Pocket Fusion

The flavors of India and the tradition of Latin America combine forces at Bombole

A samosa is a fried pastry filled with spiced goodness that got its start in Africa and China, but became a staple in Arab and Indian territories. Today we usually find them in Indian restaurants and, depending on where you go, they are fairly small, handheld crispy bags of yum. Empanadas can be traced back as far as the 14th century in Spain, similar to the samosa, but are larger and packed with Latin American flavors ranging from sweet to savory.

It took a Honduran native and Tucson transplant by the name of Jackie Sharma to mash the two fairly similar items together and set up shop downtown. In fact, she moved into the space next to Ike's Coffee, a business she already co-owns with her husband, who just happens to be Indian.

"Originally he is from Scotland but his family is from Punjab," Sharma says. "He is a very picky eater and makes sure that I am cooking traditional Indian. We have been married now for 11 years so I think I passed the test."

Bombole opened without a lot of fanfare roughly three months ago and is slowly gaining a loyal following. It's pretty easy to see why. As a fan of both styles of cuisine that Bombole represents, I knew I'd have to check out this downtown empanada joint that was using regional Indian dishes as their filling. I decided to give it at least a month for the eatery to find a groove and waited to hear from friends who have visited. It was a very long month.

After I bit into the Butter Chicken empanada ($3.85), the wait was totally worth it. It took a second to get used to the texture of an empanada surrounding the savory spiced chicken steeped in a lush buttery sauce, a flavor that is irrefutably northern India, but it seamlessly came together. The next second was just fervent bliss. It was chewy with sweetness from the dough but also a little spicy. Sharma says she has Indian customers who claim the food is a bit mild for them. But she has settled on appealing to a wider audience, especially for the downtown lunch crowd.

"My mother-in-law is a great cook so she has the final say in what I do," Sharma says. "The recipes inside are very authentic. She is there to make sure I do a good job. As much as she wants to try all of my dishes, she is vegetarian, so she just takes my word on the meat fillings."

The spice you might be missing from the empanadas can easily be rectified by one of Bombole's specialty sauces. They range from the relatively calm of the cilantro sauce to the mid-range pop of the mint chutney to a rich creamy tomato tang coming from the tikka masala. Whereas the empanadas are tight pouches for on-the-go customers who want to avoid drip stains, the sauces invite you to get messy. In fact, Sharma even has suggested pairings. She likes the cilantro sauce to even out the fattiness and heat from the Pork Curry ($3.85) or the mint chutney to add character to the peas and potatoes in the Aloo Matar ($3.85).

Not everything at Bombole is Indian-centric. Sharma added a family cabbage salad ($1.25) she brought over from Honduras that she finishes with a light aromatic cilantro lemon vinaigrette. It stands out among the other side dishes, such as curried lentils and basmati rice, but just like the empanadas, the marrying of two distinct cultures is harmonious.

With a daughter suffering from gluten intolerance, Sharma says they keep gluten-free options on the menu.

"We use dosa batter, which is lentil based, essentially the same dough that is used to make injera bread," she says. "With that, our vegetarian options become vegan, except for the paneer, which has cheese. I just wanted something new for downtown seeing as there is really no Indian food options here. It's just great feeding people and I love feeding people quality food, real food.