By Anni Caporuscio

A typical serving at buffet night. I recommend a sampler like this one, then to go back and really dip in to your favorites.

I’m going to be honest with you. There are some foods that I eat like an infant, meaning I don’t know what I’m eating, others order for me, and I just eat what they tell me to eat. I look around the table and do what others do, whether I stab it, use my hands, or swathe it up with bread.

I am an Indian cuisine baby.

I regress whenever I recall my college coworker, Alex, cooking dinner for me at his family home. He would serve me, sit down across the table, and he and his family would wait to laugh at me in an insufferably spicy situation, weeping with the heat, yet unwilling to be a rude guest and leave food on the plate.

So here are some lessons from Shivalik, our local Indian restaurant in Kapaa, run by Sam Sudhakaran and his family.

First lesson: It’s pronounced “shih-VAH-lik”.

While you can order an assortment of Indian beers to drink with dinner at Shivalik, they also have Mango Lassi, a yogurt and mango drink. It is a cooling tonic if you should find yourself in trouble with hot food. And it’s delicious.

Next lesson: Curry is a collection of spices, which are added to a stew or sauce to make a curry. Curry is not necessarily spicy; the chef will add the spice during the cooking process to taste. At Shivalik, they will ask you how spicy you want to go (not like my friend, who lit me on fire) and they customize the heat per order.

Next: Indian cuisine is a very popular option for vegan and gluten free eaters, and in fact, meatless seems to be the norm, and coconut milk serves as a common base for sauces. There is the naan bread, a heated flat bread that you rip apart and mop up flavor. Of course there are chicken, fish and lamb dishes that are not to be missed, and paneer, a homemade cheese with a delicate taste and bite. Rice is featured heavily as well. Pour your sauces laden with veggies and meats over a fluffy steamed jasmine rice.

One step into Shivalik takes you on a full sensory journey. The scents of food simmering in spices I’m unaccustomed to eating hits you first and their richness is amazing. The walls are covered in color, relics, and paintings that tell traditional stories. Indian music, joyful, theatrical, and full of half tones and emotion plays on the house system. Sam and the staff are helpful and attentive, even when we’re using a mashup of hand gestures and smiles to communicate.

Tandoori Chicken. The tandoori is a clay oven that slow cooks the dishes, and the spices really sink in. You can get lamb, chicken, vegetable and rice dishes in the tandoori style. It’s one of the specialties of Shivalik.

Thankfully, for us Indian cuisine infants, there are plenty of patrons who look like they know what they’re doing so I can copy them.

Something else to be thankful for is the buffet. Wednesday and Friday nights Shivalik hosts a dinner buffet, which is an entry-level collection of dishes you can try to discover your favorites. There are helpful labels on everything. And the spice level is user-friendly so nobody cries.

Sam, the manager, chef and everything else, says his family opened Shivalik several years ago when they moved to Kaua‘i. They wanted to have their own North Indian food anytime they want. What a clever move!

Find Shivalik in the Foodland Shopping Center in Waipouli on the Eastside, at 4-771 Kuhio Hwy, Kapa‘a. On Monday and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, lunch is 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and dinner is 4-9 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, the dinner buffet is from 3-9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Ask them about catering and special occasions.

  • Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.