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Passage to India (Fargo, ND)

tvdxer | Nov 19, 200807:31 AM

Sunday morning I left for an 800-mile trip across the state, past the MN/ND and MN/SD borders, and back home a different route to come closer to my goal of visiting or passing through all 87 Minnesota counties. (There's actually hobby, of which I am part, called "county collecting", and some county collectors have been to all 3,100+ counties in the U.S.!).

For lunch I played it quick and went to a Quizno's in Wadena, which was actually quite good, but by the time I reached Fargo I had plenty of time for a "sit-down" meal. Before the trip, I had chosen an Indian restaurant named "Passage to India". Their website displayed their menu, which included not only the standard North Indian options found at Indian restaurants everywhere, but also rarer South Indian and Indian-Chinese dishes - not bad for a locale sited in a rather isolated prairie town of 90,000.

So after driving around and filling up on $1.849 / gallon gas, I followed my GPS directions to the restaurant, which happened to be located in a strip mall on the sprawling outskirts of Fargo. Under "Passage to India" on their sign were the awkward words "The Great Indian Cuisine". A scrolling electronic sign on the door announced the date as "11/30/07" and boasted of "samosas", "biryani", and "chow mein", in addition to announcing that dinners were a la carte and lunches were buffet-style. Whatever the case, the interior was far more attractive than the exterior. The dining room was unusually dark, as you will see in my photos; there were perhaps 12 tables, putting Passage to India in the medium-sized restaurants category. The hostess led me to my table and it was time to order.

Before my orders came, a man put two gratis papadams on my table along with green and tamarind chutney. I have noted this practice in many Indian restaurants. Kind of like bringing out bread at an Italian restaurant.

The first thing I picked was idli - little rice / lentil cakes dipped in chutney, popular for breakfast in south India. I had read about these on Wikipedia and have known of them for a long time, but had never tried them, Duluth lacking south Indian food and all. At Passage to India, a single order ($3.95) comes with three idlis. They were not as tasty alone as I thought they would be, and indeed needed to be dipped. That was not a problem as the order came with three sauces / chutney. The first I recognized as the usual green chutney, but the two others were a bit of a mystery. One was white and had an appearance resembling ice cream, and a texture to match, though it was not cold. It had a hint of sweetness but also seemed quite bitter. This, the waiter later told me, was coconut chutney. The other I did not immediately recognize either - the waiter told me it had lentils, which means it probably was lentil sambar.

The idlis were not particularly delicious, though this is a matter of personal taste and I am no position to judge their authenticity or quality from an Indian standpoint. What was delicious is what I ordered next: utthappam. Like idli, I was familiar with the name, but had never was able to try one. The order came with one fairly large utthappam, which together with the idli would be more than filling. The utthapam's appearance was akin to flat-crust pizza - though the crust was a delectable pancake-like batter reminiscent of roti canai. The toppings were onions, (at least very finely diced) tomatoes, and hot chiles if the menu's description was right, though I did sense much heat in them. Although I would have no problem eating just the utthappham, it came with a generous serving of a lentil / potato / unfamiliar vegetables sauce mix (probably "sambar" if Wikipedia's description of uthappam is accurate), as well as the same coconut chutney that accompanied the lentils. Not bad for about $6.99.

The entire meal came to a paltry $13, including a soft drink (free refills). Service was not especially good though not really poor either. One interesting observation about the clientele: quite international for a town like Fargo. One party consisted of South Asian students dining with a (local university?) student from Luxembourg, another large party was comprised of Brits meeting with local Fargo-ites. In conclusion, this was an interesting and tasty restaurant that I strongly recommend if you ever find yourself in Fargo.

Pictures: (1) dosas, (2) uthappam

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