Any time you can find a restaurant where a good portion of the dishes evolve from the recipes of the owner’s mother, chances are you will not be disappointed. Add to that the fact that the mom in this case cooked three meals a day for her family in the Punjab region of India and well, I’m all over that. Such is the case at Royal India in Del Mar where owner Jag Kambo serves up some of the best Indian food I’ve had. I had a conversation with Jag recently to learn more.
What part of India did you grow up in and how does the cuisine of that region differ from other parts of the country?
India has predominantly popular food from North and South. North Indian food has savory appetizers like Samosas, Curries, Tandoori meats, Nans and yummy deserts like Gajar Halwa; and south Indian food is totally different then north Indian food. Southern Indian food is mostly vegetarian and seafood with rice and rice flour is used in almost all the dishes. I grew up in Chandigarh, capital city of Punjab Province where North Indian food originated. Chandigarh is such a food mecca for some really tasty and authentic north Indian food.
You mentioned that your mom cooked three meals a day at home, that is a lot of cooking! What were some of her specialties?
Growing up in India our mom would cook three meals everyday for us. Dishes like fish kebabs, goat curry, chicken Masala, Dal and paneer (homemade cheese) these are my favorite amongst the many dishes she prepared. Most of the recipes have been carried on for generations.
Do you incorporate any of your mom’s dishes into the menu at Royal India?
Yes, many of them derive from her recipes. We follow the same principals at Royal India as well, simple food, pure ingredients, recipes from mom and lots of love and passion.
How did Royal India come to be, do you have a background in restaurants?
I am an engineer by education and came to the US to further my education. My brother and I saw an opportunity in 1996 to open a different type of Indian restaurant that combined great ambiance with authentic cuisine from the Punjab region of India.
You have been open since 1996, a nice chunk of time in the restaurant world. You must be doing something right. What sets Royal India apart from other Indian restaurants in the area?
I’d say first off is our strict adherence to quality and fresh ingredients. We grind all our spices, bake our naan in-house and of course utilize mom’s recipes and pay full attention to the details. Combine that with our passion for what we do and the way we treat our patrons as our personal guests while ensuring that those unfamiliar with our cuisine are educated on their options.
What would you consider to be your top 5 dishes?
That’s a tough one as we have so much that is good! If I had to pick it would be chicken coconut pineapple, herb baked Salmon, vegetable chili ginger masala, lamb malai and Punjabi saag.
If I were to bring someone that is new to Indian food to Royal India, what would you suggest they try to ease into the cuisine?
A lot of people think all Indian food is very spicy and oily. Not at all, they probably didn’t try it at the right restaurant. At Royal India, all dishes are made fresh to your order and can be made mild, medium, hot or Indian hot. Traditional curries are too strong for a few people, so we created some fruity curries like coconut pineapple, mango pineapple and ginger tamarind for them.
You also offer a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes; can you give me some examples of those?
Royal India is a true vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurant. We have more then 20 vegan and at least 30 vegetarian entrees on the menu. Popular dishes arealoo gobi, eggplant bhartha, channa masala, and veggie mango pineapple.
Your desserts are quite nice also, what are some of your favorites?
Home made Kulfi (Indian Ice cream) comes in plain, mango and pistachio flavors and all of them are delicious.
Royal Indian is located at 3860 Valley Centre Dr., San Diego, 92130. Call (858) 792.1111 or check them out online at royalindiadelmar.com
Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday – Friday during the 7pm hour. David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (858) 395-6905.