“Rumali roti,” my Indian friend explained as I leaned back in our booth, “is a feathery sort of naan. It’s very light and soft. We eat it with many of our meals back home.” As he was talking, our dishes arrived at the table in conspicuous silence—two steaming, oval bowls overflowing with chicken and apricot curry.
Kubli naan, a version of Indian bread stuffed with apricots and nuts, sat next to me as a quiet secondary to my entrée.
“Do you dip it in the curry?” I asked, unsure whether naan—or roti—should be used as a palate-cleanser or utensil.
“Either one,” he nodded, gently tearing his roti in half and scooping up a mound of curry-scented dried apricots with his spoon. Neither dish was dramatically pungent, but the spices worked their magic subtly beneath the quiet aromas.
“Philip,” I asked my friend between bites, “what’s actually in curry?”
His answer came with a chuckle: “There are too many to name. And they have to be used in just the right balance, or the whole dish is ruined.” Which is why, I suppose, I couldn’t—at least initially—pluck one flavor from my dish.
“How’s your roti?” I asked, distracting myself from my frustration.
“Well, it’s not quite like they make it back home,” he said, “but it’s pretty good.” And then he segued into stories of his childhood and family meals eaten from the same enormous dish. I, meanwhile, helped myself to his apricot curry.
We continued on in silence, me puzzling over spices—cumin? turmeric? white pepper?—and he, daydreaming about worriless days in the south of India. Slowly, the flavors became apparent, maturing with each additional bite. Apricots lent my friend’s curry an earthy sweetness, which was unique in its musty cue of pale yellow turmeric, nutty cumin and a hint of spice—cayenne pepper. But there was more: a trio of spices that reminded me somehow of holiday baking, of Christmas cookies. Clove! And cinnamon, lurking in the background. The chicken curry was equally as revealing, lacking the sweetness of fruit and suddenly forward in its mix of pungent coriander and salty cumin. The naan, however secondary it seemed at first, made up for any balancing sweetness the chicken curry lacked; it was both perfect companion and useful utensil. Spoons, after all, can only do so much.
In a matter of moments, the food was gone, bowls cleaned and table cleared.
“Philip,” I asked, unable to let it go, “is there usually cream in curry?” It was far too smooth, too rich to be made without some kind of indulgent dairy.
“Yes. Sometimes cream, sometimes yogurt.” He smiled at me and lounged back in his seat. We swapped stories from our childhoods and laughed at our respective ignorance of various cuisines—mine of Indian, his of European. In the back of the restaurant, an Indian family gathered around baskets of freshly baked naan and pappadam. Little girls sat on fathers’ knees; mothers talked on and on in Hindi. Around them, stretching back to the kitchen, the restaurant staff bustled with vindaloos, dals and kormas.
I don’t know what India is like—I’ve never been there. But I imagine, if I were to eat in India, it would feel a lot like Himalayas Restaurant. And of all places, it’s tucked away in Boulder.
2010 14th St., No. 1, Boulder
Bottom line: Satisfying, authentic food with quiet ambience and gracious service.