Kendra Sommers
Student Writer

For the first feature in ‘Restaurant Spotlight,’ highlighted today will be the Indian restaurant on the Carlisle Pike: Banana Leaf Indian Cuisine. It has impeccable flavors, friendly staff and is only 15 minutes away from campus.

Banana Leaf has been open in the area since 2017. After speaking with the owner Venkat R. Maruri, I learned that in order to set his restaurant apart from the other local Indian restaurants, he came up with three goals: “quality, affordability and educating the local crowd on what ethnic food is.”

Indian food has a very communal atmosphere as a part of its experience. When ordering, it’s often best to get some kind of biryani, a couple of different curries and naan as the basic formula if you do not know what to order.

Here are a few sugestions to get you started:

[Biryani is a spiced rice that, at Banana Leaf, can come with your choice of lamb, chicken, goat, shrimp, or vegetables. The two sauces [on the right] can be mixed with the biriyani to add different flavors. The top red sauce allows for a spicier kick, while the bottom yogurt-based sauce, cools your mouth down. Biryani is great eaten by itself or with other curries and is best when shared.

[Featured is Paneer Tikka Masala which is a curry that has paneer [cubes of cheese] marinated in yogurt, lightly spiced, sated with onions and bell peppers. This curry can also be substituted with chicken, goat and lamb. All curries can be modified for your liking of spiciness.]

[Featured is Chicken Makhani which is a curry cooked in a tomato-based sauce with cream and butter. This curry can also be substituted for different meats at Banana Leaf including goat, lamb and paneer. All curries can be modified for your liking of spiciness.]

[No meal is complete without Garlic Naan; white flour bread with garlic and cilantro. Banana Leaf also serves Plain Naan, Garlic Cheese Naan, Chili Naan, and Peshwari Naan (containing nuts and raisins). Naan is usually eaten by breaking a piece off and using it to scoop up some of the rice and curry.]

[Enjoy a classic Mango Lassi as a refreshing drink which is a yogurt-based drink, much like a smoothie, with rich mango flavoring.]

Not only does the food have rich flavors, but it also has a rich backstory. Maruri is originally from Hyderabad, India, and was a professional tennis player. Because of his unique experience, he got the opportunity to travel all over India.

“So, I get used to all the foods – and every state they cook different, people look different…that’s where I know the real taste of the different food from different parts of the country,” Maruri said.

His love for food continued his passions for the food business and eventually came to America with a British company called Sultan. With over 30 restaurants in London, they ventured out to the United States wanting to further branch out. Maruri had other restaurants, but eventually sold them and joined a group called Deccan Spice with different restaurants all over the country. “I was managing all of that,” Maruri said, “and then all of a sudden we saw that this place was vacant.”

“It is a crazy story,” he continued with a slight chuckle. The lot where Banana Leaf now sits belonged to the Taco Bell next door. He started inquiring about the vacant lot, but nobody was answering. When they spoke to Taco Bell, the lot was currently being leased to a flower shop, but it was fairly rundown and at the end of its stage.

“So, me and my friend, we had a crazy idea,” Maruri continued. “Somebody in the organization had to realize how bad this spot was.” They hoped this would help them understand how much of an improvement their restaurant would be for business. “And then we ended up with a video camera, [videoed the conditions of the flower shop], and sent it to Taco Bell. We said, ‘this is how your building is and if you don’t do [anything], then maybe in a year or two years they’ll dismantle it.’” So, management looked at the video and approached Maruri a day later and started the negation process.

The way the food at Banana Leaf is made also has an unconventional story. The secret to their consistent quality is “connected to a small food lab in Hyderabad,” Maruri said. “They experiment and they make sure all the ingredients and the spices were properly made and it’s all good. And then it goes to the FDA to get approved, and then from the FDA it comes here.” They buy the protein and perishables like vegetables locally and have the spice mixes flown from India every fortnight on commercial planes.

“One thing we don’t do is Americanize the food. That’s Indian food. You’re coming here to eat Indian food, so you’re going to get Indian food,” Maruri said. “Quality we never compromise. And anytime you come, the consistency is always there.”

Visit Banana Leaf Indian Cuisine to get consistently delicious, decently affordable, good sized portions of exceptional Indian food. Keep an eye out for Maruri’s favorite new addition coming soon: organic products! If you’re not sure what to order, try some of the dishes featured here or try something new and share about your experience!

Banana Leaf Indian Cusine is located at 6520 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050.