It’s a sad country song that I know I sing over and over again, but when driving across the fruited plains of Oklahoma, you start to realize the down and dirty truck-stops of years gone by have been increasingly replaced by the corporate culture of expected eateries like McDonalds, Subway and Baskin-Robbins.
However, at a few of these travel plazas, you’ll find dishes like chicken vindaloo and veg thali right next to the typical potato wedges and deep fried burritos; you see, in Oklahoma, there’s a number of Indian-owned truck-stops with full-on traditional restaurants that are holding it down, including one outside of Shawnee.
I was coming back from a trip to Tulsa the other evening when I stopped at the beautifully-named Biscuit Hill Travel Plaza, 12501 Valley Road. With a moniker like that, I was stereotypically expecting a few heaps of home-style vittles, possibly of the buttermilk variety. Instead, I came across Tandoori Indian Restaurant, open and ready for my business.
The travel stop itself is filled with country-fied items like fishin’ worms, cases of Coors and glass-blown bongs, all things the typical backwoods buyer is in the market for these days, I guess. But off to the side in the small dining area—still closed-off due to Covid-19, natch—a television showing a Hindi news-program was busy reporting as, a few feet away, fanciful foreign snacks from India lined the shelves.
Asking to see a menu, while certain meals weren’t available at the moment, I went moderately basic this evening and ordered a couple of Samosas ($2.99), as well as individual servings of Goat Korma ($10.99) and Chicken Curry ($9.99); as they prepped my order, the melodious scent of otherworldly seasonings and transcendent spices traveled all through this heavily-trafficked gas station.
I sat at a vacant table, snacking on a bag of Karkure Chilli Chatka and pounding a can of Thums Up cola, watching as a steady mixture of both townies and travelers picked up white sacks full of scintillating orders, with many people seeming like regular diners of Tandoori. Sometimes people can really surprise you, I thought.
Delicately fried, the Samosas, always a coveted starter for this hungry cowboy, were as I expected: a light pastry shell packed with a flavorful combination of potatoes, onions, peas and lentils, folded and fried to a crispy revelation, every bite filled with an atmospheric sensation that I wish I could physically share with you right now, outside of mere words.
Rolling up my wheat-heavy and unleavened helping of Roti ($0.80), as I leaned on the car in the parking lot—my makeshift dinner table that night—I placed my plastic spoon into the mild Goat Korma and lifted out a few chunks of goat meat covered in a thick sauce, a smattering of garlic and cilantro decorating the top; it was an earthly delight sent from Heaven, warming me up under the evening sun.
Excitedly spilling itself from the plastic container, a large blot of yellow sauce from the Chicken Curry dripped onto my pants-leg; taking the spoon and gathering it up, as I brought it to my mouth I realized that this was a magical taste I was experiencing; the actual dish, properly served, was even better, every chunk of chicken sitting on my tongue so I could capture its total power.
While many of us that live and eat in the city proper believe, quite erroneously, that we’ve got the better—the best?—taste in Oklahoma, if you got a couple of free hours I’d like to show you a travel-plaza in Shawnee that’ll leave you re-examining those misguided misconceptions; I’m living proof, man. Cómpralo ya!