This weekend was Diwali, and for Gujaratis, the holiday also represents the new year. A few Gujarati co-workers described it as their Thanksgiving and Christmas all wrapped up in one. The multi-day festival consists of celebration, prayer, and lots and lots of food. When I asked them about the latter, specifically where I could eat without having to barge in on a Gujarati household during one of their most important religious holidays, they pointed me to Rajdhani, one of the few true Gujarati eateries in our area, which exists just a click beyond the Orange County line in Artesia's Little India.
It's tucked away on the second floor above an Indian grocery store on the always vibrant and always busy Pioneer Blvd. If you're used to your countless arrays of Indian buffets and tikka masala lunch specials, Rajdhani will be a wake-up call. It's not like any of those. It's a restaurant and style of eating without equal. First of all, it's entirely vegetarian. Second, it's what you'd get if you crossed an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, Korean panchan and dim sum-style service. “You don't get up the entire time,” one Gurajati friend told me, “you just sit there and they come at your with the food.”
And boy do they. As soon as we sat down a parade of sari-wearing waitresses carrying pots of intense vegetable stews swarmed us, ladling them into the five or so metal soup bowls we were each supplied. There was dal, fiery lentil curries, okra stew perfumed of fenugreek, a potato and near-liquefied eggplant dish, and more that came at us in a blur.
Then there were the rotis that were carried out in trays, all of them served rocket hot, just seconds from being made. There were fresh chapatis, a sort of crepe and tortilla hybrid made from whole wheat, wafer-thin discs of papadum, and the best of all, puris, deep-fried pockets of dough, which were puffed up like balloons. I tore one apart and a plume of steam escaped to the ceiling. Later there would be more starches, some sweet and others unidentifiable, a fritter stuffed with curried potato, two kinds of rice, and all the while, they're refilling our bowls with more curries, more stews, offering us more roti, more buttermilk to tame the fires now burning in our mouths.
Then, when we realized we've never been so stuffed and fed so well without eating a molecule of meat, we waved them off, and asked for dessert. We picked one each from a list that includes a falooda, a rose-colored ice cream that tastes of potpourri topped with slippery basil seeds, and also a warm dessert called mohanthal, a thick, heavy, almost-a-meal-on-its-own dessert that's like what you'd get if you combined oatmeal with bread pudding and then soaked the whole thing in melted butter. The dessert is included with the thali, which is what this kind of meal is called, a $13.99 per person buffet where there is no menu, and yes, you don't have to get up.