Owning a restaurant in downtown Aiken gives Alok Kumar Akse the chance to introduce his culture and traditional cuisine to Americans, one plate at a time.
"In India we are famous for two things," Akse said. "One is for the tourism ... we have the mountains, we have the temples ... and the second thing is the food."
Akse said he can't bring the temples to America, so he chose to bring the food instead.
Akse's restaurant, Taj Aiken Indian Cuisine, was based in Hotel Aiken until February of 2018. It moved to its current location on Richland Avenue and reopened earlier this year.
The restaurant's cuisine is known for its authenticity. Akse imports spices and other food items from India to use in the dishes, and he incorporates dishes from various regions across India to capture the nation's diverse array of flavors.
"We collect the recipes from all over India," said Chef Mangesh, one of the restaurant's chefs. "People from all over India, the North, the South ... they could all eat here, too."
Mangesh said it is his goal to change the stereotype that all Indian food is spicy. Some dishes, he said, are sweet or use more dairy, depending on the region the dish comes from.
These spices are used in Indian cuisine for more than just their flavors. Mangesh attributes many of the health benefits of Indian food to the spices, which he said are commonly used in traditional medicine.
"The Indian food is about the spices, not the spicy," Akse said. "We have different spices, which have different flavors and different aromas."
Taj Aiken also offers Indo-Chinese dishes, vegetarian and vegan options.
Akse, who is from a small town in India, immigrated to the United States in 2013 after traveling the world through student exchange programs. He became the owner of Taj Aiken Indian Cuisine when it opened as a second location to Taj of India, located in Augusta.
The word 'taj' means 'crown' in Hindi.
"So, it's the crown of Aiken," Akse said.
Aside from English and Hindi, Aske speaks four other languages. Like its cuisine, India is a country with diverse linguistics, and different languages are often spoken in different areas.
Mangesh said they want to never leave their customers unsatisfied, but the customers they have seem very happy with the service.
"It's a diamond in the rough," said Dennis Beernstal, who stopped by the restaurant for lunch. "I'm on a diet, but this is very healthy food if you eat it right. They're always very polite when I come in. It's one of my favorite places in Aiken."
Taj Aiken Indian Cuisine is located at 213 Richland Ave. W. Its daily menu is posted by 11:30 a.m. on its Facebook page.
The restaurant is closed Mondays. For more information, including business hours and reservations, call 803-845-9245.