“My dad’s motto was: Bring the streets of India to Hillcroft [Street],” says Sharan Gahunia, the second-generation owner of Raja Sweets, the first Indian restaurant in Houston. In this episode of Cooking in America, host Sheldon Simeon visits the 31-year-old spot, now the cornerstone of the city’s “Little India” district. But at the time Gahunia’s father Joginderi opened in 1986, “he realized there there’s not a big gathering place where Indian people can go, like during Dwali and Ramadan,” she says. So Raja Sweets was born.
Here, everything is everything made by hand, from the rasgulla (chhena dough cooked in sweet syrup) to gulab jamun (milk balls soaked in rose syrup) to jalebi (deep-fried flour in syrup, similar to a funnel cake), and many of Raja’s items end up on other restaurants’ menus around town. But it’s not just desserts on offer: Raja’s savory menu is laden with dosas, samosas, and stews, as well. As Simeon says of Joginderi Gahunia: “He’s the founding father of Indian food here in Houston.”