A 25-Year Legacy of Bringing Exotic Flavors to Central PA
Leena Shenoy, owner of Passage to India, is a life-long advocate for discovering authentic, unusual cuisine. Having traveled in 67 countries with various family members and good friends, she’s had the opportunity to try everything from crocodile sandwiches to kangaroo steaks. No matter how exotic the flavors, she adapts her palate and appreciates the foods native to even the most far-flung lands.
Twenty-five years after opening an afford-able ethnic restaurant in the Harrisburg area with her husband who passed away in 2011, she strives to educate patrons on the wide world of culinary pleasures. Accordingly, her restaurant’s menu is dotted with dozens of budget-friendly options including gluten-free and vegan choices.
“People should be able to eat good food without spending a lot of money,” she explains. “That’s what my husband believed. When we enrolled in the Taste of Pennsylvania 23 years ago, he insisted that we served full dishes to patrons, not spoonfuls of a few items. He wanted everything to be a memorable experience. That was his passion and we’re following his legacy of treating customers like royal guests.”
What does this kind of treatment include? For Shenoy, it’s offering a warm, healthy dose of education about the vast array of Indian menu items and ingredients for customers unaccustomed to seeing words like “tandoori” and “pakora”. In fact, she’s had so much interest from the public that she’s been offering private cooking lessons twice a month since 2012. “It’s fun to teach about Indian food and its traditional preparation. For instance, people don’t always understand that “curry” means gravy. However, curry powder is a mixture of spices representing the preferred flavors of the chef.”
Although certain core Passage to India menu offerings haven’t changed over the years, Shenoy continuously experiments with dishes that are sometimes a fusion of various types of cuisine. “Ours is a test kitchen,” she notes. “We love to be creative.” A huge source of innovative cooking ideas is eating at the wide range of ethnic restaurants dotting the midstate. They weren’t there when she and her family arrived in 1993, but she’s pleased to have the chance to dine on dishes common in South American, Asian, and other cultures. “I grew up respecting food. I never waste anything and I always appreciate that a lot of people don’t have access to what’s on my plate. ”
Passage to India boasts many awards, but Shenoy insists that her biggest honor comes when she gets rave reviews from the children and adults who stop by her restaurant. With a smile, she says, “Hearing,‘This is amazing!’ gives you the best satisfaction. I love watching people fall in love with food.”
Although Shenoy’s a sole proprietor, she credits her longevity and success to the unflagging support from what she terms the “pillars of her life”: daughter Kamia, a criminal prosecutor, son Vikram, a cancer researcher, devoted staff members, and welcoming community.