The Hidden Jewel

The exotic glow inside The Jewel of India, an Indian restaurant just across the bridge in Biddeford, is immediately inviting. Even the shiny elephants on the wall seem to be smiling back as if satisfied with the scrumptious smells coming from the kitchen. It isn’t until the steaming food composed of rich and bright colors arrives that the true value of this Indian gem is discovered.

The Jewel of India restaurant has been in business for almost 18 years now. This unique restaurant is owned by a senior Jessica Sharma’s family, and she helps out when she can. Indian restaurants are a bit of a novelty in Maine, and this is the only one located in the Biddeford Saco area.  It was super popular when it first opened and while business declined a little in 2008, it has enjoyed a  steady stream of customers since then. It is usually busier in the summer because of the tourists.unnamed

Jessica has worked in the restaurant since she was young and thinks that the overall experience has changed her for the better. A first job is everything, and it’s an even more unique opportunity to get the chance to work alongside your family.

I am so happy I have the opportunity to be in a family restaurant. I’ve learned many skills from a young age, and I’ve met so many people who I wouldn’t have met if my family wasn’t in the family business.” She used to come and work at the restaurant everyday when she was a waitress. Recently school has taken over, but Jessica still does her best to be at the restaurant once or twice a week.

Her parents came to the U.S. about 30 years ago. At first they started working at other Indian restaurants, but they weren’t really happy about their pay and they realized they knew a lot about working and cooking in a restaurant so they decided to take a chance. “My parents decided to create a business because they wanted control over what hours they worked and they grew up eating and being around indian food, so naturally they chose to try opening a restaurant. The rent is pretty low and it’s on the border of Saco and Biddeford so it’s not too far from locals and it’s in an area that many restaurants are in.”

“When it first opened, nobody came in the first few days,” Jess laughed. “Then suddenly on about the third day the entire restaurant was packed to the point of having to tell customers that there was no way they were going to get seats.”

Dasha Sabirova who is a sophomore from Ukraine, came to the restaurant this fall and tried Indian food for the first time.  Before entering the restaurant she predicted, “I think I’m gonna like it. The food has a lot of different spices I guess. When I watch movies about India it talks and shows a lot about spices. I think that’s gonna make it be tasty.”

Afterwards, while stuffing her face with Naan, a leavened, oven-baked flatbread, Dasha remarked: “I like it. I like rice and bread. No actually, I love it. The chicken is so good and tender. I would definitely come here again.”

Sharma loves when people come for the first time and said most TA students have heard about the restaurant first from their parents. She sees a lot of parents who come, which is probably more of the reason students are more enticed to try it.

Senior Devanshi Patel immigrated with her family from Gujarat, India last year. She said that usually for the festivals and holidays they get take out food from Sharma’s restaurant. Because they have 12 people in their family, usually they cook at home, mostly Indian foods, with ingredients they buy on occasional trips to Indian shops in Boston. But eating Indian out can be a nice treat on special occasions. “My favorite food from the Jewel of India is Bengan Bharta, and  her mom makes really good food, so I love it.” She also mentioned that even her aunty from Sanford goes to the restaurant sometimes, since this is the only Indian restaurant around.

According to realsimple.com, “Contrary to common belief, not all Indian dishes are curries. However, “curry” has become a catch-all name for any spice-based meat or vegetable dish with a sauce. Curries can be watery, dry, red, green, hot, or really, really hot—it’s completely up to the chef in charge.”  

Even Jessica mentioned that “our dishes aren’t spicy, unless you want them to be. There are many misconceptions of indian food being spicy. Generally traditional indian food does have some spices but if you prefer your dished mild we can do that. Our dishes start out mild and then we add in chili powder or other spices if you want to turn up the heat.”

The restaurant’s most popular dish is Chicken Tikka Masala- it’s a salty tomato based curry with cubes of chicken, mixed with a hint of thyme.

So if you are ever in the mood to try something new, and that involves picking a place to eat, I would advise trying the Jewel of India. It takes guts to try entirely different foods, but in the long run you will not regret it. Yelp rates the restaurant a four out of five stars. So get out there and head down to 26 Alfred Street to taste the rarity of Indian cuisine in Maine.

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Educating students for more than 200 years.