Growing up in Iowa in the ’80s and ’90s, a time when the restaurant landscape was dominated by corporate chains, I didn’t have much exposure to food from other parts of the world. I tried Indian food for the first when I was in my teens and I still remember it being a transporting experience. There were unfamiliar ingredients — I didn’t know what cardamom or even turmeric were then — but the food was vibrantly colorful and fragrant in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Even the textures were new and different.
Because I’ve never learned to satisfactorily duplicate those flavors in my kitchen, some of the wonder and excitement remains to this day, no matter how often I eat it. Both familiar but always something new, Indian food has remained a staple of my takeout diet ever since that first meal over 20 years ago. So on Saturday, when we didn’t feel like cooking, we fell back on what we knew we’d enjoy and ordered from Bollywood Grill.
Bollywood Grill is a newcomer to the Iowa City area, having opened this summer, but owner Zameer Khan is far from a beginner. He moved to the United States in the late ’90s and began working in restaurants, including Taste of India in Cedar Rapids, while he attended Kirkwood Community College. This led him to open his first restaurant, an Indian restaurant called Zaika in the Old Capitol Town Center in 2008. He closed Zaika in 2015 after getting married and having a child, but returned to the Old Capitol Center in 2020, this time with his wife Shahana Sulthana as his partner. Sulthana designed the menu, which features dishes from southern India where she is from as well as Indian-Chinese fusion dishes.
My husband and I decided to branch out a little with our order. We purchased samosas, butter chicken and lamb dopyaza, a dish neither of us had heard of before. The samosas were roughly the size of my fist and consisted of a flaky, deep-fried pastry exterior stuffed with a spicy potato and green bean filling. I had feared that the overall combination of those elements might be a little dense, but instead the samosas were pleasingly crisp and hearty. The butter chicken had a creamy tomato-based sauce and tender chunks of chicken and was moderately spicy. The dopyaza consisted of chunks of onion and tender lamb in a fragrant sauce that was spiced with whole cardamom pods, and was vaguely sweet in a way that reminded me of barbecue sauce but without the viscosity. The basmati rice that accompanied these dishes was also a feast for the senses: bright gold in color with pieces of cinnamon nestled in it. The portions were generous enough to feed us both for dinner Saturday night and lunch the next day.
Bollywood Grill’s food more than holds its own with other beloved Indian restaurants in the area and sets itself apart by offering some regional dishes not available elsewhere. I’ll be returning to them in the future to indulge again in the cuisine that has captivated me for so many years.
Presented by Chomp