When I find myself in an Indian restaurant, even the wonderful Rasika, I am usually a bit saddened at the lack of true south Indian food on the menu. Dosa, idli, sambar, simple stir-fried vegetable dishes, rice and all sorts of beans and lentils were what I ate growing up. Thankfully, whenever I get a hankering for good South Indian food (and don’t feel like making it myself), I can always head to the ‘burbs for Woodlands.
You’ll find this all-vegetarian gem at the edge of an unassuming strip mall, where the best non-Western ethnic food is often found. Getting there is easy enough if you’ve got a car, but it’s worth taking a train and a bus if you have to. The weekend buffet is a must on your first trip to Woodland’s. Sample dozens of tasty dishes and go for seconds of whatever you like. That way, ordering a la carte on any subsequent visits (and you’ll want to go again) won’t be so daunting.
We started with the artfully-presented pav bhaji, a spicy roasted mix of potatoes and vegetables (bhaji) that you slather on top of buttery toasted buns (pav). Make sure to top your creation with some of the chopped onion that surrounds the bhaji.
The trick here is to avoid overloading on any one dish or trying to pile every dish on your plate during your first round. You can get more later. Next (and we’re still in snack/appetizer-land here) came the chaat table. The word “chaat” describes a variety of savory street-snacks, including pani puri (tiny, crispy puffed breads that you stuff with chick peas, potatoes, onions and tomatoes and fill with thin cilantro-mint chutney and gobble in one go), bhel puri (puffed rice with spicy chick-pea-flour chips, potatoes, tomatoes and chutneys), and papri chaat (fried wheat chips with the same garnishes).
Time for some real south Indian main-dish items, and this is why you’ve got to pace yourself. You might have to hover covertly around the buffet for them to bring out fresh dosas and uttapams, which are different kinds of rice-and-white-lentil pancakes. Get at least one fluffy, white idli too while you’re at it.
Don’t miss the poriyal, a stir-fried vegetable (often beets, cabbage, or green beans) with coconut or the paneer makhani (fresh cheese with creamy tomato sauce). Channa palak (chick peas and spinach) and Gobi manchurian (Indian-chinese fried cauliflower in a hot-and-sour sauce) were tasty as well.
As hard as it is, save room for dessert – especially if you see gulab jamuns. A giant dish of these tempting doughnut-hole-like balls floating in cardomom-infused sugar syrup was waiting for us at the end of the buffet, and we went for it.
So anytime you feel like you need to eat All The Things or maybe just want to go where you can eat everything on the menu and everyone knows that vegetarian food is filling and varied, head to Woodlands.
8046 New Hampshire Avenue
Langley Park, MD 20783