House of India sits on Snowden River Parkway just up from Akbar, our staple for northern Indian food like naan and tandoori chicken. Elizabeth Large's fun blog named House of India on a list of the Top 10 Restaurants in a Strip Mall along with Asean Bistro, Shin Chon Garden and Aida Bistro. Top 10, and I have never been? Really? "First," Large promised, "there are hidden gems here."
And there certainly are. House of India sits in a strip mall that is non-descript even for Columbia -- barely a blink as you drive past on Snowden River. But the doors open into a classy restaurant. Table cloths. Red-lined flatware. Warm stylish paint colors. White banquets. They're all really nice, and none of them can compare with the food.
First, they start you off with papadum, the crisp crackers that you can break into pieces and enjoy with three chutneys. Although you can buy them and make papad at home, Mrs. HowChow remembers them fondly from her favorite Indian restaurant from Los Angeles. After crunching an entire bowl, we started with bhel puri, a plate of rice puffs and crispy noodles tossed with tomato, cilantro and a tamarind sauce. It had the complexity of a great Thai salad -- crunchy, mixtures of sweet and sour, then a spicy flavor that came on at the end. The appetizer was also the size of a dinner plate. We barely ate half. One appetizer could have easily filled us both if we had spooned it all up.
Thank heavens we stopped because our entrees were Top 10 dishes as well. Chicken Kashmiri -- a chicken curry in a creamy sauce that tasted of nuts and sweetness, and Fish Angaar -- a whole rockfish cooked in the tandoor oven, served beautifully with charred skin and a delicious sauce laced with ginger. The fish was a tour de force. The flesh was moist and flavorful, and I used tongs to lift the fillet off the bones and then to pick off the delicious meat up near the head. This all came with a naan and a platter (not a mere bowl) of rice. I don't know what was in these dishes. They were not spicy like hot peppers. Instead, they were cooked with spices. Real skill in that kitchen gave everything the complex flavor that makes Indian food so exciting.
Not that we finished even half of the food. Mrs. HowChow ruefully noted that she was too full to even imagine ordering kheer, her favorite rice pudding dessert. House of India has an entire "carry out" station. A woman rolled over a cart outfitted with takeout bowls, small clamshell trays, and large clamshell platters. She wrapped each dish individually, then assembled it all in a plastic bag. We brought home two, maybe three meals.
(Update: House of India remains one of my favorites. The chicken tikka masala and a baingan bartha (eggplant) were great takeout on a recent rainy, cold night. They were spicy and delicious, although the naan never travels as well as I would hope. Consider keeping some frozen naan in your freezer from Apna Bazar in Laurel or or Desi Bazaar in Columbia. House of India's bread is splendid in the restaurant, but the frozen stuff can heat up in a few minutes at home. If you like mango lassis, order it without ice so that nothing melts in the car on the way home.)
Check out my favorite restaurants in Howard County. If you like Indian food, you should certainly check out my post about Indian restaurants across the county -- including the vegetarian and southern Indian options at Mango Grove and the Chinese-Indian fusion menu at Mirchi Wok. You can buy Indian groceries at Desi Market in Columbia or Apna Bazar in Laurel. Or click for the starting page for my "What I Learned" guide to food in Howard County.
This end of Snowden has a nice collection of food options, including Indian at Akbar, Vietnamese at An Loi Pho, and a small Mexican grocery at Mexican Bazaar.
House of India
9350 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045
NEAR: This is on Snowden between the Home Depot and Broken Land Parkway. It's one shopping center closer to the Home Depot than Akbar. If you are coming from Broken Land, you reach both of those centers by passing them on your left and then U-turning on Snowden.