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Bharat Bazaar versus India Sweets and Spices: it's on!

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Within the lines of Culver City lie two Indian markets that also serve up vegetarian dishes on the cheap. For years I have driven by India Sweets and Spices (on Venice and Bagley) and Bharat Bazaar—aka Samosa House, don’t ask why it has two names-- on Washington and Berryman. I had heard both were specialty markets offering imports from India and Britain, and I had also heard they both had counter service where they offer customers low-priced combo plates of classic Indian fare. Mmmm, Indian food—just typing the phrase makes my mouth water. And cheap Indian food, close to home? Well, that’s even better. But the question was—which place to try Bharat or Sweets and Spices?

I did my research on Yelp, Citysearch, and even right here on the laist and found interesting but confusing results. People said the food was cheaper (but only by a dollar or two) at Sweets and Spices. Sweets and Spices also had better taste and wider selection going for it. However, I heard the people who worked there were pretty rude (think Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” for Indian food…well maybe not that bad) and that they tried to trick you into adding more costly items to your combo platter (take for example, lemon rice). I also heard Sweets and Spices wasn’t too clean. Although the reviews I read were helpful, they still left me confused as to which place was more for me. So I decided I needed to try both and do a little old fashioned “compare n’ contrast.” I am judging the two establishments on the following six categories: menu, taste, overall value, cleanliness, friendliness, ambience and market. So without further ado…

See who wins after the jump!

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Menu: India Sweets and Spices has a wider menu. Period. They offer more homemade sweets. They offer two kinds of rice—lemon and plain. They offer more breads: naan, paratha, and roti. They offer dosas that are huge and quite tasty looking. They offer samosas and pakoras. They offer about ten different veggie dishes to choose from—which is, actually, how many veggie dishes Bharat also offers. But Bharat Bazaar only offers one kind of rice, and the only bread I’ve seen there is the damn roti (hey, I’m a naan kinda girl). They serve samosas and various puris, but no pakoras or dosas. And while they do have a lot of homemade sweets, I think India Sweets and Spices has more. Anyways, if it is wide selection you want, than Sweets and Spices is your place.

Taste: Although the food is spicier (well hotter) at Sweets and Spices, Bharat Bazaar definitely wins for taste. I think the food has more layers of flavors at Bharat Bazaar and that each dish there has its own unique essence. The dishes at Sweets and Spices basically all had the same taste to me… well except for the rice, which is completely tasteless. The rice at Sweets and Spices was also really dry—almost crusty. But the rice at Bharat Bazaar is aromatic, spiced with saffron and is really delicious. The samosas are also way better at Bharat, where they are served crispy, fresh from the deep fryer. The samosas at Sweets and Spices were very mushy and soft. I’m not sure why. All in all, I would describe the flavors at Bharat Bazaar to be brighter, fresher, and cleaner than those at India Sweets and Spices. And that’s why Bharat totes wins this category. Yes, I said totes.

Overall Value: While it may on the surface appear that the combos are bigger and cheaper over at India Sweets and Spices, I think the overall value is much better at Bharat Bazaar. You see at India Sweets and Spices a combo platter includes two vegetable dishes, rice, raita, one piece of roti or naan and, perhaps, either a mango lassi or a samosa for between $4.00 and $6.00. At Bharat Bazaar you get three vegetable dishes, rice, raita and two pieces of roti for $7.00. Basically, at Bharat you get an extra veggie dish instead of a lassi or a samosa, which of course you could always order a la carte, and they throw in an extra piece of bread. So, basically the prices at Sweets and Spices and Bharat are almost equal for about the same amount of food. Except at Bharat Bazaar you also get, in my humble opinion, tastier food and friendlier service (more on that later). And personally, I always leave Bharat feeling fuller and more satisfied than I do at India Sweets and Spices. Also Bharat Bazaar has the added convenience of a huge free parking lot. At Sweets and Spices you have to find metered parking on Venice—so see you might actually end up spending that money you think your saving on parking!

Cleanliness: Both places were clean when I visited and both had A’s. I can be pretty paranoid about restaurant cleanliness, and neither one grossed me out. I’m not sure why yelpers were complaining about Sweets and Spices being dirty…perhaps those reviews were old? Or perhaps they didn’t realize these places are food counters, a la cafeteria style, set up in a market. While these establishments aren’t dirty, they certainly don’t look anywhere near as nice and polished as a restaurant. Essentially these two eateries are the taco stands of Indian food, so keep that in mind when evaluating cleanliness. Your formica table may not have been wiped down before you sat at it, but hey you aren’t paying for busboys. It’s all very food court. Still, if I had to pick which one seems cleaner—I’d say Bharat Bazaar. I always see a worker sweeping or wiping down tables, and honestly it just has a cleaner more put together appearance. But more on that later in the ambience category…

Friendliness: Bharat Bazaar wins this category hands down. The girl behind the counter is very sweet and smiley. She’ll happily explain to you all of their offerings on that particular day, and even give you samples to taste. They don’t make you feel intimidated, so it’s a great place to go if you aren’t too familiar with Indian food. The staff at India Sweets and Spices is nowhere near as nice as the staff at Bharat, but they are not as scary as I was led to believe by yelp reviews. They aren’t Indian food Nazis, and definitely won’t being yelling “no Indian food for you!” Still, they are a bit impatient and rough around the edges. My advice is to be as nice to them as possible, say please and thank you, and if they act rude don’t get a ‘tude—it just annoys others in line who are patiently waiting their turn. You will get your food and it will be so cheap you won’t care about the crabby ladies. But if you really don’t like curt service, go to Bharat Bazaar.

Ambience: Both establishments have a similar ambience—I mean, hello, you are eating in a market on formica tables! The main difference is that at India Sweets and Spices you eat outdoors under an overhang and in Bharat Bazaar you eat indoors. Bharat Bazaar is more spacious and has more tables to sit at. Also, totally awesome Indian pop music videos play on a plasma screen, which definitely sets the mood. At India Sweets and Spices, the tables get filled quickly and sometimes you end up scrambling to find a place to sit. Both shops also have a steady stream of customers throughout the day, so they feel pretty lively. They are not a great date places—unless your date can appreciate great, cheap Indian food-- but they are terrific for a quick meal or an exotic adventure with friends.

Market: Last but not least, we have the market aspect of these two establishments. Bharat Bazaar sweeps this because they have a much bigger shop, therefore room to sell more items. They even have a small but intriguing produce section and a big frozen section. You can find a lot of great stuff at Bharat from teas to pre-packaged India meals to sauces and chutneys. It’s truly tantalizing to walk through the store and it takes a lot of self-control not to buy everything in sight. I must say I didn’t price compare though, so things might be cheaper at Sweets and Spices. I kind of doubt it though.

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All in all I prefer Bharat Bazaar. I say it’s tastier, cleaner, bigger and nicer (in both appearance and service) than India Sweets and Spices. I’d much rather pay an extra buck or two to eat at Bharat. But, if you don’t wanna take my word for it go on your own compare and contrast. It’s pretty fun exploring this city through food.

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