Kashmir Indian Kitchen disdains fleeting trends and fashions.
Instead, owner Mohbub Ahmed sticks to the traditions of his Indian homeland, serving curries and biryanis from recipes that are 200 years old.
That approach has brought 16, soon to be 17, years of success to his immaculate hole-in-the-wall restaurant located next to Marshalls on Westport Avenue (U.S. Route 1).
"I don't know too many things, but I know the food," Ahmed says, telling of his upbringing in the tea-growing country of northeast Bangladesh (once part of India).
"I like to stay with very basic ingredients—things I feel are very healthy," he explains.
He notes that most food grown for consumption in India is organic, fertilized by time-worn methods with cow, goat and buffalo manures and enriched with earthworm compost.
"Without pesticides, food production is cheaper and healthier," Ahmed says.
Ahmed learned cooking techniques working at nearby Japanese restaurants—Sakura in Westport and Kujaku in Stamford.
"The Japanese practice the best food-handling techniques," he notes. "They focus on simple things, the presentation, cleanness."
Ahmed applies many of the techniques he learned to the dishes prepared at Kashmir Indian Kitchen.
But his affinity for his Indian heritage assured he would serve Indian food when he opened his own restaurant in 1994. He developed a love for cooking at his mother's side and an appreciation for his cultural roots.
"Most Indian spices are medicinal, such as turmeric and tamarind," he explains.
"Growing up, we had a turmeric plant growing outside our home," the polite and modest 52-year-old recalls. "When I had a cut, my mother would send me out to make a paste of ground turmeric and the cut would go away."
Today Ahmed and his kitchen staff freshly grind many of the 35-odd spices they mix to create robust-flavored curries, including cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seed and bay leaf.
"I am sometimes asked if we use MSG to bring out the flavor of our dishes," he says. "Why would we when we have natural spices hundreds of times better than MSG!"
By far, Chicken Tikka Masala (chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked in a creamy almond sauce) is the most popular dish at $11.95. Chicken Kashmiri (with pineapples and coconut milk in yogurt sauce, also $11.95) and the Biryanis—chicken, lamb, shrimp and vegetable varieties—come in as seconds.
The extensive menu includes breads, soups, tandooris (dishes baked in traditional clay ovens) and many chicken, beef, lamb and shrimp dishes.
Among the vegetarian offerings, Saag Paneer (homemade cheese cubes with spinach in creamy sauce—$10.95) is especially popular.
Home in America
Married and the father of two daughters, ages 26 and 11, Ahmed enjoys returning to his native city, Sylhet, with its picturesque hilly scenery.
On occasion, Ahmed is joined in the restaurant kitchen by his seventh grade daughter Niha Begum, "an A+ student no matter what."
"Most of her television viewing is spent watching the Food Channel," he says. "Don't ask me why but she tells us she'd like to have a career in cooking and write a cookbook."
There's seating for six couples, but most of the business is take-out and catering, says Ahmed.
"Ninety-five per cent are repeating customers—my 'club,'" he adds.
Kashmir Indian Kitchen
388 Westport Ave. (see map)
Open seven days a week and holidays from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.