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Buffet Maharaja: Can Indian food be bland?

moh | Mar 29, 2008 02:07 PM

Yes, apparently it can!

I found myself at Buffet Maharaja for lunch this week, now reopened after a fire earlier on in the year. The setting nice if somewhat unoriginal, and the place is very clean. The buffet if large, and there are a lot of choices of dishes, including the usual selection of non-Indian food (like pizza) for those who didn't want Indian cuisine. The place is packed! Of note, there were very few visible minorities there. Perhaps this was a clue.

Started with samosa, onion bahji and pakora with tamarind sauce. The samosa was a bit excessively doughy, and the potato filling bland. The bahji and pakora were good, it is hard to go wrong with deep-fried items. Tamarind sauce was very good, also hard to screw that up.

I blew off the salad bar and went on to a mixture of curries with rice and naan. The naan was very good, they make it in a tandoor oven, and it is very fresh and delicious. Rice is good, but nothing special. Butter chicken was tender, but the sauce was thin and uninteresting, although you could taste a lot of butter. Aloo gobi, vegetable curry, green beans with potato, all mild and a bit bland. Eggplant was bland but bitter, very disappointing. The spinach was pleasantly surprising. I took some out of guilt (I felt I needed green vegetables given my recent culinary excesses), but it looked unappealing and I thought it would be bitter. Instead, it was smooth, creamy and very flavourful. I ended up going for seconds on the spinach. Lamb with lentils, bland, but at least the lamb tasted like lamb and was very tender. The lamb vindaloo was very spicy hot, but underneath the spice, it was bland. There were not a lot of other flavours to give this dish depth behind the initial wallop of chile.

I then went onto dessert. The jelabi was inedible, the texture was completely wrong and unappealing. Gulab Jaman was very good. i also sampled some of the burfi, which was acceptable. I took a tiny spoonful of rice pudding, it had a nice floral rose flavour. Finished off with a couple cubes of jello (sorry, I like jello, and I only ever get it at buffets). The Jello was Jello, no surprises.

Needless to say, I did not try every dish offered. But I tried enough to get an idea. All of the food (with the exception of the jelabi - you really need to get jelabi from Pushab's when it is fresh - wow) was edible and seemed fairly fresh. Nothing was greasy, or badly cooked, or tough. But I was shocked to associate the word "bland" with a cuisine that one would think would be immune to this condition. I got the sense that the kitchen had dumbed down the spices to appeal to the business suits that favor this place. Too bad, I get the sense that the food in this place could be quite good if they dared to increase the spices (and I don't mean hot spice, I just mean any spice, like cumin, turmeric, etc.)

Coincidently, I had a chance to have some curries from Golden the day after. Now I know some on this board feel that Golden's curries are a bit sweet for their liking. I understand this. But what was very interesting was how very complex the flavour profiles of their curries were compared to Buffet M. It was a world of difference. You may not like their flavour profile, it might be too sweet for you. But at least you can say there was a lot of flavour. I'm afraid I'll have to pass on Buffet M in the future. But I don't think they'll miss the business, seems bland is very popular here.

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