicy for my housemates.

The Moghlai cuisine of North India and Pakistan includes nan and other breads that are baked in the tandoori oven. South Indian cuisine has an even larger assortment of breads and batter cakes, but few are baked. There's the pancakelike poori and dosa, and then there's the steamed rice cake called idli that's often eaten topped with chutneys or lentils. There's also a fried herb and black pepper-flecked lentil flour doughnut called a vada that's quite pleasant dunked in the spicy vegetarian soup called sambar.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help