This past Saturday night, I searched the streets of Brunswick, ME high and low for a restaurant to satisfy my craving for Indian food. Suddenly, near the end of the street, was a warm haven: Shere Punjab.
As I entered the cozy single-room restaurant, I noticed how at ease all the diners were as they discussed their lives over food. Soon I would be one of them, and my grumbling stomach could not wait. My friend and I were immediately seated and served a thin chip-like bread with three sauces I could not recognize. We examined two of the sauces and found one to be somewhat spicy, and the other to taste kind of like Indian kimchee. We avoided the third sauce for reasons I do not know.
A waitress quickly served us water and another waiter took our order. “Naan?” he asked us quickly after we finished struggling over foreign words. Caught off-guard, I sputtered a “Yes, garlic please,” in response. The waiter disappeared to put our order in, and my friend and I sunk into our comfortable chairs and the warm room.
Thirsty from a day without a water bottle, our glasses were continuously refilled with water as we chatted and waited for our food to cook.
After about twenty minutes, our food appeared in all its delicious and spicy glory. I had ordered the ‘Mutter Paneer,’ unsure what exactly to expect of “our flavorful blend of homemade cottage cheese and peas, lightly seasoned with fresh herbs.” I already knew that paneer was a soft, cube-shaped cheese from my limited culinary adventures, but the mutter sauce was a complete mystery to me, aside from the inclusion of peas.
I scooped some rice from the shared rice bowl, and then added my mutter paneer on top. I braced myself, and took the first bite. HOT! I scalded my tongue on both the temperature and the spicy flavor. I had specified with the waiter that the mutter paneer should be a 4/10 on the Shere Punjab scale of spiciness, but it was still too hot for me. Upon my third bite, I could discern flavor clearer, and I noticed that the mutter sauce had garlic, tomato, coriander and green chili in addition to the peas. The paneer helped to even out the spicy flavor, since it is neutral in taste. Even so, I found myself devouring spoonfuls of rice in an attempt to absorb the chili spice.
My friend’s chicken tikka masala was nothing new to me; chicken tikka masala seems like the go-to dish anyone who is new to Indian cuisine orders, so I am very familiar with it. His was a 5/10 on the spicy scale, but it seemed less spicy than my own 4/10 mutter paneer. The tomato-y sauce went very well with rice, and my friend ended up pouring all the sauce from his dish over his pile of rice.
In addition to our entrees, we had deliciously savory garlic naan to help absorb spice and clear our palates. The naan’s doughiness helped me eat the majority of my spicy mutter paneer; without it, my tongue would have been numb from spice!
Satisfied with the large portions, my friend ate his entire dish. I was too full to finish mine, so I guiltily asked for a to-go box. Our waitress brought one over swiftly, and added that their food kept very well.
On our way out, I took a glance around the restaurant and saw a home; Shere Punjab oozed a cozy, intimate vibe that gave diners the sense that this was their place and they could be comfortable as they are here.
Closing the door behind myself, I left the warm room and snapped back to cold reality; luckily I am already planning my next visit to that snug little Indian restaurant in Brunswick.