I struggle with Indian food, but that’s mostly because I’m unfamiliar with what it actually is. The signs on the buffet displayed above the dishes didn’t do much to help — idli, sambar and gobi mutter didn’t give me any clarity. As it turns out, idli are steamed rice cakes and sambar is a vegetable stew made with tamarind, which is prevalent in Indian food. Gobi mutter, however, remains a mystery to me.
On that first visit I blindly ate my way through my plate, and while I know that I ate goat, lentils, and coconut rice, I’d be hardpressed to name any of the dishes.
For my next visit I met a friend, again for the lunch buffet. I fared a tad better this time and had more than one helping of the aloo gobhi, cauliflower and potatoes cooked in a blend of tomato and cumin-flavored curry sauce. It was also at this visit that I noticed a fellow diner approach the counter, pay his bill, then take a spoonful from a bowl sitting on the counter and toss whatever he’d put in his hand into his mouth. When my friend and I took our turn at the counter I figured out the strange sight. It was a bowl of fennel seeds. Fennel is a powerful digestive aid, and I was absolutely charmed as I took my own handful and headed back to work.
My boyfriend and I returned for dinner a few weeks later, having done some research. We ordered the classic idli ($3.99) for an appetizer and were presented with a plate of three steamed rice cakes, which we dipped into the accompanying sauces and chutneys as we pored over the menu. Freshly back from England, where we enjoyed fresh naan bread from a neighborhood bakery with a homemade chicken curry, we quite fancied ourselves cosmopolitan, well-traveled eaters. He ordered the chicken tikka masala ($10.99) after being assured that it would not be spicy, and I ordered the chicken biryani ($10.99). Although I do like a bit of spice, I asked for my entrée to be mild. I know that my Michiganbred taste buds are typically no match for ethnic cuisine.
Any ideas I had about knowing our way around Indian food left me as the waiter brought my chicken biryani and set on the table a bowl heaped with chicken and rice that was positively the color of fire. Questions started to swirl through my mind as I took my first bites: Will I be able to handle this? Why is there a hard-boiled egg in this bowl? Can anyone see that I’m starting to sweat? Why did the waiter even ask me how spicy I wanted it if he knew he was going to torture me? Have I turned into a dragon yet?
After a few more moments of my wheels frantically churning, the waiter came back to the table and asked if it wasn’t maybe a bit hot for me. I agreed with him, he took the dish away, and a few minutes later he returned with a new dish, one that looked much less fiery. Why he didn’t bring me that one in the first place also remains a mystery.
Through my mental calisthenics and eventual panic, the boyfriend happily made his way through his chicken tikka masala, cubes of roasted chicken in a creamy tomato sauce. He dragged our excellent garlic naan bread through the sauce and was happy as a clam while I plowed through a pitcher of water and lamented leaving my sweatband in my gym bag.
After three visits I still wasn’t confident in my limited knowledge of Indian food and, when I happened upon an Indian lunch buffet while in Novi a while later I decided to go for comparison sake. While I can assure you that I remain a novice when it comes to Indian cuisine, the quality of food at Persis was remarkably better than the other place. Everything was fresh and hot (both temperature and fire breathing dragonwise). When the waiter noticed my distress he was quick to make a correction and brought fresh plain yogurt that I could use to temper the spice.
If you’re feeling adventurous, or you need to sweat off a few pounds before wedding season hits, Persis is your place.