With the Indian festival of Diwali right around the corner, the perfect way to celebrate is to savor the rich delicacies of India. Fortunately for Penn students, Virasat Haveli couples delicious South Asian food with a warm, lively ambience that is sure to fill your heart with comfort as it did mine.
Virasat Haveli directly translates to the Hindi phrase “a mansion of culture and heritage." Upon your first steps into the restaurant, you will begin to see the ways in which it lives up to its name.
As manager Jodhe Budha Magar welcomes me inside, I am also greeted by melodious Indian classics and the tantalizing fragrance of spices. I can't help but notice the vibrant, multicolored umbrellas alongside clay pots fashioned into lamps hanging from the ceiling, illuminating a gigantic map of India that displays various foods across the country’s many states.
“When people come from east to west, they see the map and can say: 'This is my place, this is the history, this is the food,’" Magar replies when I ask him about the map. And indeed, I am able to recognize the sweet balls of Rasgulla over West Bengal, where my mother was born, and the savory, crepe–like dosas of Maharashtra, where my father was born.
As we sit down to eat, Magar’s thoughtful sentiment remains a common theme throughout the rest of the afternoon. The first dish we order is the Chole Bhature, the most popular menu item, according to Magar. When asked if we want the dish prepared spicy, we reply “Heck yes!” and I am so glad that we do. The familiar onion and spice–heavy aroma signals to me that the chole is nearing our table, and immediately, my mouth waters in anticipation.
The chole, a spicy chickpea curry, is usually served with bhature, a flaky, fried bread that melts in your mouth. As I scoop the chickpeas onto the bread and take my first bite, flavors ranging from cardamom to turmeric to chili peppers explode in my mouth. “It’s like we’re tasting colors,” our photographer comments.
And of course, we can’t skip the butter chicken, which is Magar’s favorite dish to prepare (and eat). Virasat Haveli spins a delicious Punjabi twist on its butter chicken, characterized by a lightly sweet deep orange curry sauce that fully submerges tender cuts of chicken. We pair the butter chicken with my favorite, garlic naan, a soft buttery bread coated with garlic and cilantro that compliments the spicy chicken perfectly. Near the end of our visit, Magar kindly takes us to the kitchen, where we have the opportunity to meet the chefs and see the tandoor in which the naans are prepared—Virasat Haveli prepares all of its breads fresh.
Virasat Haveli employs four chefs from different regions of South Asia, including Bangladesh and Nepal. Magar, a co–founder of the restaurant, is Nepali himself, and his partner, Jagmeet Singh, is from Punjab.
In addition to the classic Indian fare we ordered, Virasat Haveli also features a variety of dishes from other South Asian countries. The restaurant’s Indo–Chinese dishes include gobi Manchurian, which is crispy cauliflower tossed and coated in a sweet and spicy sauce, and chicken momos, which are dumplings stuffed with chicken and herbs. Virasat Haveli strives to be inclusive of all of its customers, as all of the menu items are Halal and there are several vegan and gluten–free options.
Since its founding in 2019, Virasat Haveli’s main mission has been to bring people together. Even the layout facilitates community: Long, rectangular tables meant for large parties line the left side of the room, while smaller, square tables line the right side. This leaves a big gap of space in the middle of the restaurant, from the door all the way to the back, creating the appearance of a dining hall. Magar points out that many events are held here, and that performances are meant to be made in this space, whether they be dance sequences for graduation parties or heartfelt speeches given by loved ones at a birthday dinner.
Through its space and food alike, Virasat Haveli demonstrates the beauty of South Asian culture, the ability to bridge gaps with animated music, festive tapestries, and passionate conversations shared over comfort food that warms the soul.
TL;DR: Make a visit to Virasat Haveli for South Asian dishes that'll warm your belly and your heart.
Location: 4051 Market St.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Closed on Mondays