The flavors of India in a High Point strip mall

by Brian Clarey

Lunch buffet mixed vegetables, pakoras and naan. (photo by Devender Sellars)

You can get good Indian food in Chicago and New York City.

Philadelphia, too. I hear Buffalo, NY has good Indian restaurants and, for some reason, the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

You might not figure High Point to be on the list of cities with great food from the subcontinent, but to be sure there is at least one place in the Furniture City to get authentic Indian and Pakistani cuisine, and locals have known about it for years.

Formerly known as the Ceramic Grill, Msala India Restaurant lives in a little strip mall off Eastchester Drive — owners changed it because while the original name aptly described a primary cooking technique — and it had a certain ring to it — it just didn’t capture the true essence of the place. But they’ve been at it for seven years here, and the place has garnered a good following.

Like many other restaurants of this stripe, the menu at Msala is vast, loaded with lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes — if you’re looking for beef at an Indian restaurant, you probably need to spend a few minutes on the Google to familiarize yourself with the culture before coming in to eat.

Ingredients are prepared in authentic fashion: curry blends, exotic spices, indigenous techniques. Vindaloo is a rich and spicy curry blend; masala is a peppery paste; sagwalla uses spinach for nutrition and texture; tandoori is made in a clay oven that gives chicken a beautiful red hue. Nan is the name given to the flat bread used to eat all this stuff.

Msala’s dinner menu is something to behold. But for a fairly representative sampling of this type of cuisine, I recommend a stop at the lunch buffet, where the day’s selections will always include the regulars’ favorites.

A recent trip revealed a nearly full house comprised of office workers, laborers, idle lunch goers and retirees — the appeal of Indian food knows no demographic boundaries, and pretty much everyone likes a good lunch buffet.

On the line this day, thin vegetable pakora fritters shared space with tandoori chicken, a vegetarian saag teeming with spices, curry chicken and a few other staples — plenty of options for three or four runs through.

All dishes were prepared expertly and with care. The tandoori chicken, lovely burnished thighs and drums, was particularly tender and delicious, and when combined with sauce for makhani — known in shorthand as “butter chicken” — the result can inspire many return trips to the chow line. The nan breads, refilled constantly throughout the lunch hour, are designed to complement every single dish.

Indian food can be spicy — real spicy. But at Msala they cater to the local palate: There is nothing bland here, to be sure, but nobody is going to get hurt. There is enough of a presence of curries and other spices in every dish to satisfy fans of the genre. There is something about curry overload — some believe these spice blends have psychoactive properties, and I am not one to argue with the deeply satisfying feeling of curry overload.

And if you like your Indian food with more heat, that can be accommodated — though you should probably be careful. I’ve seen folks who can endure the hottest of pepper sauces start to weep after ingesting a big dose of curry.

Dessert is a fine remedy to the heat of lunch. On this day it was a cool vanilla pudding with chunks of mango and pineapple — just the thing for spicy overindulgence.

wanna go?

Msala India Restaurant 1589 Skeet Club Road High Point