Savory science

A jaunt to Ajanta India Restaurant

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Samosas at Ajanta; photo: Paula Johnson

Let’s start here: Why is Indian food so damn delicious? I think this every time I eat it, along with the thoughts “I could eat this every day of my life” and “Indian cuisine makes me think I could maybe go vegetarian.” Turns out there is science (a study done at Jaipur University) to back up what my taste buds have been claiming since I savored my first samosa. Yep, there are molecular level flavor compounds in Indian cuisine that are combined in distinctly different ways than in Western cuisine to produce the sublime flavors it’s known for. An average Indian dish includes at least seven ingredients, most of which do not contain overlapping flavors, unique to Indian cuisine. And, Indian cuisine incorporates approximately 200 of the estimated 381 ingredients known in the world. Take that, mac and cheese!

As if that’s not enough, there’s the hair thing. Stay with me on this: according to nutritionist Yoshiko Nakagawa, Indian cuisine (specifically curry) prevents hair loss! He studied the diets of Indians verses Westerners and claims “The obvious conclusion to draw is that eating curry prevents men from losing their hair.” Nakagawa points to the mix of spices, including turmeric, nutmeg, saffron, and chili pepper, which increases blood flow and promotes hair growth. (OK maybe not as scientific as the first study, but still. And in support of Nakagawa: my dining companion PIP (Palate In Progress) is bald and never ate Indian food in his younger days – just sayin’.)

Amply Affordable

So, I’ve now covered why it’s a scientific fact that Indian food is fabulous, and that it might even help you keep your hair. Now let’s talk about my recent experiences at Ajanta Indian restaurant, specializing in Northern Indian cuisine and located in Kettering. I say experiences because I wanted to examine the pros and cons of ordering off the menu verses eating from the typical lunch buffet. The first outing was for the buffet with DCP Pals. Ajanta’s daily lunch buffet is an affordable $7.99. They also offer a dinner buffet Monday and Tuesday only from 5-9 p.m. for $10.99.

The main problem with buffets is that the food isn’t made to order. It sits and often dries out, and usually is not spiced to any appreciable level. The upside to this is variety. It’s a great opportunity to sample a whole range of dishes at one sitting, especially beneficial if you are a newcomer to the cuisine as one of our party. She was able to try an array of dishes starting with appetizers including samosas, pakora, and fritters, along with the condiments that go along with them, a zingy mint sauce, chutney, and sweet savory tamarind. I’m particularly fond of the bright red orange chopped onion condiment and salty pickles with these deep fried snacks. I also tried a nice tangy tomato soup before moving on to fill my lunch plate.

The variety on the buffet was ample with dishes like saag paneer, chana masala, chicken curry, chicken tikka masala, and tandoori, to name a few. Adding rice and naan to scoop up any remaining sauce made our plates groan with the weight as we attempted to try all that was offered. Another advantage to trying a lunch buffet, even if you aren’t a fan of the sauces, is that the tandoori grilled chicken is simply that: marinated but grilled with no sauce, just strips of onion and pepper. Those who are a little timid about the cuisine or are sauce averse can make a fine meal from the rice and chicken, along with the fairly plain though flavorful tomato soup. One final note about our plates as we sat down to dig in: they were appetizingly gorgeous with a stunning array of colors and textures.

The following week, I returned with one of my lunch buddies to try off the menu ordering. We started with vegetarian samosas ($3.49), raita ($1.99), chutney ($2.99), and bhatura ($2.99). I tried the lamb makhani ($14.99) and my DCP Pal went for vegetarian thali  ($14.99). Makhani is a preparation of yogurt and spice marinated meat in a velvety red sauce comprising butter (makhani means “with butter”), onions, ginger, and tomatoes scented with garam masala, cumin, and turmeric, with a cinnamon tang. Typically made with chicken, The New York Times cooking section dubs it the General Tso’s of Indian food. It’s one of my favorite dishes, and I usually do order it with chicken. Ajanta offers a good selection of lamb dishes, so I decided to go with that. In this case, the lamb chunks were tender and nicely done enrobed in the delicious sauce. It’s worth noting that Ajanta also offers beef dishes, something not seen in all Indian restaurants. The Thali was a beautiful compartment platter of colorful dishes – a feast for the eyes – and proved as delicious as it looked.

And The Winner is…

DCP Pal and I both agreed that ordering from the menu has the slight edge in terms of the ability to customize the level of spice, the lovely plating, and the perfect temperature and level of moisture and consistency of the sauces. Even off the menu, portions were more than sufficient (we both took some home) and were priced vey well. No matter which you choose, Ajanta’s amazingly affordable lunch buffet or ordering from the regular menu, you will experience what science already knows: Indian food is delicious. Friendly to your stomach and just maybe friendly to your follicles too.

Ajanta India Restaurant is located at 3063 Woodman Dr. in Kettering. For more information, please visit or call 937.296.9200.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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