Samosa House, the popular Culver City Indian grocery and café, is opening a new restaurant on the corner of Overland Ave. and Washington Blvd., a stone's throw from Starbucks and Sony studios. In keeping with tradition, the new restaurant will be vegetarian, with soy versions of chicken and fish, says Monty Bhojak, nephew of Samosa House (initially named Bharat Bazaar) founder, Phulan Chandler. "The original Samosa House is more spiritual, the new one will be a fusion," he says. "A mix of new and old to cater to the Sony media crowd working at the studio across the street."
Walking into Samosa House is entering into an emporium of possibility and acceptance. Possibility, because all the ingredients you need to make an Indian feast at home are there: hundreds of bottled spices; 4-liter plastic bottles of ghee--which could easily be mistaken for bottles of engine oil if discovered in a car trunk; jars of everything pickled--mango, lemon, gooseberry, cauliflower, carrot, radish, jackfruit; various sweet and salty chutneys; 32-ounce containers of ginger and garlic; curry powders; raw lentils; 20-pound burlap sacks of jasmine and basmati rice.
Acceptance, because Samosa House is extremely user-friendly and seems to understand convenience as a thing of beauty rather than an insult to tradition, respecting the reality of city schedules with little time to prepare food. In plain view, you will find an extensive collection of frozen and freeze-dried food. The back of the store is lined with refrigerated glass cases of pre-made roti, lassis, naan and paratha made by Pillsbury, microwavable boxes of traditional Indian dishes that turn cooking dinner into a five-minute affair.
"A lot of Indian men just got here from India, and are working," explains Bhojak. "They buy all this pre-made stuff, and then when their wives move here you see them buying all this bulk stuff to cook from scratch." Bhojak, his wife Shivani, his mother Vibha, run the store, along a cast of other relatives and veteran employees. The café menu changes every day and chefs begin cooking early in the morning to prepare for the lunch crowd, smoking cauliflower for curry pakora; making their own cheese to mix with tomatoes, raisins, cashews and ginger; preparing dough for dosas. Samosa House is strictly vegetarian (no meat or eggs), and a mixture of south and east Indian recipes that have been adopted and adapted by multiple generations.
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Many customers frequent the store for the impressive stock of British products, which Bhojak and his wife bring back from England multiple times a year. The most popular section is the British biscuit section, with dozens of cookies and digestives (including McVitie's Hobnobs).
You will also find jars of Marmite, HP sauce, Ribena blackcurrant juice, jellies and English candies. A health and beauty section includes packages of hair oil (almond, olive, gooseberry), henna (for skin and hair), and natural remedies, like clove oil ( eases toothaches), and turmeric pills (popular antiseptic). Brushing a lock of brilliantly black hair from her face, Vibha boasts that Steven Spielberg and John Travolta are often spotted eating lunch at the small tables in the front window, but she is sure to add that what the restaurant prides itself on is history, sustainable paper ware and homemade food. "We believe in conscious eating and conscious cooking," she says.