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Hidden gem: Bollywood Bites

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Over a generation ago, the maxim for restaurateurs was if you opened an eatery with good food at great prices, the customers would beat a path to your door. But in today's world of convenience — even with GPS systems — this truth has lost its way.

Bollywood Bites is a takeout-only Indian shop located on the backside of a three-pronged strip center in a retail wholesale complex in Pineville. There is no signage on South Boulevard; owner Hetal Patel has requested a signage permit. This area, however, does have two Indian markets: the popular India Grocers and Patel Brothers nearby. Located within the same shopping center as India Grocers, Bollywood is on the far side of the last building at the end of the row. Sound hard to find? It is.

Bollywood's minimal interior, with intensely red walls punctuated with large movie posters, has an order counter and several plastic chairs. The latter are necessary since made-to-order dishes can take up to 30 minutes. Most customers call ahead.

Patel, a native of Gujarat, a state in western India near Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), says she missed the "authentic taste and spices from street-side joints of Bombay" in Charlotte. With her culinary skills acquired from family and training in India, she opened Bollywood Bites in June 2010.

The all-vegetarian and vegan menu at Bollywood Bites offers a litany of street foods from across India as well as curries, daals, rice dishes, breads and drinks, including a delightful mango lassi. Patel rotates new dishes onto her menu each month and features special holiday foods.

Indian street-foods are known as chaat, from the Hindi verb to lick — as in lick your plate clean. Chaats have that Indian sensibility of balance: crisp to soft, tart to sweet, creamy to spicy. Detailed information about ingredients of the dishes is available on the menu. The snack list has items specifically from Bombay: pav bhaji or bread and curry, and chhole (spicy chickpea curry with a ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, chilies, cumin, garam masala and turmeric flavor profile) bhature (fried bread). Dabeli, a Gujarati street food, is a slider-sized burger bun filled with a spicy potato mixture and chutney, while lilva kachori are fried bite-sized balls filled with a split pea mixture.

Patel offers the universal chaats, too: crispy samosas, idli and aloo tikki. Two of my favorites are here: paani puri, fried puri spheres (slightly larger than golf balls), which you puncture with a thumb, drop in a mix of spicy cubed potatoes and onions and then fill with a watery mint sauce, and bhel puri, a dish overflowing with layers of crispy puris, puffed rice, sev (a crispy noodle), cubed potatoes, tomatoes and onions drizzled with mint and tamarind chutney.

In addition to chaats, the menu boosts eight curries, including a piquant paneer tikka masala. One customer who breezed in after work to pick up her order told me she also had missed the chaats of Mumbai but is now grateful to be able to come here. She says she buys the curries for a quick dinner.

What makes Bollywood Bites worth the effort to find are the prices. A dinner of a curry dish, daal, three rotis, and papadum chips is $7.49, while the street-food items cost less than $3.49.

Ironically for a place offering street-food, Bollywood Bites is about as far from the street as possible, but a worthy find nonetheless.

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