Chino Hills is typically known for being near LA, and the home of the Ball brothers (NBA players) who dominated during their time at Chino High School, but what many may not know is that it is the home of one of the most beautiful Hindu temples in all the US. Located near the heart of LA colleges like UCLA, Claremont McKenna, Pomona, and USC, the Swaminarayar Mandir is tucked away from the bustle of the city, and hidden among rows of colorful flowers and a massive grassy meadow. When you walk in, you are initially met with towering gates and a long parking lot filled with cars. As you walk past the parked cars, the temple begins to come into view with its steep stairs leading up to the actual temple. Walking into the temple, you are met with a shocking amount of white that envelopes your whole view, juxtaposed by the beautifully colorful and gorgeous idols of Hindu God’s.
But I’m not here to talk about temples or architecture, so let’s move on to what we are all here for, the incredible small snacks in their cafeteria. The two items I will highlight are the snack mix called Chivda, and Methi Thepla. Here in the US, we have mixes of different savory snacks combined into one pack, think Check Mix with its M&M’s, pretzels and crackers. They have always been a favorite of many, something quick and easy to snack one, extremely tasty, and always easy to grab and go. In India, this mix follows many of the same principles, with spiced cornflakes, toasted cashews, crackers, boondi, and raisins. What makes this dish special is the textural contrast between all the ingredients, from the light and crunchy boondi, the crispy cornflakes with their slight sweet undertone, the sweet and chewy raisins and the salty hard crackers that round out the whole mix. Although texture is always key, in Indian food it is often there spices that set it apart. With a mix of toasted curry leaves, curry powder, and garlic, there is an incredible spice (heat) from the dish as well as a savory undertone and light char flavor from the toasted spices and garlic.
The other dish here was thepla, a favorite of our family and a dish that is forgotten by western culture in favor of the likes of rotis and naans. Thepla is a popular North Indian flatbread spiced with methi (chopped fenugreek leaves) and roasted with oil to create a soft texture and savory addition to a typically neutral flatbread category. Thepla is normally served with a variety of Indian savory curry dishes, but can also be accompanied by sweeter complements like jams and mango pickle to contrast the inherent saltiness. In my household, we commonly use it as a quick breakfast item, throwing it in the microwave for a couple of seconds to warm up to room temperature, then frying up an egg to stuff the thepla with. The richness of the egg is cut by the saltiness of the thepla, and the whole dish comes together so well, almost like the world’s most simple breakfast burrito. If you ever get a chance to try or even potentially make thepla (a recipe I have used in the past and highly recommend to start with), I have a few other suggestions.
- Baingan Bharta
- Roasted eggplant curry with onions tomatoes and spices
- Blackberry Jam
- Or really just any jam that has a tiny bit of tartness, and not overly sweet
- Mango Pickle
- A slightly sweet and salty urga (Indian pickle) that has small chunks of pickled mango that add an incredible crunch.