India Garden brings an experience that transcends culture
Across the bleak dining landscape of Garland’s southern border there is an oasis, an India Garden, that is. It may be miles away from the Dallas food scene, but owner Sunny Maliakil says that shouldn’t stop you.
“What I believe about the Indian restaurant is that it’s a destination restaurant. When you’re driving by and you’re hungry, you won’t pull into an Indian restaurant, you’ll go to someplace else.”
What makes India Garden worth the trip is its constantly changing offering of food. Unlike many other Indian restaurants that choose to cook North Indian cuisine, India Garden delves into South Indian dishes that are rarely found elsewhere. Indian restaurants and catering businesses have fallen victim to insufferable lassitude, serving up haggard favorites like chicken tikka, butter chicken, mattar paneer, tandoori chicken—all alongside naan. Yet, this is an oversimplification of an entire subcontinent’s cuisine.
“India is a very diverse country. Each state has its own language, its own alphabet, its own cuisine. When you say ‘Indian food’ to people overseas, they’re thinking North Indian food.”
India Garden is a break from the North Indian routine, giving a wide variety of items in a buffet format as well as myriad individual-order options.
“Buffet is a style of eating. The buffet is there because the customer may not know about the food. They can’t order from a menu so they go to a buffet. They’ll take a little bit, some they like and some they don’t like … it’s an education.”
With the exception of chick peas, India Garden does not buy canned food. Maliakel is proud of the fact that India Garden doesn’t buy premade pastes, a major component of Indian cuisine, but also a time-consuming part of preparation. Despite having several business ventures on the side, Maliakel spends much of his time ensuring that India Garden is more than a standard restaurant.
“We’re in a franchised, cooperate community now. Everyone was born with McDonald’s. There’s no cooks here, no chefs here; there’s just food handlers. What they do is they go to a microwave and press ‘1’ or press ‘2.’”
Maliakel preaches freshness, cleanliness and authenticity. Other than reducing the average level of spiciness, the fare at India Garden sticks to traditional recipes and methods. Chicken tikka masala is a common introduction to Indian food, and has turned into a much richer and creamier dish as it has made its way overseas, but Maliakel wants to bring the dish back to its roots.
“Chicken tikka masala is our most popular Indian dish. In Indian restaurants our flagship product is chiken tikka masala. In America, people use heavy cream, some people use milk. but when you go to India or London, you will not get chicken tikka masala with heavy cream or any cream because adding heavy cream appeals to American sweet tooths… In India we use almond milk or cashew milk. I don’t use heavy cream.”
“To me, food is god. God gave you the food, so you’ve got to consider it as quality stuff. This is something people enjoy eating, so there’s no alternatives.”
For Maliakil, food is about health and happiness. The restaurant features a surprising amount of vegetarian dishes and is meant to promote family get-togethers as well.
“Everybody has a passion. My passion is that when people are sitting down, relaxing and eating, I’m happy. For all the hard work we do behind the scenes, the reward is the repeat customers.”
In 2001, Maliakel was in Manhattan working as Company Business Manager for Burger King. When the Twin Towers collapsed, the Burger King on Liberty Street was unharmed, allowing Maliakel to step in and offer both food and his knowledge of Manhattan infrastructure as emergency workers sorted through the wreckage.
It’s obvious that Maliakel derives a sense of satisfaction from bringing food and a sense of happiness to people. Thankfully this is a trait that transcends culture and allows people to come together for conversation and good food, Indian or otherwise.