October 26, 2021
There’s something about sizzlers.
That moment when the kitchen doors swing open, the waitstaff ceremoniously carries a hissing platter of meat and vegetables, and all heads swivel to your table. Your vision narrows to your hot plate, nearly obscured by the fog of smoke. Perhaps you have ordered mutton or chicken or paneer, but it is all inconsequential — your first forkful inevitably scalds your tongue. The base of your meal is always some sort of leaf (cabbage perhaps?), heaped with full-flavored rice or noodles with a stack of soggy fries on the side. The protein is usually doused in gravy or cheese, the accompanying vegetables singed and softened at the edges with all that steam.
The sizzler is a dish I’ve only ever eaten in India. Yet, theories abound as to its origin. One hypothesis links the birth of the sizzler to the American Sizzler restaurant chain that began in January 1958 in Culver City, California. But the origin story of the beloved Indian sizzlers isn’t so straightforward: it winds around India, Japan, and the U.K.
Back in the U.S., Sizzler was one of the country’s first casual restaurant chains. The first eatery was Sizzler Family Steak House, and each steak cost less than a dollar. Del and Helen Johnson, who opened their steak house with less than $50 in their cash register, would later grow their creation into a behemoth, with branches all over the United States and Australia (although COVID has brought the business to its knees).