For years I’ve been looking for a way to satisfy my hunger while at the same time alleviating seasonal spring allergies. As I strolled down King’s Highway in Haddonfield, NJ this April, I found the solution. It appeared in the form of Cross Culture: Fine Indian Cuisine. I stepped into the restaurant expecting to see a lot of maize on the menu. I then realized this establishment specialized in food from the Subcontinent of India and not Native Americans. In spite of my initial confusion, I decided to stick around for lunch. After all, I’d heard that Indian food possessed a reputation for a “spicy” flavor. As I battled the twin maladies of hunger and sinus congestion, I figured I’d address both at the same time.
Upon visiting an eatery for the first time I check out the Men’s Room. Someone once admonished me, “If the bathroom’s in bad shape, what does the kitchen looks like?” I felt very relieved to see that the bathroom wasn’t simply clean; I would call it elegant. Dark blue tiles covered the walls from waist level to the floor. On the wall above them appeared sketchings drawn against a beige back-drop. On one side of the room a drawing of a branch decorated the wall, on the other a mermaid. They designed the sink in the shape of a large bowl. I don’t mean to gush about this, but I don’t regularly visit rest rooms I would classify as “beautiful”.
I thought the dining room ambiance outstanding. Decorative strips of cloth hung on the walls to give a true flavor of India. I really liked that authentic Indian music played on the loudspeaker. Whenever I go to a restaurant that features non-American cuisine I like to get a sense of the culture where the food originated. I truly received that at Cross Culture. I give them major kudos for getting that done.
I started my feast with a Masala Ice Tea. I’d never eaten Indian before. To my surprise this drink served as my first introduction to that legendary “spicy” flavor. I didn’t expect that from a cold beverage. I really savored the sharp flavor of the tea leaves. While it tasted unique, I do like strong caffeinated beverages. When the time came I did get a refill.
I decided to start my meal with a bowl of Mulligatawny Soup. The menu described it as “an Anglo-Indian invention of split pea soup.” I quickly realized how Indian food earned it reputation for spiciness. While spicy, I could still discern the flavor of the peas. The preparers also put a lemon in the soup which added some bitterness to offset the spices.
I’ve had my share of pea soup over the years and have found it rather plain. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Mulligatawny Soup tasted very flavorful, and dare I use the word, interesting. It reminded me of Snapper Soup with a drop of Sherry, but much more tasty.
I received bread with my meal, but not the kind I’m used to. Cross Culture served a flat bread with garlic. I’d compare it to a white pizza only without the cheese. It had just the right amount of garlic. I could taste it, but at the same time, it wouldn’t lead to a mass extermination of vampires if I breathed on them. I’ve noticed a lot of Italian places tend to overload meals with garlic. This Indian establishment didn’t fall into that trap.
Then the time for the main course arrived. It’s not often that I can describe a meal as both delicious and entertaining. I ordered the Tandoori Special. It consisted of Lamb, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Malai Kebab and Chicken Tikka. The server gave it to me on a hot plate. I’ve received meals on hot plates before, but this one pushed the envelope. I got to see something I’ve never witnessed in all my years of dining out. The chicken was a bright red hue. Smoke poured off of it. This went on for a good several minutes. As time passed I felt relieved they didn’t seat me under a fire sprinkler.
Once the smoke cleared—literally—I took a bite. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never eaten chicken this tender. For comparison I thought it more tender than the lamb. That stunned me. I didn’t think it possible to prepare chicken like that. I also experienced a shock in that neither the chicken nor the lamb tasted spicy.
The meal came with two sauces for dipping. One was a sweet prune sauce which verily lived up to its description. For comparison’s sake, Easter candy tastes about as sugary as a hot dog compared to this sauce. I thought it very good, though. The server said most patrons combine it with the spicy appetizers. I tried it with my meats and liked it.
My server recommended the second dipping sauce for meats. As he informed me it had a “bit of a kick to it.” I believe he referred to it as a mint chutney sauce. It contained yogurt, of all things, and still tasted spicy. For the second time during the same meal, I learned something about food I never would’ve thought possible.
As I wrote before, all the meats tasted very tender. I enjoyed them both with and without the sauces.
My meal also included white rice. People who don’t like spicy foods would enjoy that the most. It tasted like plain rice.
I’ve made a lot of references to the food being spicy. I didn’t think it “too” spicy, however. I noticed that I didn’t touch my water the entire meal. I drank the iced tea which also had a sharp taste to it. I didn’t feel a burning sensation in my mouth and my stomach didn’t get upset at any point during or after eating. I enjoy food with a good pop to it, and I didn’t think anything overly hot. Cross Culture got it just right.
Based on the sizes of the portions I thought the prices a little high. To be fair to Cross Culture, they are a fine dining establishment. I didn’t feel slighted or cheated. I certainly enjoyed my meal and didn’t leave hungry.
According to Cross Culture’s menu, Zagat rated them “excellent.” I agree with that assessment. I felt very satisfied and relished the opportunity to learn about food from another society. All the spicy foods cleared my sinuses during allergy season, so that served as an added bonus. For anyone looking for an interesting dining experience, I’d strongly encourage him/her to “spice” up his/her diet with some fine Indian cuisine. Take the opportunity to cross cultures in Haddonfield, New Jersey.