Passage to India

A dish from Zayka
A dish from Zayka

Chicken Masala. Aloo Ghobi. Chances are if you’ve been to an Indian restaurant you’ve ordered one of these dishes but have you tried baingan bartha, goat masala or chicken methi malai? When dining at an ethnic restaurant it’s easy to only choose the familiar, especially when you don’t know what you like and don’t like. However, Zayka Indian Cuisine, a restaurant in Brier Creek, has a solution for this predicament. They offer a daily lunch buffet so that patrons can learn more about the menu’s North Indian offerings.

“Everybody can try the food and get to know the Indian culture,” says managing partner Keshav Kalia. “We change the menu every day.”

Kalia, originally from Northern India, came to Zayka by way of Singapore where he was managing three restaurants and two banquet halls. He interviewed for the position while abroad and came to Raleigh in April 2014 to run the restaurant. Less than a year later, he bought out the previous owner to helm the establishment along with co-owner and chef Randhir Singh.

Keshav Kalia, co-owner of Zayka
Keshav Kalia, co-owner of Zayka
Randhir Singh, chef at Zayka
Randhir Singh, chef at Zayka

A Fresh Tradition

The restaurant prides itself on making every sauce and dish fresh daily with quality ingredients, a tradition that Kalia says stems from his and Singh’s roots in Northern India; it’s what he believes sets their restaurant apart from other Indian establishments.

“The Punjab state is famous for agriculture,” says Kalia. Considered one of the most fertile regions, the area is known for producing wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables that feed a significant population in India and Pakistan, and the world. (It produces 2 percent of the world’s wheat.)

“If you go to any temple in Punjab, food is always free,” he adds.

Kalia also notes that Southern Indian food is based on rice, where many dishes are paired with the grain. While in Northern Indian cuisine, the recipes are meant to be eaten with whole-wheat naan or bread, so many of the dishes can stand alone without grains (a plus for carb-conscious diners).

The emphasis on fresh and diverse vegetables and sauces is key to elevating the flavors at Zayka. Tamarind, curry leaves, Garam Masala (a blend of cardamom, cumin, coriander and more) are among the fragrant spices used by the chef. All the meat is marinated for at least 24 hours.

The heart of the kitchen is the tandoor, where one of the chefs places marinated chicken kebabs into the hot clay oven. This is where they make the thin naan bread, a staple of the cuisine. There is a traditional technique to making the bread that has been passed from century to century. The dough can’t be too soft lest it falls inside the oven. The flattened dough is placed on a gaddi or round cushion and pushed against the side of the clay wall. The bread cooks in less than a minute.

With so many different dishes to try, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. Kalia laughs and suggests beginning with dessert. Regulars are particularly fond of Gulab jamun, a type of Indian donut in sweet rosewater syrup. All the desserts are made in house by chef Hargyan Singh. Traditional drinks such as tea and Mango Lassi, a type of yogurt smoothie, are complimentary. The restaurant also features a full bar.

In the evening, diners order a la carte from the menu, presumably having already tried many of the dishes. The restaurant also features a private room that can be used for events, conferences and weddings. When catering private affairs, they aim to please. According to Kalia, there are thousands of Indian dishes to choose from, and they are happy to make favorites.

“We don’t say no to anyone,” he adds.

Alexandra Drosu
Alexandra Drosu

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