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Two businesses address local market for Indian/Pakistani cuisine

Ah, the joys of the quick-stop, convenience store! Fill up the gas tank. Grab an OJ and a candy bar. Pick up the local newspaper.

And don't forget that order of allo saag for lunch.

Allo saag?

Yes, the spicy joys and nan-dipping delights (nan being a flatbread) of Indian food are all too rare here in Rutland County. Fortunately, the Jia Restaurant at 377 West Street in Rutland and now, the Castleton Corners Deli & Gas further west offer some more convenient options when you have a craving for curry or yearning for chickpeas or lamb.

When I moved back to the area a recently I was resigned to seeking such ethnic food pleasures in trips to Burlington or Brattleboro. The closest Indian restaurant that I knew of was in Middlebury.

Then I noticed a little convenience store as I was heading into Rutland one day, with its sign advertising the Jia Restaurant, but I was skeptical. How good could Indian food be from a convenience store? I wondered. Then, one day last summer, I was treated to lunch from the Jia. Truthfully, I expected nothing special, but was pleasantly surprised! The saag paneer, which is spinach and cheese cooked with onions, tomatoes and herbs, set my taste buds into ecstasy and the garlic nan complemented the dish by allowing me to scoop out every last bit from the container.

The  Harchind family moved to Rutland from Boston after buying the West Street Corner convenience store/Gulf station back in 2004. They added a deli, but soon discovered their customers wanted something different.

"There was huge demand for Indian food in the area," says Rajesh Harchind, who runs the business along with his brother, Bobby, their father, Ranjit, their wives and mother. "People kept asking us why we didn't have Indian food."

They  began by offering Indian fare on one day each week. It helped that Ranjit Harchind had restaurant experience from his Boston years and was versed in northern Indian cuisine. The demand continued to grow rapidly, finally resulting in the 2006 creation of the Jia Restaurant -named after Bobby's daughter.

The Jia Restaurant is open only for take-out from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Sunday.

The Jia Restaurant offers a variety of appetizers, nan, and main courses of lamb, chicken or vegetarian dishes. The latter are reasonably priced in the  $6.99 to $8.99 range and the portions will leave you quite satisfied. Sample dishes include dal makhni, which is a combination of lentils flavored with spice and butter, chicken tikka masala, which are cubes of boneless chicken sautéed in garlic, ginger and tomatoes, or lamb biryani, which is boneless lamb cooked with basmati rice and spices. Portions will leave your stomach full and your taste buds enlightened. Appetizers are from $1.49 (raita, which is cucumber in a yogurt sauce with spices) to $3.29 (flat bread chicken sandwich, that includes rice, cabbage and homemade cheese).

"People are always surprised to see an Indian restaurant in a gas station," says Rajesh, "and then they're equally surprised that the food is of good quality!"

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Just the thought of Jia's mango lassi (fresh yogurt blend with mango pulp) makes my mouth watering, which is a testament to the quality.

Living in Fair Haven, however, I can't always rationalize driving all the way to Rutland to satisfy my urge for Indian food.

Lucky me, there's another outlet for my cravings, at the intersection of Routes 4a and 30 at Castleton Corners Deli & Gas.

Muhammad Bilal and his wife Asia, were living and working in Crown Point, NY (Asia's family had lived there for over 13 years and  Muhammed Bilal was working for the International Paper Mill) when a great opportunity came their way just last year.

"We used to pass through this area a lot and liked it," says Bilal. "We used to go to Lake Bomoseen or to Castleton State College two or three times a year. It's a beautiful area."

When Bilal and his brother-in-law, Muhammad Iqbal, saw that the Castleton Corners Deli & Gas was for-sale last year, they jumped at the opportunity. They purchased it and now, along with their spouses, run it as a family business.

"It's a very busy intersection and a good location," says Bilal. "I love to do business and I feel that I was born to do business and work for myself!"

Bilal emphasizes that the store features the same offerings as the previous owners, including a wide, deli selection of popular Boar's Head meats and a range of build-your-own deli sandwiches and subs, reasonably priced from $6.38 to $8.25. The family also expanded the amount of store shelf space since taking over shop back in November of 2012. This allows for more products ranging from snacks and cigarettes, to beverages, and other regular, convenience store offerings. Very quickly, the family had a similar experience to that of the Harchinds over in Rutland.

"People soon started asking us to offer some ethnic foods," says Muhammed.

They obliged last February by adding two Indian/Pakistani menu items as daily specials. These include such dishes as chicken somosa, vegetable somosa, biryani chicken curry, and much more.

"People in the area have been helpful and supportive of us from day one and we really appreciate it," notes Muhammed. "We want everyone to know that we continue to offer the same items as the previous owners, and some new ones as well. Please come by and check us out."

The ethnic dishes, as well as the regular menu of sandwiches/subs, are also available for large parties, a popular request when Castleton State College is in full session.

The Castleton Corners Store & Deli is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week, but until midnight during the summer.

The Indian/Pakistani specials are offered Monday through Friday.

For more information on The Jia Restaurant visit www.jiaindianrestaurant.com.

For more info about the ethnic offerings at Castleton Corners Store, call (802) 468-5844.