It’s one of those hidden gems that you come across through a friend or word-of-mouth – but once discovered, becomes one of your favorite places to dine.
That’s what Mirch Masala has become for many Billings residents. Owned and operated by the Patel family, the menu at Mirch Masala can only be described as authentic, beautiful and exceptionally delicious Indian cuisine.
Delisha Meishery-Patel moved to the U.S. in 2007, after completing high school in India. Her husband, Meet Patel, moved to the U.S. in the fall of 2008. While in college, the couple craved home-cooked meals and while they did their best to replicate – it simply wasn’t mom’s cooking.
It was Patel’s mother-in-law, Vandana, who is the cook in the family. She has always had a passion to create magnificent meals for her family and friends, and that is where this story begins.
Mirch Masala’s roots are in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where Vandana began cooking meals for her family and community. In 2010, Vandana and her husband immigrated to Bozeman. They wanted to introduce regional dishes from northern and western states of India.
“The goal was to bring a little bit of Gujarat to Montana. These dishes are always prepared with care and passion using traditional recipes, techniques and spices from India, which was a challenge for our chef to find in Montana. While sourcing for fresh, healthy and high-quality ingredients from local markets and vendors, Vandana was able to elevate home recipes for her family. Soon after resourcing vendors, the husband-wife team was successfully able to open their first restaurant in Bozeman, in September of 2014,” said Delisha.
After three years in Bozeman, the Patels moved to Billings when Delisha was air-transported to Billings suffering from preeclampsia at 27 weeks pregnant with her son. Mirch Masala closed for an entire year to support Delisha and the new baby.
In September 2018, the Patel family purchased the restaurant location that once housed Mamacita’s Café. After renovations, Mirch Masala was back and better than ever.
“Our menu is a very well-thought combination of Indian street and authentic north and west Indian cuisine. We have two authentic drinks: the Masala Chai and Mango Lassi (the mangoes used in here are alphonso mangoes, which we specially get from India). The appetizers include the classic Samosas and Pakora plate, a household recipe handed down to Chef Vandana from her mother-in-law. Both are accompanied by a delicious chutney made with cilantro, mint, dates, tamarind and other spices. We also have Pani Puri and Dahi puri that are classic street food. I always say that if you go out shopping- you have to have some Pani Puri,” said Delisha. “The breads include the traditional Naan, and also some everyday home style breads like Chapati, Paratha and Puri.”
The lunch buffet offers an array of traditional Indian food that you would find at any given Indian home. Like all regular menu items, the buffet is all vegetarian, very filling and mouthwatering.
“Food is an integral part of our culture. There is a saying back home that we Gujaratis (people from Gujarat) live to eat and not eat to live,” said Delisha.
For the business and family, it’s all about working hard and loving hard – for the Billings community and one another.
“Our family is comprised of six adults and a very important toddler. It includes my mother-in-law, Vandana; father-in-law, Navnit; sister-in-law, Dhara; her husband, Vatsal; my husband, Meet; my son, Neel; and myself,” said Delisha.
While every member of the family works at the restaurant, four of them also have second full-time jobs.
Delisha is the director of research for the new occupational therapy doctorate program at Rocky Mountain College. Meet is the supervisor of the lab at Billings Clinic. Dhara and Vatsal work at Walmart in customer service.
“Chef Vandana, Navnit and little Neel are at the restaurant all the time. Vandana does all the cooking and prepping sole-handedly with very little help from us. Dhara manages the front of the house for lunch and Meet and myself help out during dinner service. We are a very efficient team – with everybody taking up tasks as they come,” said Delisha.
Food in India, like most cultures, is the centerpiece for celebration, family togetherness and joining in harmony.
“With all the diversity in language, religious beliefs, customs, etc., food is a unifying theme in our culture. It is the common ground to celebrate all festivals, birthdays, anniversaries and even mourn the death of a loved one,” said Delisha.
For the entire Patel family, Mirch Masala is far more than a business – it is a connection to their traditions – and, much like what Vandana did in Gujarat, they all work together to create wonderful food for themselves and their community.
“Our goal with Mirch Masala is not only to serve delicious authentic home-cooked Indian meals, but also expose our culture to the community. We take pride in talking to our patrons about our culture and our family story,” said Delisha.
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